Ten Years #26: Summoning

Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
26. Summoning (1,154 plays)
Top track (86 plays): Menegroth, from Oath Bound (2006)
Featured track: Ashen Cold, from Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame (2001)

Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth might be the most inspired musical retelling of any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works to date, but no band has crafted an atmospheric sound to capture that world quite so convincingly as Summoning. With a sound that would just as soon excite fans of video game music or “new age” artists like David Arkenstone as their orginal black metal fan base, Summoning have forged a truly unique musical path. While their first studio album, Lugburz (1995), was relatively standard for the synth-laden black metal of its day, they nearly finalized the sound that made them famous on Minas Morgul, released later that same year. Since then, the only perceptible change has been a slow decline in the use of tremolo guitar; the quality of the songwriting and the imaginative world it invokes has remained pretty consistently superb.

For me at least, Summoning and Tolkien’s fantasy world have become nearly inseparable. The echoing, tribal drums paint vast landscapes cast dark by distorted vocals and guitar. The synth speckles the scene in a light that, never breaching the world of full orchestration, retains a fantasy aspect through its unnatural sound. The lyrics enliven the music with the spirit of an epic tale–whether it be the dramatic narrated loop on on “South Away”–“By the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards!”–the water god Ulmo’s bold proclamations on “Farewell”–Who can tell you the age of the moon? But I can! Who can call the fish from the depths of the sea? Yes, I can! Who can change the shapes of the hills and the headlands? I can!–or the spirit of perseverance on the track here featured–“Though his body is not tall and his courage seems small, his fame will take long to fade.”

Tolkien’s greatest achievement was to craft a fantasy world so vast that imaginative minds ever since have managed to forge a place within it. Summoning have done so with a level of excellence nearly unrivaled, and they continue to today. There might have been a seven year gap between Oath Bound (2006) and Old Mornings Dawn (2013), but their new release is in every way on par with the rest. It’s a bit of a wonder that they’re only ranked 26th on my decade-spanning last.fm charts. I suspect that, another ten years from now, they’ll be much nearer the top, because their music takes me to a place that is eternal.