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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.