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I didn't so much as hate this album when I first got it, more so I hated the synth patches with a deep undying passion. I've got a super cheap Casio keyboard from '93 somewhere in my room, and even that had better patches. It's not so much that they sound obviously fake, but that they sound tinny as all hell. I get the feeling that said synths weren't recorded via MIDI or what have you, but that Summoning got an extremely cheap microphone and put it near the in built speakers of, well, a cheap Casio keyboard from '93.
However, after finally getting used to the tinnitus inducing synths, I've come to realise that this is a really good record. While I do enjoy Summoning's later super-repetitive, bombastic albums, this is certainly the most dynamic, the most interesting and the least sleep-inducing out of everything they've done. There's actual guitar riffs (!!!), songs are short and accessible and not hugely repetitive. Certainly there's a few rank moments here and there, but expecting perfection from a band is a bit unfair.
Summoning do their best to make everyone uninterested by the horrible intro tune. "Dagor Bragollach" for some reason is reminiscent of a black metal cover of the Tintin TV show theme - (fond memories! Looking forward to the movie), all strange, awkward big drums and attempts at dramatic-ness. Try not to pass out from the awfulness, though, and you'll be thrown into the oddly formed, bizarre-yet-awesome world that is a Summoning album.
Those who've heard later Summoning shouldn't expect anything hugely different; the usual tremelo-d riffs bleating away, perhaps a bit higher in the mix and a bit more aggressively then in later records, very artificial programmed drums playing very symphonic sounding lines (certainly the drum lines on offer are very different from what an actual drummer would play), and a large keyboard orchestra giving us a bunch of very artificial flutes, pianos, strings, pan-pipes and choirs. I guess the main difference here from the later stuff is that there's a few moments where the guitars really come out into the forefront; the epic strains of "Through the Forest of Dol Guldur" being brilliantly driven by a few truly huge guitar riffs. Indeed, this long forgotten Summoning fondness for riffs (albeit of the slow, depressing variety) really lifts this album up; there's the brilliant military type intro riff of "Marching Homeward", whereas the endless death trudge of "Lugburz" is amazing; it's the kind of stuff a depressive black metal would kill for.
Various riff heavy songs aside, a lot of the album follows the usual Summoning bizarro-formula; the worse it sounds, the better it is. "Legend of the Master Ring" has a very Eurodance-ish piano (When are Austria going to see sense and put these guys on Eurovision?) and no drums for the most part, yet it's still a hugely epic track, a doomy guitar riff and a bunch of slow, sad synths melding in with said euro-piano for a real gloomy track with a tremendous vibe and atmosphere. "The Passing of the Grey Company" is another great example; you're looking at the worst synths used in the history of music in the intro, yet it's still totally awesome.. and when the guitars come in, well, it's all over. A huge track, some sort of crazy awesome euro dance symphonic black metal hybrid.. who would've thought that one of the best songs in the world would sound so tinny and irritating?
This is a great album, an amazing album. Summoning's best, even (or perhaps equal with LMHSYF). Their typical hugely immersive atmosphere's here, the riffs are the best they've done, the synth lines catchy and inventive, if a little bit gay. If you want to wander through a beautiful albeit vaguely fruity fantasy land for an hour or so, then I can't recommend this album highly enough.