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To put myself in the line of fire, I feel the need to stress that there is nothing inherently "Tolkien" about Summoning's music other than the lyrics. Despite what the band and their rabid fan base might want you to think, the Middle-Earth mystique serves as little more than window dressing after taking the splendor of the actual music into account. As such, little is lost when the band decides to traverse broader lyrical avenues, like on Stronghold. This one tends to fall through the cracks, sandwiched between two of the band's most popular records in Dol Guldur and Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame. I personally found Dol Guldur to be something of a mess, awkwardly amalgamating Summoning's oft-overlooked early material with aesthetics that would later come to define their modern approach.
Stronghold is certainly more structured and sure of itself, careful to tread a thin line to avoid sounding too bouncy or upbeat like albums such as Minas Morgul. In fact, this is easily one of the band's darkest records, supplemented by a slightly stronger guitar presence and less of a reliance on joyous harpsichord textures and harmonious excess. Everything is much more subdued and forlorn-sounding, occasionally perking up enough to add subtle triumphant undertones like during "Like Some Snow-White Marble Eyes", which in hindsight laid the template for the archetypical modern Summoning song. It stands out on virtually all fronts and remains a forgotten classic; not to shortchange the rest of Stronghold. Protector's spacious roars are delivered in hypnotizing patterns, transfixing the listener while the archaic keyboards churn away in the background. Even the riffs have a strong foothold, chugging away during the verses with a hearty (for Summoning standards) tone that isn't brought down by excessive reverb like on later records. Don't miss that one.
Otherwise, the band manages to squeeze by without flagging too much, even on protracted numbers like the closer "A Distant Flame Before the Sun". Later Summoning records like Oath Bound pushed the limits of track duration, but the less busy nature of Stronghold's percussion helps divert priority away from the surging guitars and oceanic scope. Less time is spent contemplating the skip button, as many of these songs take drastic turns into captivating waters at just the opportune time. Take the aforementioned closer, which is initially marred by Silenius' inferior rasps (Protector is much more digestible as a vocalist). At the five-minute mark a particular unity gained by the sudden upsurge of triumphant melodies comes out of left field and truly rips the floorboards out from underneath you. One of the band's finest moments, and a more than suitable end cap.
Stronghold stands out for a number of reasons, as the band makes a concerted effort to emulate a true drum kit like on "The Loud Music of the Sky". The tribal subtext is still there, but it certainly serves to remind the listener that Summoning is indeed a band and not just a couple of adrift orcs who managed to successfully navigate a recording interface. Borsky's overacted cleans on "Where Hope and Daylight Die" are always a nice touch, embodying an avenue that I personally wish the band would experiment with further. The mix is less glossed over and hazy sounding, instead drawing it's sonic appeal from the subsonic reverberation of the programmed kit and resonating string ensembles. It still sounds excessively dense by most standards, but it isn't nearly as much of a chore to pick out the riffs and understated melodies that so often get swept under the rug. As stated earlier, Silenius is a far less impressive vocalist than his attached-at-the-hip comrade. Save for the monumental closer, the remaining two songs featuring him as lead vocalist tend to meander more than they impress. "The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground" is clearly the weakest link here, although with a more concise running time it would have potential.
Stronghold can be a difficult album to defend, as the listener has to be in a specific mood to fully appreciate it's gloomy ambiance. Not everyone has the patience to sit through a Summoning album lacking in overt exultant features; but as they say, patience is a virtue.
If we have no visual point to guide us, humans can not walk in a straight line, for reasons yet to be explained.
Sometimes, the path can lead us astray. Maybe we get distracted along the way and lose sight of the destination, there was no clear idea as to what the destination was to begin with, and hell, sometimes there wasn't even supposed to be a destination. In this case, once Summoning got to their destination, they found it was something entirely unexpected. Silenius and Protector had spent the past few albums slowly evolving their sound, honing the things they loved most in music and showed an appreciation for electronic and ambient styles of music not usually seen in collaboration with metal, much less black metal. Dol Guldur was far from Summoning's best album, but it signified a much stronger clarity of vision and laid the groundwork for the grand battle scene that Stronghold is. It's kind of cool actually, if you line up the covers of the first four albums chronologically, you see a story of sorts: Lugburz is the initial leg of the voyage, just outside of the mountain range within which the enemy kingdom resides, Minas Morgul shows the kingdom from a distance, now deep in the valley at this point; Dol Guldur is perhaps a location where our heroes have come to rest on the evening prior to the big day, and Stronghold paints a picture at the foot of the main castle, where the first attack will commence.
