As someone who loves Summoning unabashedly, here’s a bit of a strange angle to lead with: Summoning is… boring. Or maybe a little more to the point, Summoning’s music is at its best when nothing is allowed to disturb or disrupt the listener’s complete sensory immersion in it. (Which is… another way of saying boring.) But here’s the thing: Tolkien is pretty boring, too, right? (NB: I also love Tolkien unabashedly.) As anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings can attest, the ratio of “thrilling action and epic battle scenes” to “walking around a bunch of shitty landscapes being cold and hungry” is vanishingly small. But that’s part of the charm, really: The Lord of the Rings is not so much a blow-by-blow account of a seemingly hopeless war eventually won through endurance and goodness of spirit, but rather a carefully reconstructed oral history of the end of an era whose passing is already written.
Sure, there’s exposition in Tolkien, but not a lot, because so much of the world-building effort was already complete in Tolkien’s mind before these particular stories were written. It’s much the same with Summoning: they don’t spend a lot of time trying to show the wary listener exactly how their sounds are linked (however tendentiously) to the black metal lineage from which they first sprang. A Summoning album is like opening a window to a world that already exists and living in it for a short time. Where this is all going is the unfortunate reckoning that although Summoning’s best and most brilliant work is boring in grandly engaging ways, With Doom We Come is boring in depressingly ordinary ways.
That said, the synthesized orchestral sounds are much richer and fuller than they have been in the past, almost to the extent that one wonders whether the band got some new gear and decided it was time to shoehorn their experiments with it into an album. The flute and harp accompaniment on the (sort-of) title track “With Doom I Come,” for example, are wonderful touches that hearken to Summoning’s best impulses to string together melodies that arc across measures, long, yearning phrases to evoke the stately procession of a passing company. Another prime demonstration of Summoning’s persistently strong compositional skills is the way that the guitar riff and synth-horn fanfare play against each other in “Silvertine.”
On that note, though, while “Silvertine” is possible the album’s strongest track, it attains that distinction while sounding very much like an Old Mornings Dawn b-side. While nothing substantive has changed on With Doom We Come, there’s simply… less meat on the bones. Fewer of the melodies make a lasting impression once they’ve run their course. (By contrast, I typically find myself whistling the intro melody from Oath Bound’s “Bauglir” several times a week.) Additionally, Protector’s vocal style has become increasingly off-putting. On tracks like “Charcharoth” and “Night Fell Behind,” his pitched yell sounds almost like Rob Miller from Amebix, which works wonderfully for Amebix, but… not so much for Summoning. After the early success of “Silvertine,” the album’s quality drops fairly precipitously, and although it perks back up somewhat for the closing tandem of “Mirklands” and “With Doom I Come,” the overall impression is of an album that is very much the same. but with very much less of the same.
Summoning fans are a patient and relatively immovable bunch (not unlike hobbits, I suppose), so this will hardly be fatal to the band. And truthfully, are there Summoning fans out there who aren’t also Tolkien fans? That is, is being a fan of Tolkien either a necessary or sufficient cause of being a Summoning fan? Certainly both endeavors require a substantial suspension of disbelief and the desire to experience a slowly unfolding narrative that even at its most pulse-racing moments rarely accelerates beyond a careful trot. The point: it’s hard to objectively grade escapism. So instead, think of it this way: the things that are boring about Tolkien are often what given Tolkien’s world its character. Imagine, though, if certain scenes had unfolded just a little differently:
- Merry and Pippin are rescued from the forest by Treebeard, who carries them to the Entmoot. They soon find, however, that they cannot understand Entish and that the Ents do not speak the Common Tongue, so they sit on a rock for five days listening to hoooooooooom barrrooooooooooooooom. Eventually they leave and step in a foul puddle.
- The hobbits return from their long wandering to find the Shire more or less exactly as they left it. Frodo sits Sam down for a four-hour lecture on the type of incremental tax reform he thinks would best increase liquidity for Hobbiton’s capital-starved farmers.
- Faramir and Eowyn consummate the love that was kindled in Minas Tirith during their long convalescence. They are both unspeakably awkward in bed but decide to stay together for the sake of their children. It is fine.
- Gandalf and Frodo join the elves on their last ride to the Grey Havens. Just as they are about to board the ship for Valinor, Gandalf remembers that he forgot his best hat at Isengard. He cannot be persuaded to leave it behind, so the elves turn around and make the long journey to Isengard and back, only to discover that it was on his head the entire time (underneath another hat). Bilbo snores for twelve consecutive days.
As with Tolkien’s, Summoning’s is surely a tale that grew in the telling, but it wouldn’t hurt them to recall that all their stories need the breath of inspiration to truly transcend the boring for the boring. For a band that usually prompts one’s mind to wander to Caradhras and Gorgoroth and Osgiliath, With Doom We Come is more likely to prompt one’s mind to wander to your grocery list or a new paint color for your mudroom or a different Summoning album.
(Note: As if to further thumb their noses at the faithful, the limited edition versions of With Doom We Come come with two extra songs on either a second CD or bonus 10”. The A-side, “As Echoes from the World of Old,” is, bafflingly, possibly the best song from the entire With Doom sessions, while the B-side (“And Wonder Walks the Forest Eaves”) is a pleasant but ultimately slight instrumental piece. Still, there’s some warm comfort to be had in the thought that Summoning is always happening somewhere, whether or not you’ve branched off on the same tributary of the great river. It’s always possible to paddle back, for both you and them.)