When Boston’s Summoner came into being back in 2009, they were originally known as Riff Cannon. Made up of members of black metal bands Plagues and Deafheaven, Summoner is clearly a vehicle for these fellas to shed their black metal overcoats and give some love to the Baroness/Kylesa/Torche side of the bill. Meaning the band members’ backgrounds are completely irrelevant when it comes to Summoner’s third album, Beyond the Realm of Light. Trading in lightning-fast tremolo picking for sludgy riffs sounds like a good idea to me, but can they pull it off? And why wouldn’t they stick with Riff Cannon? I love that name.
Right off the bat they show their cards: yes, opener “New Sun” is very much in the mold of Baroness, but also with a healthy NWoBHM twist thrown in. The song has a great gallop, with a harmony guitar lead that would fit in with old Iron Maiden or Thin Lizzy songs. The shouty lead vocal style of Baroness’s John Baizley is what keeps this song grounded in the southern sludge style the aforementioned band is known for. Chris Johnson is Deafheaven’s touring bassist, and in Summoner he also handles the vocals. He’s no Baizley, but he puts in a solid effort and holds his own throughout. On guitar we have Joe Richner (Plagues) and AJ Peters, and both guys churn out the riffs and leads superbly. Scott Smith, also from Plagues, pounds away on the skins without stealing any of the limelight from his bandmates. All told, this is a crackerjack band.
The style on the six songs of Beyond the Realms of Light holds true to the bands mentioned above: at times sludgy with hints of progressive psychedelia, at other times running rousing jaunts through the annals of NWOBHM. The title track is a slow burner of a sludge tune, grinding to a halt after nearly eight minutes of thick riffs mixed with enough changeups to keep it interesting, while “The Emptiness” is a fist-pumping anthem that again harkens back to the glory days of melodic guitar work. These two possibly disparate styles actually work well together, although this could be in part due to the fact that Summoner have wisely kept Beyond the Realm of Light to a svelte 34 minutes. There’s not enough time for us to get tired of the styles or songwriting. I suspect if the band put out twelve songs of this, we’d be ready to move on after the first eight.
Therein lies the real problem with Beyond the Realm of Light. None of the songs are stinkers, but none of them grab me like, say, “Take My Bones Away” did back in 2012. A half-dozen listens allows us to tell the songs apart, but there’s no immediacy, and we do need some degree of instant gratification. And don’t let the DR7 score at the bottom of this review fool you: Beyond the Realm of Light tries to carry as much bombast and oversaturation in the sound as any Baroness album. Thankfully, it isn’t crushed into oblivion like that band’s output, but the mix certainly pushes in that direction, making this a tiring listen at high volume.
Summoner haven’t broken any new ground here, nor will they be winning any Album of the Year awards. At the same time, Beyond the Realm of Light isn’t going to be lit up by scathing reviews. Meaning this is a solid if unspectacular effort, one that fits in neatly with all the other bands in the style. Summoner show they have what it takes to play with the genre’s big boys, if they can just take their songwriting to the next level and produce output that much more memorable. I’ll be keeping an eye out for their next release, and hoping for the best.