As they had been focusing on mostly tinkering with the drum programming and keyboards on the past couple of albums, it is no surprise that they are both fully fleshed out and also reside more comfortably in the background this time around. This is often heralded as Summoning's best album by metalheads, and that could clearly be attributed to the more riff-based songs and the actual exploration and attention to detail in said riffs' unique style. What was seen in mere traces in the past is now fully realized; after a fairly typical Summoning intro in "Rhun", "Long Lost to Where No Pathway Goes" storms in with a riff that is perhaps among the finest in the Austrian band's discography. Whereas the majority of Summoning's previous albums were predominantly carried by walls of slowly-changing tremolo, there's not only more riffs but more things in said riffs. "The Shadow Lies Frozen on the Hills" makes it known that they're still fairly adept at one-note-riffing, using it to bridge sections together well and generally just having it hold your interest much more easily this time around in the few spots it's tastefully used. Before, they could be enjoyed really only as a piece of the greater storyline the song, but now as a byproduct of developing the riffs further they have come into their own.
The songs haven't really changed much in length, but they certainly feel shorter- no one riff is dwelt upon for too long, and a lot of them are really good, so each song just leaves you wanting more. All is certainly exercised with the appropriate amount of restraint, too- their approach on "The Loud Music of the Sky" lets the song grow with intent and care and doesn't try to cram too many ideas where they don't fit. This is probably the first Summoning album where I've actually felt that the runtime and length of individual songs was fully justified, and that's probably why at the time of this album's release it was their best yet- it's a much more concise and accessible package without sacrificing (and perhaps even increasing in) complexity, and the first Summoning album I would personally consider a classic to the genre. There are a few moments that do make this fall just short of sublime, though- "A Distant Flame Before the Sun", a song that sounds more like a tribute to their older sound as opposed to a part of the album it's on, is a good enough song, but Summoning have always written these huge life-affirming closing songs, and honestly, besides it getting a little drawn-out and tiring (which is a cop-out excuse that I've already used against Summoning a lot), the only real reason I don't like that song much is because, relative to their other closers it's just not as good. It's a silly reason, but I know they can do much better than this, they did so on the same fuckin' album! "The Glory Disappears" and "The Loud Music in the Sky" would both have worked phenomenally as the final track on the album, being much more emotionally gripping and active than "A Distant Flame Before the Sun", yet they never lose their sense of pace when writing a song. The keyboards aren't as much of a focal point as previously mentioned, so as a caveat they lose a bit of their effect and staying power due to their relative sparsity.
Stronghold isn't my personal favorite Summoning album (that's on deck), but they're at the prime of their career here and writing with more energy and creativity than they ever were before, which is a pretty considerable feat to begin with. This isn't a particularly metallic release in aesthetic, but will very easily no doubt appeal to most metalheads because it fully embraces songwriting qualities that we have come to appreciate due to their prominence in metal, and affirms our appreciation for those qualities. This is the result of the hard work of a band getting everything just right over the course of half a decade, and there are just a few finishing touches to be made and a few more battles to be fought before victory shall reign and Summoning enter the book of legends.
