1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 326 (Guest Reviewer)

Oath Bound, by Summoning
Suggested by Owen Pauling
Reviewed by Simon Rodway

I have been a great admirer of Tolkien since I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a teenager.  I am currently reading The Lord of the Rings to my daughter for the second time (second time for her, that is ‑ I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it myself), so Elves, Balrogs and whatnot are very much on my radar.  I’ve come to realise, however, that while I’d definitely back myself to answer a Tolkien-related question in a pub quiz, there is a whole other level of Tolkien fandom.  Around the same time that I got into Tolkien, I also got into rock music, and was delighted to discover a certain overlap: Led Zeppelin warbling about Gollum and Ringwraiths and whatnot, Marillion mutilating the name of Tolkien’s most tedious book, and so on.  In a jumble sale, I picked up an LP of instrumental music inspired by Lord of the Rings by a Swedish keyboard-player called Bo Hansson, which I still remember rather fondly.  Until today, however, I was blissfully unaware that there was a micro-genre of black metal called Tolkien metal, exemplified by Summoning, a duo from Vienna, who have been recording Sauron-related musings from their bedrooms since 1993.

Oath Bound is their sixth album, and clocks in at over an hour, despite being made up of only eight songs.  Brevity is certainly not one of Summoning’s virtues.  The closing number, ‘Land of the Dead’, goes on almost as long as the Council of Elrond.  The songs all follow a similar template: sludgy guitars plod over programmed drums, while incongruously sprightly synth lines soar above.  The feel is sort of faux medieval at times, and very cinematic and cod classical at others.  Sometimes the synth sound imitates flutes (‘Bauglir’) or harp (‘Menegroth’), but it has a rather toy-Casio-keyboard vibe which slightly undermines the desired effect.  The vocals are mostly delivered in an impenetrable growl.  As far as I can tell, they are mostly in English, with the exception of ‘Mirdautas Vras’, which is apparently in the Black Speech of Mordor, although it’s hard to tell the difference.  ‘Land of the Dead’ builds rather satisfyingly, and the choral chanting sets it apart from the other offerings here, but I think that the aforementioned ‘Mirdautas Vras’ is my highlight: the rhythmic grunting, and horn blasts brought to mind the memorable scene in the final Lord of the Rings film in which the Riders of Rohan face off against Haradrim on elephants.  Aside from this, unable to decipher the lyrics, I would not have spotted the connection with the works of Tolkien were it not for some of the song titles which contain names of characters and places from the Silmarillion.

To sum up, this isn’t really my cup of miruvor.  I shall award it 4/10, and dust off my old Bo Hansson LP instead of exploring Summoning’s version of Middle-Earth any further.

[Craig’s Review – I’m no great fan of Tolkien, or Fantasy in general, so one of this album’s USPs was fighting against the tide before we began. And Black Metal? Great, more growling, albeit growling through a cushion pressed to the chin. However, unlike Simon I found the medieval orchestration rather charming, and it often felt like this wasn’t a metal album at all. Nevertheless, the growl still stomped the fun out of it, and predictably my standout was the opening intro Bauglir, which contained no growling at all. Also, the band never play live, which I can wholly support. 5/10.]

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