Production: Gritty and toneful.
Review: Immersed in the metaphor of lost journeys through ancient kingdoms, Summoning cut their first album from the fullest weave of black metal possible, invoking the riff constructions and harmonies of the genre while adding in song structure and aesthetics a sense of suspension in liquid space while action occurs continuously surrounding the perspective of the listener.
Fast and protean riffs mingle with more traditional mid-tempo black metal rhythmic work as songs move from the clear and simple into the obscure, mixing progressions of cyclic power chord phrases with interludes and breaks to create organic structure that enwraps central concepts like shadows of an overture. Seamless descent into the darkness of existence between spaces of melody previously entered incites moods of anger and alienation, a darkness uniting them with the depths of its infinite lack.
1. Grey heavens (1:44)
2. Beyond bloodred horizons (3:37)
3. Flight of the Nazgul (7:07)
4. Where winters forever cry (4:04)
5. Through the valley of the frozen kingdom (6:22)
6. Raising with the battle-orcs (5:44)
7. Master of the old lure (4:14)
8. Between light and darkness (3:29)
9. The eternal lands of fire (3:36)
10. Dragons of time (6:01)
11. Moondance (4:46)
While no element of this work steps beyond standard black metal technique, the amalgam of techniques makes the technique a means to an end, again, and makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. Making black metal with expanded instrumentation and longer melody directed at such a clear vision of an alternate world that is both metaphorical and literal liberates this band from the indecisive repetition of past techniques, and allows the songwriting tricks of a generation of black metal bands to take on new meaning in this context.
In the traditional overdriven high pitched shriek of black metal, vocals pare the aerodynamics of phrase and interject structural cues. Drumming follows a patterning of understated black metal or techno percussion, rattling through high energy paces within a more contemplative balance. Strains of strings and vocals merge in distortion as percussion intrudes in a vortex of groundcover that like the roots of plants holds together its medium with gnarled, intricate, hierarchical vascular systems.
Where most metal either makes a point or describes one being made, Summoning even at this early stage aims for submergence within the point itself, a reality that is self-defining and self-sustaining. Its victory however is the suspension of the outside world for an immersive, simplistic and youthful but wisely hopeful and bravely creative world of its own.
Production: Reverb-heavy and gritty but somehow appropriate presence.
Review: Taking heed from the promise shown by Emperor, Ancient and Graveland, the Austrian mystical metal horde Summoning expand on the idea of wandering melodies in black metal by slowing down the music, making longer melodies of interchangeable parts, and dropping guitar to a background instrument whose rhythm and melody complements that of the keyboards.
1. Soul Wandering (2:32)
2. Lugburz (7:15)
3. The Passing of the Grey Company (9:16)
4. Morthond (6:44)
5. Marching Homewards (8:11)
6. Orthanc (1:39)
7. Ungolianth (6:37)
8. Dagor Bragollach (5:05)
9. Through the Forest of Dol Guldur (4:47)
10. The Legend of the Master-Ring (5:27)
11. Dor Daedeloth (10:16)
Vocals reduce to a timekeeper along with simplified, less-explosive drumming, which allows the keyboard-guitar interplay to take center stage. This is turn places focus on song structure, which is based around the concept of layers, allowing instruments to work together in varying degrees to create dynamics. However, there's also the interchangeable nature of these melodies, which means they suggest one another, which gives the impression of a single melody evolving as pieces of it repeat, and are then seen in a new context after another piece of the puzzle is played, then the original returns.
This album is about the peripatetic approach to struggle in life as exemplified by Tolkien's "not all who wander are lost," and it mimicks this tendency with melodic lines that drift through circuitous mazes of themselves before resolving into more discrete themes harmonizing with their previous tributaries. The careless grace and fearless variance promote a sense of worship for a life including both death and life, which complements the negativity worship of black metal with a sense of potential adventure behind every turn.
Production: Perfectly clear across multiple instruments with extremely able mixing; in short, excellent and well-adapted to the individual demands of this band.
Review: Summoning emanate slow and melodic ambient black metal that is more soundtrack than direct assault, insinuating a background mood into the listener's consciousness through repetition interrupted by melodic wanderings that emphasize placement and not categorical difference. The result is a deepening mood that grows from a seed of itself, and develops through its antithesis much as every journey has an objective, keeping both the gentle complexity of soundtracks and the tempestous, amoral sound of metal guitars.
1. Angbands Schmieden (3:30)
2. Nightshade Forests (10:48)
3. Elfstone (10:51)
4. Khazad Dúm (10:57)
5. Kôr (10:59)
6. Wyrmvater Glaurung (3:05)
7. Unto a long glory... (9:37)
8. Over old hills (8:57)
Fast strumming holds chords in synchronization with syncopated rhythms and allows the tremelo to bring forth the qualities of each chord that reveal their melodic relation to their counterparts in never-static beauty. Over this wall of surprisingly mellow sound keyboards in the tightly punctual style of later Enslaved hold down a thematic development that allows a circular but expanding composition to these songs. Guitars often interact in two layers, one using tremolo power chords to form a background melody, and another stitching an orderly lead rhythm melody over the lush collusion of guitars and keyboards.
