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There's a sudden dawning realization that comes when you acknowledge to yourself that you've peaked- and as you struggle for some sort of last grasp at new vitality, sometimes you can completely descend into a downward spiral and lose sight of everything. If there's a strong foundation though, you can simply stand on that and continue to prosper. Though the gap between releases was long, and inspiration seemed to have been waning ever since their magnum opus dropped in 2001, Summoning, with just their second album in twelve years, have used their battle scars and long, treacherous experiences to fuel the youthful flames of yore, and as the old morning's dawn rises, Summoning have, at long last, returned home.
It seemed like with Oath Bound, Summoning pushed the nuances of the idiosyncratic sounds they had cultivated over a decade to their absolute limits. Regardless of that, one was still left feeling very unresolved with that album; it didn't feel like the right time to put things to rest, because in a way, they were lost. Although that was still a worthy album, it had a lot of qualities that raised doubt as to whether or not they were really in tune with what they wanted to write in the first place. Old Mornings Dawn dispels that notion with every echoed riff. Like every Summoning album, it can stand completely independent of their back catalogue, with its own little quirks and strengths while still being a sort of evolution upon said past sounds. With seven long years to rest and carefully bring to life the spirits of old, this album is the triumphant call of a warrior who has returned home; beaten and bruised, no doubt, but his words resound with a warm familiarity and the experience brought on by his battles and hardships. These are the melodies we've come to know and love from Summoning, and their presentation in this clearer, stronger light makes them a well-known fable told with new wisdom and experience.
It takes just one listen of the silky-smooth riffing on "Flammifer" or the vibrant violin opening into another fantastic riff on "Caradhras" to see the two main things that Summoning have tweaked following up Oath Bound. The production is much, much fuller and encompasses every aspect of the sound much better as opposed to favoring the guitars and kind of killing the other elements. Because of the lack of money these guys have to spend on aspects of being in a band such as touring and extensive promoting, they must have a much greater budget for albums than most, and it's great that they finally seem to be using this to their full advantage. This is one of the only albums where a really big-budget loudness-war sort of production is not only beneficial to the album, but almost seems like a necessity to encompass the full scope of the atmosphere that is presented. Secondly, they've made the wise decision to regress into the riffing styles more in line with albums like Stronghold and Let Mortal Heroes- though the guitarwork is still as smooth and textured as ever, there's slightly less melodic detail than there was on the preceding album and it favors the music much more greatly. Not only are individual guitar parts much more memorable and easier to be immersed in, but they mesh with the other aspects of the music much more harmoniously and it seems to have been re-understood by Protector and Silenius that the true beauty of their sound does not dwell within the actual melodies Summoning are writing. No, they've pretty much been doing a very similar thing for years on that front and anyone going into this expecting anything other than what Summoning have always been doing is not only going to be very sadly disappointed, but also horrendously misguided as to what they want and expect out of a Summoning album. The real beauty comes from the indescribable feelings that comes with the unique textures and aesthetics being intertwined, playing with each other and creating a soundscape between the layers that is multi-dimensional and gives you something new to come back to every single time.
I've been awkwardly trying to avoid the use of the word "riffs" in that last paragraph, and that's because it really doesn't seem like there are any to me. To call the guitarwork on this album predominantly influenced by metal riffs as we know and love them seems like an outright mistake to me. Although I know that Protector in particular listens to a lot of ambient/electronic music and that is a huge influence on Summoning, I couldn't tell you what specific subset of that genre is being drawn from here as I am mostly unfamiliar with that stuff, but it takes over the music and essentially prevents me from calling anything on this album a metal riff. They're melodic, ridiculously legato and reverbed guitar lines that end up just being another stream of ambiance contributing to the overall atmosphere. That seems to be the missing link that a lot of metalheads listening to Summoning don't seem to comprehend, whether they love or hate the album, but even having a remote understanding of where they draw from to attempt to create this sonic tribute to Tolkien makes the fact that they actually succeed at creating a sound that can demand all of your attention with its atmosphere in such a strange and specific blend of sounds makes it seem so much more genial.
This is one of the few albums which I almost guaranteed to myself going in that it would be a grower when I bought it; undoubtedly, this album will only resonate with you very strongly after you're already familiar with the melodies and textures (additionally, it helps if you've been in tune with what Summoning has been doing all along). It's really difficult to call one part of the music more noticeable over the other, because each of them contribute so evenly to the overall sound it's impossible to pick a standout. The drum programming is perhaps a little more nuanced and detailed than it has ever been, but that's just a natural byproduct of the band maturing. The entire thing is a standout. Of course there are some tracks that are my personal favorites; the aforementioned "Flammifer" as well as "Caradhras", "The White Tower" has some of the more metal-leaning Summoning moments as well as their strongest moments as far as the guitars go, and "Earthshine", while not being the best closer Summoning's ever done is still a weary, emotional ballad, and almost sounds like a goodbye from the band to the listeners; it is likely that after the release of this album, Summoning will once again disappear into the shadows, with nary a word to be heard from them for as long a time as the gap between Old Mornings Dawn and Oath Bound, perhaps even longer; this may not be their last album but it certainly shows tendencies of being so. This is an album for people who buy specifically what Summoning is selling; the outsiders looking in will continued to remain confused and disappointed while those of us who know the tune will sing the song of Summoning until the end of time. It is a harsh reality that they may leave us forever, but at the very least, I can be grateful and satisfied that they crafted a true swansong before the end.
The misty stars thy crown, the night thy dress,
most peerless magical thou dost possess
my heart and old days come to life again,
Old Mornings Dawn