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My First Casio: Mythic greetings from Arda. - 73%

ConorFynes, May 1st, 2017

Summoning remind of the music and drink-focused forest hangouts I used to have as a teenager. There were some loud voices in my social circle at the time that saw this band as the pristine ideal of atmosphere in black metal. Our collective tastes were pretty matched in most respects, but mine was always the dissenting opinion when it came to Summoning. Each time it was someone's turn to pick a track and Summoning came on, a part of me inevitably tuned out. I remember liking "Long Lost to Where No Pathway Goes" well enough, but the rest honestly sounded like a cheap synth interlude had claimed the hubris to imagine itself as a full-bodied epic. Summoning were promising and authentic, sure, but each time, they fell flat in the execution.

My music taste has evolved considerably since the immortal 22nd Street Forest days of yore, but my frustrating ambivalence towards Summoning has remained a pretty dependable constant. There's never been a point where I don't at least slightly feel like I'm listening to an unreasonably ambitious live demonstration of Casio's budget products, and the band's fans probably know well enough to discard my opinion on the basis alone I consider the Lugburz debut as one of their more enjoyable records.

A lot of the opinions I still have were already engrained by the point Old Mornings Dawn came out, but speaking in hindsight, it was the first Summoning album I gave a proper chance. Surprisingly, I liked it well enough when it came out in 2013. Now that I've virtually heard the band's entire discography, I actually think I might actually appreciate it more. All of their usual fantasy-synth trappings are here. Between the primitive thud of the drum programming and the 1990s CRPG soundtrack feel, nothing in concept changed from 2006's Oath Bound; yet Old Mornings Dawn hits me a lot closer to the way I know it's supposed to. My enjoyment's still bogged down by a lot of the same issues that plague their career as a whole, but OMD joins Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame in a headcanon trilogy of albums where they got their sound down right.

It's honestly hard to pinpoint what differentiates the best Summoning albums from the lesser ones. Even if Old Mornings Dawn sounds so much more realized than Oath Bound, I know that nothing essential has really changed in the formula. The Tolkienesque atmosphere has run a constant throughout their career and, despite generally improved production, the sound palette barely extends past what you'd hear chopping logs on Runescape. Old Mornings Dawn feels so much more alive than the typical Summoning. I think a large part of this is thanks to the dynamic variation within the songwriting. The slowbaking rise in their arrangements runs the risk of growing stale fast if they switch it up. Though Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame remains my favourite and Stronghold still boasts their boldest atmosphere, OMD is the first Summoning record where each track is truly distinct and at least partially memorable on its own.

They did a really good thing by bringing guitars back up to the front on this album. Synths are the meat of Summoning's legacy, and I respect their lamest work still for the fact they managed to carve out an original sound with otherwise primitive tech. If Old Mornings Dawn finally proved anything however, it's that their dungeoncrawler chic can really use the punch of a greater guitar presence. The thick guitars on "Caradhras" do the best job of demonstrating how much this subtle change can do for the music. I've seen this same would-be recommendation for more guitars veered at Summoning before, but it's usually brought up alongside the stupid complaint that the music "isn't black metal enough." I've never really given that genre question much thought when it comes to this band; their atavistic atmosphere does nothing to betray anything fundamental to black metal.

In a word, Old Mornings Dawn just sounds livelier than their past works. This is true even for the most true-to-formula, slower pieces like the title track. When it comes to this kind of slowburning minimalism, it's up to the artist to keep me reminded that the music leads to a worthwhile somewhere. I don't always feel like Summoning are going somewhere appropriately epic, but the impression comes effortlessly across on OMD; this is especially true for the first half, after which point they lose something of the impetus. After listening to virtually all of the band's material, it's interesting that my opinion of them has scarcely changed from those first forest impressions I had almost half a lifetime ago. It's to be expected that many Summoning diehards place this on a lower tier than their classic work. For me, at least, this was the first, and arguably the closest, I've ever come to truly understanding the appeal.