Summoning stood at a crossroads with this album, as the 'Nightshade Forests'-MCD had been the first one that was not able to top its predecessor. Could they once again record a marvellous album and make another step forward or would they suffer the same fate that Abigor suffered, never again to reach the level of 'Orkblut' and 'Nachthymnen' ? Well, Protector and Silenius chose the first opportunity. 'Stronghold' is exactly the album that I had hoped for. Perhaps not as intense as 'Dol Guldur', nevertheless a masterpiece, and not to forget (except for the copy-gays of Enid), still in its very own style. Marching computerdrums, haunting but always 'nice' synthsmelodies, great vocals (maybe its even a bit easier to understand them this time). But the main difference is obviously that for the first time the guitarlines are clearly available, you can clearly distinguish Protector´s art of playing, maybe it was a good choice to change the studio and record in Nachtschatten Studios this time? The production at least is great! But, of course, there's one point that I have to criticize, why the hell do as well Summoning use female vocals now ? Okay, she's not that bad, and she does fit to the atmosphere the song 'Where Hope And Daylight Die' creates, nevertheless I am convinced that there's no need of using female background vocals on Black Metal-albums. Alright, but I think you already know what to do, this is again a fantastic Summoning-album, and this band just gives us what we expect from them, no negative surprise, no negative experiments, just more than an hour of intense art, just pure Summoning !
Favourite Tracks: Long Lost To Where No Pathway Goes, The Glory Disappears, The Rotting Horse On The Deadly Ground
(Originally published in The Purgatory Of Grief 1999-2001 (RIP))
Summoning have always been somewhat of an oddball band in the field of black metal. It's not totally incorrect to call them a symphonic black metal band, but at the same time, they don't really fit the tag associated with that corner of the genre; at the same time, it's far from regular raw black metal. The band's debut was rather raw, but held an aesthetic that would stick with the band through its career: the Tolkien vibe, of course. Things really hit a new phase with Dol Guldur, where the band began to incorporate keyboard-based elements into the sound, making for a more soundscape-esque, epic atmosphere for the already highly ambitious music. Stronghold takes the formula that came to fruition on Dol Guldur and totally forges it into a new chapter for the band; this is the essential Summoning recording, where their layered and oft-symphonic arrangements shine with a sense of freshness, passion, and where the band truly came into their own style.
While the band's previous release hinted at this type of thing, few of us dreamed it would be on this grand of a scope. Right from the beginning of the album, listeners are swallowed by radiant, golden ambience and an impalpable autmnal atmosphere. All of the drum beats are programmed here, and nearly all of the arrangements are based around the keyboard and synth compositions. Generally, I would scorn this type of thing; but Summoning had their heads on straight when composing these songs. Rather than programming the drums strictly for the sake of timekeeping, tribal-sounding rhythms power the songs; pounding toms, exotic touches such as bells and tambourines, and a deep, echoing bass drum propel the songs at generally slow speeds, but never become boring. The patterns never really remain the same either, so there aren't many problems with repetition through the album's course. Some of the backbeats have a near-folkish flair to them, which really brings the Tolkien vibe to life in combination with the guitars.
On a level of songwriting, Silenius and Protector have made leaps and bounds in their skills. Each song is now given proper time to reveal itself and grow on the listener; the keyboards are meticulously matched to accent and play off of the guitar lines, such as the the bold brass and medieval tremolo lines of "The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground." Structurally speaking, more progressive touches are taken; most songs have a very open, narrative feel to them, almost cinematic. More often than not, a keyboard or synth line sets the main pace for the song, and the layering from there begins: the guitars enter with a melodic line; the drums enter at a low, dynamic volume; and suspense builds until a grand, explosive climax, whereupon the cycle repeats itself. This may sound formulaic in text, but there's a great deal of variety in each song to prevent it from becoming boring or repetitive. With the amount of mood and atmosphere given off, the listener almost totally becomes lost within the textures offered.
Of course, the musicianship is one of the most important aspects of any band, and Summoning do not fall short, despite the pompous, overwhelming scope of the music. The extravagant keyboard melodies sweep over the arrangements in a sense of grandeur, and by no means are these one-minded, cheesy, or boring melodies; "Long Lost to Where No Pathway Goes" and the slightly melancholy "The Loud Music of the Sky" use multiple layers of strings for a huge, epic wash of sound that is rapturous, while songs like "The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground" and "A Distant Flame Before the Sun" make use of strong, deep brass sections for a battle-like backdrop. Most of the guitars are fairly simple chord structures, tremolo melodies, and palm-muted notes that maintain a neo-folk, medieval feel. Essentially, they serve the purpose of backing the keyboards, but there are some memorable moments on their own ground, and aid the huge, mountainous atmosphere wonderfully.
