I love to hear music from bands that faded away decades ago, only to come back with renewed fury. Satan, anyone? Sorcerer? The list goes on, and now we can add Solstice to it. Stylistically similar to Sorcerer and Khemmis, these venerable Brits put out a couple of albums in the 1990s before disappearing from the scene, only to reappear in 2013 with a comeback EP, Death’s Crown Is Victory. Immaculately recorded and arranged, the four songs presented were top-notch epic doom. And now, five years after that—and a full twenty after their last full-length—Solstice present us with White Horse Hill, and it is glorious.
Much like Death’s Crown Is Victory, White Horse Hill opens in rather ambient fashion. But once the songs proper begin, led by “To Sol a Thane,” things get majestically real, with long-timer Rich Walker’s brilliant guitar tone setting the scene. Paul Kearns intones the lyrics in epic fashion. His delivery has improved over the last five years, at times sounding like his brow is furrowed as he surveys his domain, at other times plaintively pleading for succor. Rarely does the music and album art converge in such lockstep fashion1, but that’s the case here. “White Horse Hill” barrels across the plains with authority, and the pure doom of “Under Waves Lie Our Dead” almost invokes Primordial. In all cases, superb solos dominate the setting, while the rhythm section lays down a thunderous foundation.
With lush production and exquisite arrangements, the only downside to White Horse Hill is the pacing. After a three-minute introductory track, we get the stellar “To Sol a Thane,” which is followed by another three-minute interlude. We don’t need that: we need more brilliant epicness. Heading straight into the title track would have been preferable, and it would also make the deliberate, morose arrangement of “For All Days, and For None” more palatable. As it is, the juxtaposition between ambient, folk-like dirges and epic, crushing doom anthems is too jarring. It’s one small change that would turn a really good album into a great one.
One of the best feelings for this olde reviewer is to hear fresh new music from aging vets. Like all of us here at AMG Worldwide, I missed White Horse Hill when it came out in February, but thanks to a loyal thrall (Bas), I snagged this gem and immediately found a place for it in my year-end list. This is a meticulously constructed, well-executed slab of epic doom that’s only one song away from being a real work of art. Here’s to hoping for more from Solstice, and sooner than another five years.
Tracks to Check Out: “To Sol a Thane,” “White Horse Hill,” “Under Waves Lie Our Dead”