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Singing heroes? - 79%

Cheeses_Priced, January 15th, 2006

I wrote up a rather meaner review of this album a while back but I suppose I’ll have to scrap it now because it’s grown on me, sort of. (That happens all the time of course, so take any reviews I write as being less than definitive-and-final.)

No epiphany on my part or anything, I just put it on and I enjoyed it better than the last time I heard it. Probably some of that has to do with the fact that I’m pretty burned out on metal at the moment (ironic), and anything that strikes me as out of the ordinary – unmetal metal – gains a bit of appeal.

The major point in favor of all of Summoning’s music, to me, is that it’s symphonic, melodic, keyboard-driven black metal that sounds not a thing like what one ordinarily expects so-called symphonic, melodic, keyboard-driven black metal to sound like. In other words, it sounds nothing like Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir. In other other words, there’s not a lot of “normal” heavy metal influence here, or if there is, it manifests itself in less obvious ways.

The real influence is electronic music, I would expect (eh, can’t be bothered to research interviews). I couldn’t name a specific artist/band/project (what do they call themselves? that’s how little I know), but I do Summoning’s associated with some electronic side project(s), and with that rattling around in my head, it’s hard not to see the parallels – Summoning rely on programmed drums, and draw keyboard melodies across repetitive guitar playing. There are even voice samples, taken from a radio drama version of Lord of the Rings. There certainly aren’t any guitar riffs that really scream “metal”, no solos to speak of, no big soaring choruses. There aren’t any actual beep-beep thump-thump techno aspects either, of course. In theme and atmosphere, this is pure Tolkein, and a great deal more upbeat and cheery in tone than past outings, I notice.

It’s very, very listenable. The production is ultra-smooth, maybe more so than some would prefer, as they obviously put a good deal of effort into fine-tuning every tiny aspect of the recording. Each one of the individual drums (er, drum samples) sounds like it was recorded in a separate universe. The guitar tone is clear and powerful, and the keyboards… don’t sound like real instruments, but they sound like really nice keyboards. The only remotely harsh part of the album – the only part that would offend your mom, or a power metal fan – are the scratchy vocals, and they’re buried under so much studio magic and so tangential to the music itself that they scarcely emerge as a factor.

Though quite accessible, it’s not actually “catchy”, as far as inviting the listener to sing along goes. How could it be, after all, with this style of songwriting. It doesn’t lead you around enough for that. It doesn’t want to be a rock album.

It’s predictable enough after its own fashion, though, and we tend to feel the riff changes and the addition and subtraction of voices in the music as – or before – they happen. It almost goes down too easy, with no tension. My basic complain with the album would be just that: once it gets into the groove carved out by the first couple of tracks, it really doesn’t budge. For all the band’s symphonic aesthetics, the music doesn’t breathe much; it almost feels mechanical, deterministic. I think Minas Morgul significantly edges this album out there, although I cannot exactly say how. But even so, this is quite good.