Solstice - White Horse Hill - (9.5/10)
Published on June 28, 2018
This! Is! Doom!
This is doom! If that is not enough, then there is more! Solstice are back, a whopping 20 years since their legendary second album New Dark Age, and White Horse Hill had almost taken on a mythical quality, because nobody really believed anymore that it would ever actually materialize. Two demos in 2014 and 2016 were some signs of life, but while of great quality, they did nothing to truly prepare the general doom metal populace for what this, their third album total, would bring to the table.
As mentioned above, the creation process for White Horse Hill has been excruciatingly slow, so one could say that the band does not just play doom, they ARE doom, and it also has taken a toll on the line-up, with returning drummer Rick Budby being the only remnant of the line-up of New Dark Age other than mastermind Rich Walker. And even though the album definitely is straighter and more accessible than their last effort, it does nothing to diminish the quality and magic contained.
If White Horse Hill would have to be summed up in one word, it would be “epic”, would it ever be! After the great opening instrumental “III”, Solstice deliver maybe THE epic doom metal song of the year, maybe even the past few years: “To Sol A Thane”! The opening lead guitar and riff are pure class and set the ground for some of the best spent eight minutes 2018 will be able to offer. The song has tremendous power, outstanding melodies and Paul Kearns’ heroic vocals are the proverbial cherry on top, matching the majestic music pound for pound.
Some bands have the issue of hammering out an outstanding track at the beginning of an album and then spending the rest of it running after its grandeur, but Solstice have this remarkable ability to take this incredibly high start and use it as a foundation to build on, be it the soft, melancholic ”Beheld, A Man of Straw” or the massive title track that brings some of the traditional metal past of the band back into play with a great building up passage leading into an energetic mid-tempo song that does not sound out of place within the epic doom metal context of the album.
Also mandatory is “Under Waves Lie Our Dead”, another epic doom metal monolith with haunting lead guitars, soaring vocals, but despite its pure essence it still manages to bring in great dynamics and atmosphere that make its almost 13 minutes pass by in a flash.
Some may mourn the straighter orientation of the album, but as far as epic doom metal goes, White Horse Hill is THE album to beat not just this year, but also in subsequent years. Any band that manages to combine the essence of doom with such outstanding dynamics and is crowned by such outstanding vocals as Kearns’ will face the challenge of contenders, but can proudly stand in the oncoming waves and effortlessly disperse them until a worthy challenger will enter the arena. For now Solstice stand tall and White Horse Hill is an absolute MUST for any fan of the epic side of this sub-genre!