Summoning - 'Oath Bound'
This album is both a uniquely late-20th/21st-century creation and a sort of epitomisation of some popular, age-old cliches about metal.
Created by a 2-man band (Polish black-metalsters Silenius and Protector), it relies heavily on a whole slew of synthesised wind instruments, keyboards, percussion, some semi-industrial sampling, and the capability for two people to record and mix complex multi-track arrangements fairly easily and cheaply using various handy softwares to create a sweeping, atmospheric, multi-layered aural experience. 2 chaps, some synths, a computer, a guitar or two creating an album - that's so Chemie Bros, dewd! Except that no one would ever to think to spin this disk at a rave. And that's because of the other significant fact about this album - it is a metal album, with abrasive vocals, and songs based on the works of JRR Tolkien. There's even a song written in Orcish (specifically, the lingo of the fighting Uruk-Hai, I think) and the album largely revolves around themes from The Silmarillion - Morgoth's quest to conquer Middle-Earth, and Feanor's mission to avenge Morgoth's theft of the Silmarils, if you're concerned. However, I think Summoning avoid the potential cheese factor by avoiding cliched metal epic gestures, and crafting a form of music that goes beyond the boundaries of metal in its emphasis on a martial, timeless atmosphere. The guitars are present more as a supporting factor most of the time, and generally in the form of arpeggiated parts and atmosphere and tempo-sustaining layers. The vocals, in this case, also help - the members of the band come from a black metal background, and they put out screeches and snarls that sound almost like an atmospheric element in themselves, which is a great improvement over corny 'storyteller' clean vocals. The atmosphere never degenerates into a sub-Spinal Tap unintended-comedy routine, even if the concept suggests that it should.
Although Summoning are not playing generic black metal, this music is clearly rooted in black metal. The songs are all very long, with patterns being repeated to the point where a sort of hypnotic trance-like grind is achieved, and there are strong melodic stabs that enliven those passages of repeition from time to time. Much of this is used employing non-traditional elements, all those synthesised instruments, which is what gives the sound a more folk-metal element. The traditional blasting drums have also been abandoned in favour of a more percussive sound that suggests drummers pacing armour-clad troops to some dread battlefield. It's all about hammering home that atmosphere, which at heart is what traditional black metal seems to be about too. The vocals, of course, reveal the black metal allegiance most blatantly.
I must admit it can get a bit homogenous at times. After the stirring flute and percussion of the intro, 'Bauglir', the stirring martial strains of 'Across The Streaming Tide' and the inhuman orcish bestiality of 'Mirdautas Vras' everything can start getting a bit too extended, martial, atomspheric and simply meandering. The thing is, all the songs do more or less the same things in teh same way, with the differences lying in specific arrangements and movements. Fortunately, if you feel the plot has been lost a bit along the way, the album picks up again towards the end. 'Menegroth' makes good use of harp sounds and a choir (which is the two singers multi-tracked) and the last song, 'Land Of The Dead' with its heroic choral chants is a suitably bleak and epic conclusion to this icy, battle-fraught journey through the Good Professor's imaginary realms.
The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: The length and repetitiveness of these songs can relegate the album to background listening status at times, but the strength of the melodies and the wonderfully bleak, epic feel are decidedly inviting. A credible evocation of the high fantasy atmosphere and proof that even black metal can evolve into cool things!