“Halcyon” is a chapter from the SOLSTICE catalogue unrightfully forgotten. It was first released in 1996, but I discovered it through the 2007 re-release, which is the subject of this review. The original EP contains five songs. Apart from those, the re-release also features a lot of demo material, eight more songs, all in all. Among these are both earlier songs and songs that would later be on “New Dark Age”. Most of these demo songs come from the so-called “Drunken Dungeon Sessions”, but the listener that hopes to hear signs that SOLSTICE took that name literally is bound to be disappointed. The material is tight and not liquor-oozing at all. The whole release also features no less than three vocalists: Simon Matravers on the actual “Halcyon” songs, Morris Ingram on the later session material and Karl Simon on “Solitude”, the CANDLEMASS cover recording, previously lacking vocals.
The original EP is a recording full of atmosphere, starting with the spoken intro “The Ravenmaster”, and then bursting into the powerful and heavy Doom monster “To Ride With Tyr”. After that comes the slower and more typical Doom song, “Graven Deep”, with an emotional Matravers clashing with roaring distortion. The title track is folky and has a dark catchiness to it, while “Gloves Of Metal” is treated lovingly and becomes an interesting hybrid between Heavy and Doom Metal. (Matravers of course can’t match Eric Adams, though.)
Among the bonus songs, “Blackthorne” deserves a special mention. This unpolished demo version retains a certain primitive authenticity, which the finished song lacks. “Hammer Of Damnation” and “Cimmerian Codex” are also strong, but in their case, the “New Dark Age” versions are better. What motivates the demo songs’ inclusion on this disc are mostly Morris Ingram’s excellent vocals. Otherwise, the musical side is similar to that on the original “Halcyon” – heavy, yet epic Doom Metal, created by flexible drumming, subtle but strong bass and a creatively played rhythm guitar. The edge of the mix is the dreamy and mystic lead guitar. (And on a side note: Richard Walker’s lyrics are only matched by Hansi Kürsch of BLIND GUARDIAN and Pierre Wilhelmsson of MÅNEGARM.)
“Halcyon” is a must-have for fans of SOLSTICE. Others I advise to start with “New Dark Age”, but “To Ride With Tyr” is a song that everyone interested in Doom Metal should hear.
(Online August 18, 2009)