Black-throated dry retching vocals seem jarring at first in this context but their usage is expertly controlled by a singer who stretches his notes to fall in cadence to accentuate continuity or vaguely dissonant and often beautiful contrast. While the result is unabashedly emotional in the guileless sense of exploration that pervades this band's lyrical influence, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, it expands upon the moods of black metal by showing us how fantasy connects to reality by making us embrace emptiness, loss, suffering and through losing our fear of such negatives, adventure.
Production: Not great but clear enough for instrumentalism, and fuzzy enough for atmosphere.
Review: Austrian midnight trippers Summoning emerge with another epic masterpiece of atmospheric, Tolkien-inspired narrative metal. While this album is still in the black metal style, they have modified it with synthpop-ish nearly tribal percussion, and lengthy, sparse passages marked by wandering keyboard melodies over sympathic guitar lines that emphasize harmonic space, giving it an epic, mystical and isolated feeling perfect for the moods of idealistic Romanticism.
Much of the philosophy of the past can be discerned from this style. While instruments each take an important role, none step into the spotlight because the music is formed of the interaction of each and not the instrument in itself, making context and role more important than flashy technique or out-of-place dramatics. This gives the music a constantly building, quiet dynamic that infiltrates consciousness and creates a perception of atmosphere in which repeated themes emerge in layers to silhouette a single idea that is never fully expressed but always present.
Each song is a series of melodies which develop into a larger theme, which narrates a journey, much in the way Tolkien unspun his dark tales. While these songs are mostly leftovers from what may be this band's best work, Dol Guldur, they are also in a style which is more like mainstream pop for its catchy electronic beats and poignantly mixed emotions on which it rides like summer clouds at dusk. However, the result is a beautiful and immersive thickly stacked musical feast in which it is easy to lose ourselves in contemplation of beauty, and for that this EP is one of Summoning's greatest successes.
Production: The lush and dominating swoon of merging sound that is their trademark expanded to atmospheric heights.
Review: Through free fall between the abstract and the visceral, Summoning change their widely appreciated format of ambient Tolkein wanderlust metal into a cavernous but deeply abstracted melodic ambience in which harmony becomes a tonal vectoring on an ambiguous emptiness conventionally used to indicate finality which here suggests an order of the universe that uses ruin to carve space for growth.
The voice of silent demise spreads this music like smoke through trees, settling gently in the spaces it constantly reveals, overwhelming other sensation in the infinite imagination it uncovers by revealing the meaninglessness of the material. Leaving home, diving through clouds, abandoning Saigon... there is a sense of journey beginning in these mostly consonant pastoral ballads disguised in black metal vocals and intricate rhythm leads. Under the gentle aesthetic Summoning launch freely associating epic songs of the abyss.
1. Rhûn (3:25)
2. Long Lost to Where No Pathway Goes (7:23)
3. The Glory Disappears (7:49)
4. Like Some Snow-white Marble Eyes (7:19)
5. Where Hope and Daylight Die (6:28)
6. The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground (8:25)
7. The Shadow Lies Frozen on the Hills (7:01)
8. The Loud Music of the Sky (6:47)
9. A Distant Flame Before the Sun (9:43)
Aesthetically Stronghold forges a more rock 'n roll style from that suggested by Burzum's Filosofem with its multitudinous layers of budget melodic riffs, using a Darkthrone-inspired minimalism of complementary riffs cycling through loops of thematic motives. The almost tropical feel to percussion returns from the Nightshade Forests EP, with loose bass and tom keeping a consistent beat under high-hat, cymbal and roll varied for reflective emphasis.
At its core relentlessly organic and renewing, this album ventures into the emotional and the nihilistic with equal ability and makes a top-notch metal listening experience. As neoclassical rock opera, this music incurs the risk of becoming through a tendency toward rock 'n roll conventions which fill small cracks in composition, another overblown saga like the pretentious melodrama of too many "Viking" bands. But none have captured the melodic intensity here which in repeated layers, develops prismatically into mood poems which deepen with exploration, lighting the emptiness of wanderlust with regal ambience and enduring beauty.
Production: Clean and sturdy sound, straight from the outport of Protector's sound card.
Review: Starting as a black metal band with tendencies toward longer melodies, Summoning then became a style all of their own for the second and third albums, then entered a new era with Stronghold and this album, in which they use vocals for greater effect and aim more at the enthusiastic beer hall style of folk-influenced metal that might fit alongside their earlier works in a movie about Middle Earth. While it is well executed, it falls short of what makes Summoning truly great.
