Friday, October 28, 2011

England Prevails: Solstice "mega" post

I know what you’re thinking, not this Solstice:

Not this Solstice either:

This is about the epic doom metal Solstice from the UK. 

They (in my opinion) are the pinnacle of epic metal, be that doom or otherwise. No one has managed to pull of unironic yet not ridiculous epic metal nearly as good as they have. They are the Conan the Barbarian of metal. They are so epic they make Candlemass Conan the Destroyer. ManOwaR, in this paradigm, are Red Sonja. Sorry bros, but yall just aint got shit on Solstice.

Solstice is the brainchild of ex Sore Throat vocalist Rich Walker, cousin of Patrick Walker (formerly of the excellent Warning and currently the almost exact same sounding 40 Watt Sun). Rich also played in Pagan Altar and Isen Torr, did live vocals for Napalm Death. He also runs The Miskatonic Foundation. Starting off in the punk scene, Rich eventually moved on to doom, paralleling the career arc of Lee Dorian, but with less dancing. The band has at various time included current or former members of: Dragonforce, My Dying Bride, Cradle of Filth, While Heaven Wept, Twisted Tower Dire Mourn and others.
Solstice put out 5 demos between forming in 1990 and 1994. They are mostly slow to mid paced trad doom in the vein of Candlemass, with hints of the epicness that would follow. Some good harmonies, but overall the songwriting is lacking, although many of the songs would reappear on later albums.

Lamentations (1994)

Solstice's debut full length on Candlelight, released in 1994 shows them progressing from their demo days, but still rooted in Candlemass/Bathory territory. Almost every song was previously recorded on one of the demos. They do get up and gallop a few times and "Wintermoon Rapture" has some cool stuff going on. They show a knack for harmonized leads and the songwriting is much improved. Overall this is a very good album but doesn't separate them from the pack.
There is also a song called "Only the Strong." I don't know if they are Thor fans or aficionados of Capoeria. I'm 99.99% sure that they're Thor fans though. Fun Fact: Only the Strong stars Mark Dacascos, better known as The Chairman on Iron Chef America.

Each dawn I die, at dusk we pray

Halycon EP (1996)

This album seems like an odds-n-ends deal: 3 new songs (two of them being a throwaway keyboard piece and a spoken word intro), a song from the demo days and a cover of ManOwaR’s “Gloves of Metal.” Despite being a scrap pile of sorts it’s also a transitional piece: the only new metal song, “To Ride with Tyr” is an upbeat ManOwaR type crusher with a slower doomy part in the middle similar to the early days. The ManOwaR influence is key here. This EP was remastered in 2000 with 3 bonus tracks, 2 songs from Lamentations and a bizarre bonus track.

We die as brothers, and ride with Tyr

New Dark Age (1998)

This is by far Solstice’s finest moment. This is what makes them A Number One in my book. This is the ultimate in epic doom. It starts off strong with galloping monk impalers "The Sleeping Tyrant" and "Cimmerian Codex" and ends with the dungeon funeral dirge of  "New Dark Age II."
Massive riffs pass like torches through church windows. Epic leads soar like arrows into the hearts of their enemies. This album has more of a ManOwaR influence than the earlier works, but fortunately doesn't sound like the "Kings of Metal". Vocals are good, whereas earlier albums and demos had vocalists that sometimes couldn't hold their notes long enough, Morris Ingram is pro at epic doom vocals. Everyone else on the album gets kudos to, especially the guitarists Rich Walker and Hamish Glencross for their excellent leads, harmonies and soloz.
To be honest, this album is not flawless. It is long- the 1 hour 6 minutes runtime (even longer with bonus tracks) stretches my 35 minute brutal death metal attention span to the limit. It also has quite a bit of fat: 6 of the 11 tracks are acoustic/noise/spoken word/not metal which, though they help to  break up the album and serve as a break, putting three of them in a row right in the middle of the album is just poor album pacing and unnescesary. Other than those missteps this album is a masterpiece. If you only download one album from this post, let this be it. If epic doom is your thing, you'll enjoy:

Ice locked the nexus, an empire awaits

Other than two splits and some demos and compilations, that is Solstice's discog. Fortunately the band is active and is writing new material.

BONUS: Isen Torr-Mighty and Superior (2003)


DoomUnicorn said...

Thank you for educating the unclean masses. Masterful.

Judge Shredd said...

Don't encourage me or I'll do a My Dying Bride mega post.