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A gap as lengthy as 7 years was always going to mean that there would be fans of Summoning who would declare this album to be the best of the year even before hearing a note of it- and those people will certainly find comfort in how unreservedly in the band's comfort zone this is. A 7 year gap it may be, but musically there is no gap here; this picks up exactly where Oath Bound left off, and that gives Summoning's critics all the more fuel than ever before.
Harsh vocals aside it is pretty fair to see that Summoning are not or have ever really been a Black Metal band. The cracker tremelo-laden riff early in “The White Tower” that has a certain Absurd-vibe to it is an exception, but otherwise this is missing the key component of Metal for most of the duration. There are electric guitars of course, but for the most part they are background noise, almost like an element of the production rather than music. They are there to give a mid-tone buzz for atmosphere- nothing else. More than ever then Summoning seem to have more in common with the Electro-Ambient, and especially World Music, genres- witnessed especially by the drumming on “Caradhras” and “Of Pale White Morns And Darkened Eves” where pygmy-exploiting soundscapers Deep Forest are evoked.
The intro to “The Wandering Fire” has to be the lowest point for the drumming where it becomes so kitsch that it has more in common than Cliff Richard's Worldbeat forays than anything Metal, but overall the sound is pretty terrible. At first it might be said that it has charm, and I suppose some kudos most go to Summoning for being probably the only Metal band who can use a drum machine in this day and age and not get scorn heaped upon them by their fans- but at the same time it is pretty ridiculous that such a successful and respected act have a drum sound worse than the PC game Age Of Empires II.
On a personal level the main reason why I have turned my nose up at bands like Summoning in the past is because of how my interest in Pagan/Folk Metal is partly influenced by a love for traditional/Folk music and a socio-anthropological interest in mythology. Bands who lyrical exist entirely in the realms of fantasy, and who draw musical influence a from purely imagined notion of medievalism and ancient musicality have never had nearly as much appeal to me. That is still true on this album, but as always Summoning's talent for crafting epic melodies and arrangements has to be respected. Unfortunately though in this, their main strength, Summoning come up short compared to previous albums. The bouzouki-dominated instrumental break that leads into the album's best melody occurs on “Flammifer”, 2 tracks in, and creates an early peak that is not quite lived up to by the rest of the album- and when you are taking about an album over an hour long even without the bonus tracks, peaking early is fairly disastrous.
The latter half of the album does have a few points worthy of mention; the glossal keyboard sections interspersed with woodwind solos on “The Wandering Fire”, the Quorthon-esque vocals on closer “Earthshine” and the surprisingly oriental feel to the bowed strings on “Of Pale White Morns And Darkened Eves”, but nothing to give that classic album-making factor. If anything this album is too restrained when it comes to the melodies and arrangements, and restraint is not something Summoning do well. This is definitely a Summoning record- just in the larger picture of their discography it is not a very good one. [6/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts