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It's been six years since we last heard from black metal's most beloved Tolkien nerds, Summoning. The Austrian duo made a name for themselves by abiding by a strict songwriting formula: seven to ten minute songs containing two or at most three melodic riffs; lush, orchestral synths; sprightly drum beats and lots of esoteric Lords of the Rings references. In the early days, this formula was quite effective. Albums like Stronghold and Dol Guldur are so damn catchy and atmospheric that you're willing to ignore the feeling that you should be in your parents' basement with five pimple-faced virgins tossing a twelve-sided die onto a homemade map of Middle Earth to see whose army conquers the shire. Yet, like most bands that repeat a formula ad infinitum, Summoning's sound has become increasingly stale. Albums like Let Mortals Sing Your Fame and Oathbound offered little new and failed to make an impact.
Summoning has just returned from a six year hiatus with Old Mornings Dawn; sometimes an extended break is exactly what is needed to refresh a band’s creativity. Unfortunately, Summoning’s sound is just as predictable as it was six years ago. If anything, the music has become even more formulaic. In the past, Summoning offered just enough variety in texture and layering to justify the long song lengths and repetitive structures. On Old Mornings Dawn the songs are fairly stagnant. As the songs move along, little new is added to the equation and when something new is added it’s usually a worthless addition of some dull chanting or a speech by some dude doing his best Gandalf impression.
The album does have its strong points. The sound quality has a bright, crystalline clarity, allowing all the orchestral textures to shine. The melodies are, for the most part, quite beautiful and at times there are some pretty cool counterpoints (i.e. the horns and clean guitar on the second passage of “Flammifer”). The drum programming has a very deep, organic sound that is excellently mixed, rolling back and forth from right to left. While the synths and percussion are quite engrossing, the same cannot be said for the guitars. Their sole purpose is to add a little meat to the sound, which technically they achieve, but if you’re hoping to hear some distinguished riffs you will be severely disappointed.
That brings us to the categorization of this record: this really isn't a black metal album, but rather a neoclassical synth album with extreme vocals. If that’s your thing, then there might be just enough depth to make Old Mornings Dawn worth your while. However, even fans of synth music will probably find the repetitive nature of this record to be tedious. For repetitive music to be effective it usually needs have a hypnotizing effect. The poppy, hyper-melodic nature of Summoning’s songwriting simply isn’t conducive to this level of repetition. If Summoning cuts the fat from their next record, it might actually be worthwhile, but for the time being, Summoning sounds like a band that is out of ideas.
Originally written for deafsparrow.com