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Old Refrains from Middle-Earth - 60%

Sean16, July 26th, 2007

Insert a coin, lad, crank the good old Summoning hurdy-gurdy up, and it will be once again playing its immortal refrains from Middle-Earth.

Summoning must share this common point with Manowar that, at least, after all these years the potential listener knows exactly what he’s buying. Like most Summoning releases Oath Bound has the majesty, might and beauty of the great vast ocean, and in spite of this it’s also painfully annoying, frustrating, boring. Why? Some may like sitting on a cliff and keep on gazing at the furious sea the whole day, as it’s for sure an impressive sight. But how many people would like listening to a RECORDING of the sea crashing on the shore for more than ten minutes? Pretty monotonous, wouldn’t you think so?

That’s how the songs from the infamous Austrian duet always sounded to me; like ocean slices put in a sardines box, rotting while waiting to be imperfectly warmed up in a CD player. Settling into the mysterious and unexplored niche of epic-atmospheric-keyboard-driven-black-metal, if one really needs to put a tag on the nearly indescribable sort of music displayed here, had indeed been a spark of genius, but it’s been pretty much the only one the act has showed in its almost fifteen years of existence. Not only the guys are always more or less playing the same song (a characteristic they’re nonetheless sharing with a good thousand of existing bands), but the artistic value of said song is also questionable – regardless of, once again, how unique it sounds at first glance.

The drums, for instance, are quickly and strikingly nerve-breaking. I don’t care for them being programmed, as I suppose a genuine drummer wouldn’t have radically changed the deal, though the constantly sharp, resounding sound of the machine might introduce a supplementary matter of annoyance. The main problem is, the drums line is exactly copied and pasted in a totally identical fashion through the eight tracks of this LONG release. It most of time consists in military tom-tom rolls reinforced by a hit on the snare at the beginning of each bar – and that pretty much sums it up. Actually, the reason for the use of a drum machine is evident, as a human drummer would most certainly give up before the end of the recording session.

Guitars are raspy but shapeless, and identifying a few riffs isn’t easy challenge. The bass is lost. So-called amazing vocals of Silenius and Protector don’t really differ from the ones fronting more traditional BM bands, being indeed the most black-ish element here, together with the overall misty production. And eventually, there are the piano and keyboards – not anonymous keyboards, you know, but THE keyboards, almost with a capital K in their quality of key of the whole work. Now I’ve nothing against keyboards, those being often necessary means of thickening a song or suggesting an atmosphere, provided they remain discrete. But when keyboards come to play the part usually devoted to guitars, and guitars play the part usually devoted to keyboards, something has gone out of place. And that’s where Summoning must fail. Keyboards and programmed orchestrations can’t perpetually take possession of the front of the scene without making the music end in a puddle of fake-sounding pomp. POMP. Summoning is more pompous than late 19th century painting, more indigestible than this low-cost food hidden under a pool of artificially sugared sauce to hide its intrinsic mediocrity. Keyboards-sugared sauce, reinforced by a supplementary layer of Tolkien gimmick.

Let’s be fair, Summoning is for once not responsible for it, but nowadays using and abusing of Tolkien-related themes has become really old and tiring. And pushing the gimmick so far as writing a song in the Orc language only conducts to adding another stone to the edifice of ridicule; without mentioning the dragons’ roars and other findings in the same vein I thought only Rhapsody still dared to employ. After the last notes from the choirs of Land of the Dead – which on a sidenote is probably the least predictable, thus best song of the whole release – have evaporated, all that remains is the feeling of a huge, grandiloquent, bombastic, but also particularly empty and futile, exercise. So, worthless, Oath Bound? Worthless, Summoning? No. Stupidly overrated for sure, but at least one irremovable point remains. It’s still furiously EPIC.

Highlights: Land of the Dead (and it’s not only because it at least exhibits ONE real instrument – a flute)