Silenius and Protector switch vocal roles on this album, as they always have; Protector has a rather mild raspy scream that is passionate enough on its own, but doesn't possess much of anything in the way of ferocity or venom; not that it's needed, in his case. Silenius, on the other hand, is my personal favorite; he was in Abigor, so you have an idea of what to expect. His vocals are much harsher and have a more "shrieky" sound to them, which works perfectly on the brave "The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground." He also has a bit more power and projection than his counterpart, but doesn't appear as often. When he does, though, it's a very special thing.
Lyrically, you already know what to expect: Tolkien. All things Lord of the Rings, really. Some of the song titles and lyric passages are taken straight from the book, in fact. Whether it be the dark plains of Mordor, epic battles, or elves, Summoning prove that Tolkien can indeed be metal and do it well.
Stronghold's production brings the atmosphere to life: each instrument, vocals included, are soaked in heavy reverb, but never get to the point of where things are indecipherable or clusterfucked. Things remain surprisingly clear and easy to decipher, even with the heavy layering in keys.
For those looking for some left-of-center black metal that doesn't explore the tattered ends of avant-garde, or just someone who has a passion for Tolkien, (yeah, that's me) give Stronghold a listen and let the atmosphere take over.
Favorite tracks: "Long Lost to Where No Pathway Goes", "Like Some Snow-White Marble Eyes", "The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground", "The Loud Music of the Sky."
Whether a fan of Black, Death, or Power Metal, EVERYONE has a spot for Summoning. A popular duo from Austria, Summoning plays usually slow, clear, and epic sounding Black Metal fixed on themes from fantasy and Tolkien. The group is also known for their breathtaking album art, which everyone knows is surpassed by the music within.
Stronghold was my introduction to Protector and Silenius’ world, and for newcomers I recommend starting here because this album has stiff elements of previous works while still having formula that the newer material is built from. While the album starts off with the sweet instrumental and (believe me) catchy tune of “Rhun”, it just sets you into the mood like all the Summoning releases before it. The real fun starts with my first Summoning track heard, “Long Lost To where No Pathman Goes”. I’m not alone when I say I was mesmerized by Protectors guitar work, which is the backbone of the song entirely. Combined with a keyboard skyline and the simplistic drum pattern, this song shines in the Summoning catalog.
One must know that Summoning loves to infuse majestic melodies into each of their songs, while also having fairly diverse vocal styles (Compare vocals from track 2, 5, and 6). Both Protector and Silenius mix vocal duties, a feat that both men are masters of. At the time Summoning had no one covering drums (and still doesn’t), so Protector instead handles the programming (a decision many deem intelligent). Don’t fret, because the drumming is incredibly coherent and consistent with each song, filling a greater purpose than just “keeping pace”.
Although the guitar work plays an important role (albeit a bit scratchy due to production), the keyboards are truly what makes Summoning who they are. Take all the beauty that Middle Earth has to offer, and you have an approximation of what Protector and Silenius churn out when they even come close to a keyboard. Besides the “Long Lost To Where No Pathman Goes” and “The Rotting Horse…”, these tracks are remembered for their keyboard melodies, all of which contain a captivating tune of emotion and all that is good in the world. The atmosphere, my fellow listeners, is as enchanting as the lyrics of land and life we will never see in today’s world ever again.
Clocking over an hour, many will not (and are not) be displeased that there isn’t enough to capture. Make sure that you aren’t only listening to this album, but you also use your imagination when your setting is dull, as it will be your savior. Understand when I say that envisioning Middle Earth plays a huge part in enjoying this album. When listening to this piece, no one will want to come back.
For me, this is the best piece of music ever created. How can anything be so perfect? Most people say that Dol Guldur is the best Summoning album. Sure, it has a few amazing songs, but also 2 or 3 weaker songs, so as an overall album Stronghold is much better, because it has no bad songs in my opinion. I don't know what the other reviewers have against this album. I simply don't understand how they can't feel the beauty of the music.
