If I were tasked with appointing one artist as head of a guild of Tolkien-inspired musicians1, Summoning would be my number one pick with a bullet. That’s not just because Protector and Silenius have been churning out reliably high quality material for over two decades. As an act that pays tribute to a man who created a fantasy realm so intricately as to craft entirely new languages for it, Summoning has always been similarly ambitious, spawning a musical language as beautiful as it is unique, as if it were forged from cultures that couldn’t possibly exist in our own realm. As much of a fan as I am of Howard Shore’s score for Peter Jackson’s films, Summoning is, to me, the indisputable musical accompaniment to Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth. With Doom We Come is no exception, and though it offers virtually no shake-ups to Summoning‘s formula, it’s still an expectedly solid album that features some of the best tracks the band has ever recorded.
Old Mornings Dawn was something of a reinvention for Summoning in that the range of its MIDI effects and drum programming received a significant upgrade from the limited toolset the band had utilized prior. With Doom We Come is very similar in its execution. Unlike Minas Morgul through Oath Bound which invoked cold and lonely visions of crumbling medieval ruins, With Doom We Come and its immediate predecessor feel vibrant and immediate, as if setting out to explore said ruins when they were in their prime. Lo-fi guitars rumble away under bombastic, layered arrangements of horns as timpani, bongos, and clinking chains provide a cinematic and engaging rhythmic framework. The end result is an aesthetic that, while familiar, is as immediately transportive as any Summoning fan could hope for, with melodies that take up permanent residence in one’s long-term memory from the very first exposure.
I won’t deny, however, that WDWC possesses a predictable problem endemic to Summoning’s songwriting philosophies. As per usual, tracks center around a singular riff that changes slightly over the course of ten-ish minutes to accommodate tonal shifts. This stripped-down formula has long been a cornerstone of Summoning’s sound, and as a result of this approach, individual compositions hinge on their ability to construct compelling soundscapes around the minimalist guitar framework. There isn’t a bad track in the bunch by any means, but “Carcharoth” and “Night Fell Behind” fall short for a lack of defining characteristics in their arrangements, despite the latter sporting a fantastically gloomy riff. In general, the record lacks the surprising variety displayed on Old Mornings Dawn, and while I wouldn’t say see WDWC is strictly the weaker record of the two, it does feel somewhat less fresh.
I nitpick because I love, and despite Summoning’s long standing flaws, I feel comfortable showering WDWC’s best tracks with unmitigated praise. First track “Tar-Calion” might just be the best opening number of the band’s catalog, its dirge-like riffs, somber flute arrangements, and menacing spoken word passages making for one of their darkest cuts ever. “Silvertine” immediately follows with a royal sense of orchestral flare that matches the majesty of anything from Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame, while penultimate track “Mirklands” crawls under the skin with a creeping riff and icy melancholy that recalls the lonely atmosphere of Summoning‘s earlier works. But the real showstopper is “With Doom I Come,” an excellent finale that sees the band writing at their most grandiose and emotionally nuanced. It doesn’t top Oath Bound’s masterful “Land of the Dead” as a perfect closer, but it comes surprisingly close.
Reviewing With Doom We Come has been, to say the least, a unique way of experiencing a Summoning record. This is an act whose albums I don’t typically finish in a single sitting, let alone spin multiple times a day, and doing so serves to spotlight glaring issues that have plagued the band for decades. Yet other issues, such as the album’s occasionally grating guitar and percussion tones, melted away through long-term exposure to them, and the experience as a whole never failed to be completely engrossing. This is as good an indicator as any that With Doom We Come deftly holds its own in an extremely impressive discography. Summoning may very well never put out another record that anyone could consider an evolutionary stride, but as long as their late-career works remain so damned dependable, I’m content for them to coast on their established sound until the end of time.