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Summoning - Oath Bound
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.
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.