Well, anyway, the atmosphere created on this album is slightly different compared to Summoning's previous works. It has less of the fantasy-feel, but more of a deep forest feel (for me at least). Also, if you look at the song titles, you will see that they didn't simply take names from the Tolkien universe (except for Rhûn). I have to admit that I didn't immediately fall in love with the album. It slowly grew on me. After the first 2 or 3 listens I would have given it 80% maybe, but after many more listens and after several weeks of listening to the album regularly, I came to the conclusion that this album is amazing. Each song has a very similar structure, but it doesn't matter at all, because they are all unique at the same time. The keyboard melodies are wonderful and the atmosphere that is created is a kind of dreamy atmosphere. Like I said before, I always picture a deep forest in the middle-age with a small path between the trees (don't ask me why). This is quite funny, because the cover actually shows a castle on a cliff and the album is called "Stronghold", but I don't think of a Stronghold at all while listening to it.
I like the Intro (Rhûn) a lot. I love the militar drum sound, and the fantastic keyboards adding to it later. A highlight on this album is the song "Where Hope And Daylight Die", where they used clean female vocals performed by Tania Borsky. That's a very nice idea to add some variety to the songs. Most of the songs start the same way: Beautiful keyboards, then the guitar kicks in, followed by the harsh vocals. Boring you think? No, not at all. At first I didn't like the production so much because I thought the sound quality was bad. But then I realized that the sound is clear, it's just the guitar riffs that are a bit dissorted and scratchy. The keyboards, drums and vocals are crystal-clear. The slightly dissorted guitars don't bother me at all anymore.
This album is a masterpiece. The mood and the atmosphere are wonderful. Buy this and see if you like it by yourself, don't let yourself influence by bad reviews too much.
This for sure is one of the most interesting bands I've come across. I've never been big on Black Metal but Summoning is really cool, and unique as well. "Stronghold" is best described as a medieval-styled symphonic BM album with a lot of ambient stuff going on. The drums are all electronic and the guitars are merely there to do an occasional melody to accompany the synthetic background. Vocals are quite typically Black Metal-styled.
What makes this so damn sweet is the fact that they take it to such extreme epic proportions. The songs are long (all around six or seven minutes) and all based around the same elements. Masterful ambient melodies colored by the occasional stride of guitarwork and Black Metal shrieks. "Where Hope And Daylight Die" is the only song not to feature the shrieks, as it has a female operatic voice instead. And it's a true surprise how well that works out in this particular case.
Towards the end, the strength of the album also does become its weakness. All of the tracks, while maintaining quality, are pretty much crafted in the same exact fashion. It does become too much of the same treat. That can discourage me from listening to the entire album when I'm not fully in the mood for it. The female vocals of "where Hope And Daylight Dies" do provide some variation but it's not enough to make "Stronghold" 100% consistent.
Still, it's no doubt in my mind that this is a very good release. The soundscape is addictive as Summoning unleash epic melodies and grabs the listener by the neck, leaving him to sink into the majesty of their fantasy tales. In terms of taking it to epic proportions, few albums can compete against "Stronghold".
Atmospheric, majestic, symphonic, keyboard based or however you want to call it Black Metal has definitely been one of the most controversial sub-genres of metal in general. Its main problem always was that its core consisted of a few original innovators (Emperor, Limbonic Art, early Satyricon) and a huge amount of worthless bands that was trying in vain to catch up with them (Last Episode anyone?). Historically, Summoning deserve to be among the pioneer bands, as they came to close to defining the genre with their second (and probably best) album, Minas Morgul. Artistically, the band has many ups and downs, not always succeeding into conveying the atmosphere of their Middle Earth concept into their music.
