Let’s face it, peeps; 1999 sucked for metal as a collective whole. Nü-metal sank its black-nail-polished talons into our favorite genre, with heroes trading speed and heft for JNCOs and wildly-colored dreadlocks while jumpingdafuckup over a DJ and 7-string guitars. And doom? Well, Anathema started their shift from doom metal darlings to prog rock just a year prior with Alternative 4. Paradise Lost dabbled with da Mode with One Second but went Full Gahan on Host. And My Dying Bride were roughly 34.788% themselves before righting the ship with The Light at the End of the World. So it was a bit of a surprise when the world of doom metal got a necessary shot of earthen magic from… Orange County, California?! Yep, today’s induction into the Hallowed Halls of the Olde is Solinari, the incredible second album by the late, great Morgion.
Granted, the Californian quintet hinted at greater things over the horizon with their debut, 1997’s Among Majestic Ruin, but on Solinari, with guitarist Bobby Thomas and keyboardist Ed Parker both replaced by newcomer Gary Griffith (who also handles the sparse clean vocals here), Morgion‘s brand of druidic atmospherics took root. No later than the first few seconds of opener “The Serpentine Scrolls/Descent to Arawn” does this become readily apparent, with lush keyboards, a somber bass/guitar melody, and bassist Jeremy Peto giving a dire sermon before the distorted guitars kick in, Rhett Davis pummels his drumkit, and Peto morphs into a grizzly bear, growling “BRIIIIIIING BEFOOOORE MEEEEEE…/MY FORBIDDEN LOOOOOOOOOORE!!!” Granted, yes, it’s been done to death since, but in 1999, Morgion picked up the broken scepter left behind from England, and instead of turning loose some swans, they converted them into various aggressive woodland creatures to set upon the earth while weaving their own brand of doom metal sorcery.
And Solinari possesses that sorcery in spades. As many readers know, I often complain about song length in recent years, where I point out that if you can say more in less, then absolutely say more with less. Solinari is a massive exception, as every song on here utilizes every second with dire purpose. “Canticle” begins with a near jaunty feeling, with almost playful piano melodies despite the hissed spoken word passages, but by the song’s midway point, Griffith and fellow guitarist Dwayne Boardman lay out some sorrowful riffs and melodies over a downtrodden rhythm pattern by Davis. Elsewhere, “All the Glory…/…All the Loss”1 rides a rollercoaster of moods, ranging from regal and eager to downtrodden and somber throughout its (their) length. Even instrumentals “Solinari” and closer “The Last Sunrise” hold their own, building up tension without wasting any time in doing so.
The Griffith and Mathias Schneeberger production/mix also elevated Solinari above its predecessor, with the keyboards sounding more lush, the guitars feeling like you’re in the hot summer sun, baking in the oppressive heat, and Davis’ kit hits with the force of a herd of angry elephants. Solinari felt simultaneously warm and distant, glorious and somber, and Schneeberger’s delicate touch allowed for Solinari to take root while soaring to heights and lands unseen before. Solinari was the breath of fresh air that doom/death desperately needed, and it looked like Morgion were on to greater, grander things in the near future…
…Which didn’t happen. A series of events would derail any and all forward momentum that Solinari would bestow onto Morgion, starting with the unfortunate death of touring keyboardist Brandon Livingston that year. Also, all the in-fighting caused various members to come and go from the band in various stages, including the addition of former Mindrot vocalist Adrian Leroux and newcomer Justin Christian taking over for Peto. Morgion would release one more album, 2004’s amazing Cloaked in Ages, Crowned in Earth2 sans Peto and Leroux, before breaking up that year. In 2011, the classic Solinari line-up tried to give it one more go for a special one-off show at the 2013 Maryland Death Fest, but once again the in-fighting proved to be too much, and the band effectively folded permanently that year. Still, with Funeral and Mournful Congregation carrying the doom/death torch high, and fellow American doomsters Evoken giving it another go, it would be criminal to not to pay tribute to Solinari, an album worthy of its Olden induction.