Ah, SUMMONING, masters of the majestic. This pair’s conceptual discography is nearly as grand as the writings of Tolkien that provides the spiritual backbone of their songs. Equally as impressive is the bands ability to evoke the epic imagery that the professor spoke of in his Middle Earth tales. With “Stronghold” SUMMONING had virtually shed their Black Metal skin, though the markings of old were still discernable on the flesh.
Opener “Rhun” neatly paves the way for “Long Lost To Where No Pathway Goes.” This marvel of melancholia rides on a truly mournful keyboard motif that is only lifted by the guitar that picks out an argument for hope, which barely holds its own against the pain seared vocals. The desperate chorus adds bombast to the bleakness, before the song ends on a glacial guitar refrain. As far as this style of music goes, it doesn’t get much better than “Long Lost…..”
Emotion runs deep through “Stronghold” though it isn’t always based on the negative and so ranges through the ambivalence of “Like Some Snow White Marble Eyes” to the relatively uplifting “Where Hope And Daylight Die,” which despite the dismal title is a song about return. Let us linger on this track to mention the strong (and only) female vocals. For a long time I was not sure whether there was a young maiden crooning away here or whether it was one of the duo displaying their falsetto talents. It was only a visit to the bands website that cleared that one up for me. Nonetheless the singer sounds like an Amazon and is backed up by a hefty guitar chorus and occasional six string chugging.
Despite the principal use of synthesizers, guitars are used to good effect and are not at all subdued, in fact they are often used to juxtapose the more whimsical keyboard passages. The guitars are also very expressive and have a wonderful sound to them, none more so than on “The Loud Music Of The Sky,” where they buzz along like a bee with its tail on fire, in fact they remind me alternatively of PIL and A Flux Of Pink Indians, though this is undoubtedly unintentional. Drums are programmed, that said, because they are never really employed above a marching stomp they sound quite natural and tramp along in company with the bass over mountain and ford bearing the burden of the more descriptive instrumentation. Watch out, however, for the frantic double bass near the end of “The Shadow Lies Frozen On The Hills.” The vocals are predominantly a Black Metal rasp, sinister at all times, occasionally emphasised by anguish.
Towards the end of the album SUMMONING let up slightly on the tragic and air the triumphant. “The Loud Music Of The Sky” is well and truly aced by “A Distant Flame Before The Sun” in this respect, but nonetheless, after a pensive start, the introduction of razoring guitars make a statement of intent for the grandiloquent closer that is “A Distant Flame…” This finale boasts bombast and pomp aplenty and here again the fast picked guitars saw away as the synths soar to new heights, a challenge to all.
Epic is a much overused descriptive when it comes to music, but “Stronghold” deserves such a title. Though simply constructed, it is done so artfully and the soundtrack quality it possesses has oft been remarked upon. From the despondency of its beginning to the exultant ending, it feels like you have indeed endured a quest and finished against all odds, victorious over whatever fell enemies your mind conjures up through the listening. If you are ready for it, you too can be deeply involved. (Online March 10, 2005)