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The Triumph of Morgoth - 94%

TheDeadEndKing, November 18th, 2018

In a world where Tolkien-themed artists/albums/songs are commonplace, Summoning has always seemed to stand among those who capture the essence of his works in the correct light. Years before the Peter Jackson films came into being, accompanied by the now-classic score, this Austrian duo personally gave this reader a soundtrack to the journey. "Minas Morgul", in particular, stood out as a truly epic ode to Middle Earth, and equally to black metal.

One major discussion point I've seen about this record is the use of programmed drums throughout. Indeed, the drums are indisputably programmed, loud in the mix, and hit or miss in spots with their tonality. In certain passages, it can be quite distracting, especially with how front and center the vocals can be as well. However, this isn't awful 100% of the time. Playing my own devil's advocate, it works in the favor of expressing a more dark, primal emotion in some areas. After all, a vast majority of Tolkien's work held a more sinister, ancient theme. Expecting anything streamlined when reflecting this would almost be detrimental in practice.

"Minas Morgul" earns its notoriety through its atmosphere, as does all of Summoning's material. The record FEELS old, not just in production, but in substance. While the concept of dungeon-synth may be cheesy in many corners of music, Summoning uses it tastefully here. There are virtually no tracks on this album where the synth work seems out of place. Rather, they do a marvelous job of conjuring images of the landscapes and scenes they are invoking, especially if you've poured over Tolkien's drawings, or even seen the films. "The Passing of the Grey Company", "Morthond", and "Ungolianth" are a few examples of pieces thick with this, and use it to compliment massive, melodic riffs that do more than enough justice to the black metal side of things. The programmed, primal drums work in full favor of the compositions here, as well, lending credence to their inclusion in the album in the first place.

On the symphonic side of black metal, particularly in the earlier days of its development, it's incredibly hard to not let the "metal" side of things get lost in the ambiance, effects, layering, and so on. Many a great record has been ruined, or watered down, by just one of these factors, if not all. "Minas Morgul" survives this by finding just enough balance between them all to make it work, and work well. Songs like "Marching Homewards" and "Dor Daedeloth" are prime examples of cuts that could have easily been ruined by one tick of unbalance in any element. However, they are presented magnificently together, shining through as two of the highlights of the record, bathed in epic majesty, and some of the best early symphonic black metal work you'll ever hear.

Summoning catches a fair amount of flak. They are, after all, the calling card "Tolkien nerds making black metal music". But holy shit, they do it right. "Minas Morgul" is a triumph against a myriad of elements working against it. This album, on paper, shouldn't be as good as it is. In the end, however, it succeeds in its mission, and opens the floodgates for not only more classic Summoning records to follow, but other symphonic black metal bands to fall in line behind it.

A highly recommended album for any black metal fan, and a classic of the genre.