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If someone approached me a year ago and told me to imagine what "Sludge Black Metal" would sound like... I would have had no idea. A year later... Summoning's "Oath Bound" is released and here I sit, after at least 25 listens to this album, still absolutely stumped about how I am going to go about writing up a review for this record.
I'll start by briefly talking about why I love metal, and see if this can't help.
Metal to me, is so much fun, because so much of it is very cartoonish and silly. I'm by no means a Satanist, and my religious "beliefs" probably fall more on the Atheist/Agnostic side. That said, I really don't care what a lot of these bands sing about, write about, or burn down. That's their prerogative. As long as I get great music out of the deal... by all means let them do what they need to do or wear what they need to wear in order to accomplish this.
Many of these bands are VERY over the top in whatever theme they write about, whether it's about epic battles, Viking lore, Satanic rituals, or even Spacemen. But the over the top aspect of it is half the fun for me. Like turning on Saturday morning cartoons, I can sink myself into some other world and come out of it in a good mood. The sometimes goofy corpse paint, bandoleers, swords, and all that nonsense just add to the fun sometimes. Metal, in a way, has become a parody of it's self, and I'm completely okay with that because that's partly why I fell in love with it in the first place.
Summoning, somehow, is not one of these bands. How they are so far beyond "over the top" or much more awesome because of there themes and lyrical content is beyond me. But they really are. I really think it just has to come down to artistic direction and integrity.
Oath Bound is a completely different monster from anything else I had ever heard before in my life. Before Oath Bound, I was VERY unfamiliar with most of Summoning's work, so needless to say the plodding war drumming styles that flow throughout this entire disc (seventy nine minutes in length) was most definitely a surprise to me. I'll even admit, I was a bit hesitant at this concept at first because I'm so used to insanely fast tempos, blast beats, and the like. But the perfection that these war drums pound into the listener's ears is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to how well done this album is.
Lyrically, from what a friend of mine and I deduced, this album is about the Dead Men of Dunharrow. Each song from beginning to end seems to tell the tale from when they were told by Isildur that they would not find rest or peace until they fulfilled their oath, until many years later when they did.
What Summoning does so well with this, which I believe is their finest album to date, is use repetition and simplicity to form perfection. The songs are not too long, nor are they too short. Flowing in and out of simple guitar riffs using flutes, chanting melodic vocals, harsh vocals and of course the aforementioned war drumming. It is known by many at this point, but track 3, "Mirdautas vras" is also written lyrically and sang in the Black Speech of Mordor. This alone is not only incredibly impressive, but sinks you into the entire atmosphere of the album even more so.
What this album doesn't have is any type of guitar solo whatsoever. In fact even the guitar structures are as simple as the almost Mother-Goose lyrics. Not to undermine the lyrics however, as the way they are written seems to be yet another nod to Tolkein's poetry strewn throughout his various works.
This entire album is a journey, from the incredible intro track to the extremely satisfying and rewarding end. While this style of music, or metal, is not for everyone... including metal fans, to me it's incredibly worth each minute it takes to sit and listen to something of this magnitude. Sitting and listening to this album would be the equality of curling up with a good book and a hot cup of tea. I believe that's precisely what Summoning intended on doing in the first place.