1. A New Power Is Rising (4:08)
2. South Away (6:04)
3. In Hollow Halls Beneath the Fells (8:56)
4. Our Foes Shall Fall (7:01)
5. The Mountain King's Return (8:53)
6. Runes of Power (5:51)
7. Ashen Cold (6:16)
8. Farewell (9:19)
The long melodies which define Summoning are still here, but they are more cheerful and have been moved aside to let vocals take a bigger role, where in the past both rasping and clean vocals blended with guitars and keyboards, instead of leading them. As a result, guitar playing picks up more technical flair, and competes to fit into the focal point of the listener, which further reduces dynamics. On a positive note, this causes more developed vocal tracks to take on many of the functions that keyboard melody had previously used, which allows keyboards and guitars to blend with greater harmony.
Like many albums, Let Moral Heroes Sing Your Fame shows us a band in transition as they try to adapt a promising style to an enduring platform. Going too far can be corrected in the following album, which happens with Oath Bound. However, as a listening experience, this album loses some of the mystical lack of concrete focal point that made Summoning so occult and evasive of tangible summary, and over time will not be what people think of when they seek out the peaks of this promising band.
Production: These tracks have the muted dynamics of tape copy with the sonic artifacts of compression.
Review: This release contains two demo tracks that were sketches, or sparse versions of good ideas, that stood on their own enough that Summoning released them as it, probably out of a sentimental urge to not rework tracks that captured very specific emotions even if the end result feels somewhat incomplete. These tracks, sounding like they were encoded in low-grade MP3s and then copied to tape, show us unfinished options full of promise.
The first, "Arcenstone," is pure medieval synthpop with percussion similar to that found on Nightshade Forests over which sampled movie lines, glacial four-note keyboard melodies, and a nearly spoken vocal with rhythms similar to those of Kraftwerk sound. Layers are used to great effect in this song, complex with techno-style absent percussion breakdowns, but it seems more like an extended introduction than a song which conveys us from one point to another. Its simple melody is one of the more beautiful versions of familiar Summoning themes; apparently, it was designed for a second project.
The second song, "Saruman," follows the more boisterous style of Stronghold with overactive drums, flashy keyboards and dominating vocals, makes too much use of sampled voices and very basic melodies that deconstruct the "Summoning method" of making longer complementary motif pairs and reduce it to carnival music.
In it we see the problem of Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame and Stronghold, which is a somewhat more assembly-line production paired to formulaic music which drives away much of the randomness, ambiguity and mystical moods of earlier Summoning. Lost Tales may be worth owning for the first track, but there's also a sense of how much more intensity these tracks could have had if given the treatment of material on Oath Bound instead of the preceding two albums.
Production: Crisp and roomy.
Review: At a time when black metal has for the most part left the dangerous terrain it discovered and relapsed into the same rhythm and slight harmony music that dominates the mainstream airwaves, Summoning have returned to the attack by favoring subtlety over synchronized drama, with a work of art that cherishes its ambiguity like a place for travelers to wander.
The introduction to this album resembles a Gothic dirge, with a keyboard melody repeated over a background drum texture; eventually chanting voices in the echoes of forgotten tombs also intrude, but not before the basic pattern is established. Each song begins with a theme which has a countertheme that ends a pair of phrases, and the two are then concluded by a summary motif; this repeats several times and then leads into a second pair of themes which play off the summary motif, and these go through several permutations - including interventions by rhythmic interludes or silences - before returning to the original theme or concluding abruptly in discontinuity.
1. Bauglir (2:58)
2. Across The Streaming Tide (10:20)
3. Mirdautas Vras (8:13)
4. Might And Glory (8:26)
5. Beleriand (9:27)
6. Northward (8:39)
7. Menegroth (8:12)
8. Land Of The Dead (12:50)
Black metal, often described as the better aspects of death metal crossed with Dead Can Dance, retains only Graveland and Summoning to plumb that territory, with remarkably similar results: when they get too close to the texture of soundtracks, which being designed to accompany visual entertainment fall into a supporting role, they lose direction and wander into repetition much like the cyclic, harmony-based, product-oriented rock 'n roll music from which metal narrowly escape. With this album, Summoning re-explores the medieval and naturalistic nature of black metal, and no longer attempts to make a consistent feeling but a varied, journeylike experience for adventures of the mind.
Guitars find a language that is both everything that black metal achieved and expansive toward a larger vocabulary of music, using open strumming more consistently than any metal album in recent history, to which they add fast strumming that synchronizes with its intended rhythm, sweep-picking and inventive downstrum fills. Keyboards are not an echo but a complement to the primary string instrumentals, and drums have faded Kraftwerk-style into a smattering of enigmatic patterns repeated like a tapestry behind the shifting landscape of music. Although the aesthetics and melodic compositional style of this band are together so distinct as to appear recombinant from a distance, this album delivers a new chapter of full-bore dark exploration that dominates almost anything from the last ten years of this genre.