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There's an underlying reason to the fact that this album took five years to make, while previous releases took maybe two maximum- it signals a sort of drop in creativity because, well, where can you really go after you've released an album like Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame? Ironically, that shit was beyond the full comprehension of mere mortals in its sublime brilliance. Oath Bound, in its careful atmosphere and guitarwork in a way could be called a somewhat botched return to form- not necessarily botched in that the result wasn't that good, botched in the sense that this album sort of tries to encapsulate the sound they had on Stronghold (and Dol Guldur, to a lesser extent) with a much larger soundscape, but it ends up falling (just) short of its goals except for a few select occasions.
In general though, the riffing style is at its most consistently strong and as gooey and intricate as ever. I didn't think it was even possible to make music any more legato while still retaining such clarity in melody, but the riffs- can we even call them riffs anymore? It's really just this endless stream of notes, almost seeming linear in composition but then a familiar theme is repeated...the guitars have a really nice sound that compliments the style of playing really well, too. It's somewhat hale on the surface but still has a fair degree of thickness to it and it gives the sharp, yet endlessly flowing melodies a much greater depth and resonance. "Across the Streaming Tide", "Might and Glory" and "Beleriand" all contain some Summoning riffs that remain consistently worthy of your attention throughout the entirety of the track. Their background pseudo-black-metal riffing is certainly no slouch, either; it's not quite on par with the previous album's soaring tremolos but the much more well-rounded, fuller sound in the guitars allows it to work fairly effectively.
Unfortunately, the production catered to the benefit of the guitars has led to it being detrimental to most of the other elements of the music. While the guitars are at their strongest in their fluid walls of melody, the album has been mixed much more like a traditional black metal album, with the sharp guitars overriding the keyboards a majority of the time. It doesn't make for outright bad music by any means, but a good deal of what made Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame so memorable was the constant dance for dominance in the song between the keyboards and guitars, and that's completely gone on Oath Bound. The actual melodies are somewhat lacking, too. They're musically sparse and thin, sounding like underdeveloped embryos of what could be awe-inspiring keyboard lines. Their weakness is somewhat alleviated by the vocals, which benefit to the cleaner production, but songs completely carried by the keyboards such as "Mirdautas Vras" rank among some of the weaker ones in Summoning's discography.
This is an album that is very difficult to judge how I feel about- while there are certainly a handful of brown spots that make this fall short of some of their other works, this IS still Summoning, they have still been maturing and there was clearly a lot of attention and care put into Oath Bound, but perhaps the extensive time and care put into the album signifies that Summoning is running out of ideas, with bursts of creativity coming into the fold. In typical Summoning fashion, the closer ("Land of the Dead") is worth all the hype you've heard about it. Everything that makes a great Summoning closer is there: The sappy piano line, the excessive repetition, the even cheesier flute, the chorus impossible not to sing along to...somehow, in the midst of Summoning's straining and struggling for that sublime essence, they always seem to stumble upon it in the closer, and this is the best closing track they ever wrote- maybe even the best individual song they ever wrote. I'm not going to rave on longer about this song because nothing I say will really justify the powers at work here. It's a really, really good song.
I would have been perfectly content with their career ending here; this sort of shows the alpha and omega of the riffing styles they've been exploring for the past ten years and, although this album feels a bit underdeveloped and wasting some of the potential they have, they still would have gone out on a high note. Still, though, they've already proven themselves more capable than this. Something about this album feels aimless and lost- after the rush of the victory, there is the long and taxing return home, and though they still wrote some fine tunes, they didn't quite bring it home on Oath Bound.