I’m wary of praising bands in overpopulated genres but I believe Birmingham’s Alunah to be one of the best retro-doom bands operating. Beyond the nostalgic warmth and simplistic riffs offered by their peers, these guys boast a stand-out vocalist, a cracking tone and a fervor for folklore which lends their work a certain charming mysticism. Their growth culminated in 2014’s great Awakening the Forest but it very much appeared to reach the limits of the style: I was unsure what more could be done to improve. Solennial braves those difficult grounds but first and foremost doubles down on their prior strengths.
It’s still worth beginning with Sophie Day’s awesome vocals. She walks that line between ethereal, angelic cleans and lower, huskier singing, executing her duties with real depth and range. And the meaty, gratifying guitar leads are nearly as good. They’re mid-paced, thick and groovy. A backing cello is applied more liberally too which adds another layer to the quieter bits particularly. That 70s, Sabbathy warmth is still evoked and while it’s not entirely (read: not at all) original, Solennial is a largely satisfying experience. But it occurred to me this time around that despite the groovy leads, Alunah heavily relies on Day. These guitar melodies aren’t so varied and can lose their identity when stacked up next to each other across the entire album. It’s, therefore, the catchier vocal melodies which prop up the best tracks and confer their memorability. If each song had such hooks this wouldn’t be an inherent issue.
You can see where this is going. This issue does indeed arise since some tracks don’t have this quality. “Light of Winter” is an unexciting opening barring the shorter atmospheric intro which does little to justify itself next to its peers. Its lead barely develops which makes it feel too long. “Lugh’s Assembly” similarly drags out its opening melody for far too long and its atmospheric second half plods. “The Reckoning of Time” begins as if it will have a linear progression by building to a climax. However, it just has a protracted atmospheric opening before settling into a typical structure. Where there could have some variety, the listener is instead left unsatisfied. While the stronger tracks are certainly good their mere existence calls into doubt the purpose of these weaker cuts.
Nonetheless, Solennial offers some of the stronger retro-doom music at its peaks. “Feast of Torches” has a powerfully evocative opening and features a novel male baritone to bolster Day’s bottom-end. “Fire of Thornborough Henge” bears arguably the strongest lead and a memorable chorus. A catchy vocal motif similarly benefits “Petrichor” and its moody tone. And at the conclusion, The Cure‘s “A Forest” is covered which makes for intriguing variety and works well. The heady bass and synths fleshing out the original are now represented by the intense feedback from massive doomy chords which brings a unique flavor to a great song and revitalizes Solennial‘s sound.
Alunah have essentially written a good record but one that’s diluted by their existing discography: it’s stylistically similar barring a couple of novel touches and it’s inconsistent with quality compared to previously. It’s difficult to overlook the deficiencies even with Day’s great voice and the colossal guitar tone but there are at least some solid additions to a doom playlist here.