Stronghold is one of the most characteristic albums of the Austrian duet, as it contains both some of their greatest and weaker moments. The album starts with a great instrumental, Rhun, composed of a snare drum playing a slow militaristic rhythm accompanied by a pompous french horn keyboard and a transcending ambient melody leading to the first real song of the album , Long Lost to Where no Pathway Goes, a song that has all the great elements of Summoning in it. The keyboard melody is dominant, but the first appearance of the guitars succeed in complementing the sound, by palm muted fast melodies or the classical black metal riffing. The melody that is introduced and replayed at the end with a different harmonisation is unparelled. After this opus, one would expect the rest of the tracks to stand in the same height as the above, however from this point and on the album suffers from a lack of strong themes, oversimplistic approach and monotony caused by the absence of variations. The complexity and harmonisation of various layers of Dol Guldur in not to be found here. The 3d song has good elements, while the 4th resembles the excercises 10 year old kids play at piano (Czerny, I-IV-V and the rest) and is very tiring. The goth-club-hit that follows ("Where hope and Daylight Dies") where we listen to a a-bit-out-of-tune female voice from Protectors dark wave project Die Verbadden Kinder Evas, has a simplistic again main melody but a beautiful guitar theme that is reminiscent of the second song. The rest of the songs don't have anything very special to offer, 6 and 7 are fairly good (we even hear a blastbeat and some black metal guitars in 7), 8 is horrible (out of tune guitars!) and the last is fornunately a comeback in the quality of the album, where the main theme of the intro is reinroduced, along with a sample from Braveheart ("Behold the awful prize of freedom!" just before his head is cut off)
Overally, this album is mostly for "symphonic black metal" enthusiasts, goths that want to make an easy start in black metal, etc. I'm sure that Summoning have capabilities for something greater, as their first albums point out, but their uneven composition skills along with the weak electronic orienteted (did i mention the drum machine?) production holds them back.
You must admit that Summoning¡¯s music is not so complex, but there is something makes all their albums to have a unique taste. For this one, the ¡°stronghold¡± of 1999, which represents their style best, can give us a view into the inner world they created.
In my part, nearly all of the songs in this album can be divided into two part, the wall of singer¡¯s voice, and the epic melody, which in most time just hides behind the vocal, or maybe floats over it. I have never heard a black metal album in which the singing can take such a big proportion to help constitute the symphonic feelings. Protector¡¯s black voice give their music a particular taste of grandness and heaviness, and with the aid of the excellent epic melody, no doubt the album exactly exhibit what¡¯s on the cover of this album: red planet and a tall castle.
The most typical one is the fourth song. And the other one that must be mentioned is the fifth of this album, which is the only one that employs the female vocal and brings some different sense.
Thought I appreciate their music very much, I must admit that with merely the wall of sound and some simple melody, their music seems a little monotone. However, after all, it is a prominent symphonic black metal.
So you know: my original review was kinda shitty, and I decided to rewrite it as my original views had changed a bit, and seeing as I've become pretty disappointed in this album over time,... as its replay value grows extinct, I decided a new review was indeed in order. But I digress...
So what you've got here, in a nut shell, is a whole lot of cheesey ambiance, repetition in a "wanna be" epic fashion, a tempo which seems basically fixed (hell the drums really are worthless here, if your a drummer you probably wouldn't like this) through out the album to one pace, some decent vocals (albeit with there own share of unpleasant qualities at points), and some decent keyboard patterns (usually killed by repetition, and overdubing though). Whats really worse is sadly enough, that could have described a fair portion of this bands discography. I enjoy the fantasy aspects of this band a bit, but come on... when you have an album length of a little over an hour, and your songs all have A. the same mid paced, boring tempo, B. lots of similiarly structured keyboard patterns, and C. an air of pretentious wankery you've got some major problems.
There are a couple cool guitar harmoniesleads on here, but way too far and few between. Also I enjoy the tones of the instruments (well the drums again suck here), and the production overall deserves equal praise, its just when you get down to the actual music there is much to be desired here. With all fairness the band has its sound, and what it does they do well, but as far as being a great Metal album, this is definitely not one, and further more what is here grows stale fast, has many elements that I don't care much for, and really is nothing more then a novelty to me after repeated listens. I wouldnt really recommend this to anyone that doesnt highly enjoy keyboard based music.