Thursday, August 18, 2011

Solstice - New Dark Age

Genre: Epic Doom Metal
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 1998
Label: Misanthropic Records

Behold, one of doom metal's greatest masterpieces. There is absolutely nothing I can write that will do this unbelievable music justice, but I will give it my best shot. I felt it appropriate to post this as a follow-up to Isen Torr, seeing as both bands are masterminded  by Rich Walker. So, enter Solstice: this is true, epic doom in a one-of-a-kind vein that simply cannot be imitated, standing right up there with Candlemass' Nightfall as a towering monument to what the genre is capable of. Crushing, megalithic riffs wander across rich, sweeping soundscapes as unforgettable lead melodies wind their way over it all. Deep, arcane atmospheres absolutely envelop the listener throughout - but not without plenty of moments that induce compulsory headbanging! Solstice certainly haven't forgotten the 'metal' part of doom metal, churning out riff after riff of pure molten steel. The distinctly British vocals of Morris Ingram feel a bit strange at first to some listeners, but I assure you, they will grow on you until you wouldn't have anyone else at the mic. His English folk-infused delivery and unique diction add a lot to the atmosphere of the whole affair, and if it doesn't click with you during the a cappella break a third of the way through 'Cimmerian Codex,' then nothing will. Even the lyrics are in a realm of their own (definitely take the time to read them at some point, they're incredibly cool). There are definitely deeply-rooted folk influences throughout New Dark Age, but make no mistake, this is not teeny-bopper folk metal by any stretch of the imagination. There are no sugary keyboards, no borderline-hardcore yapping about plastic Viking helmets, none of the crap that usually comes with the words 'folk influence' (also note that this album was released in the early 90s, before that was all a common trend). Rather, it is intrinsic to the epic doom metal that Solstice plays, coming through tastefully in the leads and vocal melodies. What is truly awe-inspiring about this album, however, is how many moods and atmospheres it covers while each song still clearly feels like a part of a greater, cohesive whole. Walker doesn't let his propensity for long songs run amok - they are tightly composed and perfectly paced, with intriguing, complex structures that really keep the listener's attention through every last note. There are a couple of acoustic/vocal interludes as well, but again, that does not at all mean what it has come to mean these days. No, these are not pretentious, masturbatory exercises in "look at how mysteriously I can neofolk at you while being introspective in the woods." Instead, they are thematically consistent with the rest of the album, blending Walker's epic lyrics with Ingram's medieval English vocal style to further enhance the engrossing storytelling aesthetic. Everything about this album is damn near perfect. It takes my breath away every single time I spin it, and it has secured an unflinching spot among my absolute favourite albums of all time. There never has and never will be another album quite like this one. It is unique, beautiful, savage, complex, heavy, and epic in a sense not even remotely encompassed by the word. Absolutely essential.

For fans of Candlemass, Ereb Altor, While Heaven Wept, and Mael Mórdha.

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