Hell yeah, let’s get some unabashedly fantasy-flavored death metal going. For their debut, the quartet of Summoning the Lich name “Lord of the Rings, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and Adventure Time” as influences on the story of their concept album. And with titles like “Demon of the Snow”, “The Lure of the Necromancer”, and “Death Crystal”, it’s easy to believe that those retro high fantasy styles are successfully pervasive in the shaping of the tracks’ tales.
On the musical front, the group shows a cool confidence, as when opening piece “The Nightmare Begins” takes its time before launching into a firestorm of percussion, only to cast it aside after a few moments in favor of a guitar-accented shifting rhythm. That also manages to give way to successive alterations of the initial drive, while still holding fast to clear tonality and continuity. However frenzied and sharp the changes may seem in the moment, it all holds together with a sense of naturalism to the leaps and drops.
The band keeps that mix of wildness and control going throughout the album. Whether laying in a toothsome riff (as in “Cult of Ophidian”), or sharpening progressions right out (“The Gatekeeper”), they show great ease at sustaining the impact of their intensity, which is really incredible for such a young band.
Unfortunately, Summoning the Lich are a bit let down by the production. This isn’t immediately apparent, since the instruments are crisp and suitably separate in the mix, the drums crash with strong and distinct timbre, vocals are fitted into the midrange to good effect (even if the death-vocals make the lyrical incrompehensible), and attention is paid to small details, like a diminishing synth drone for the final moments of a song. But, as the songs continued, the professional glossiness of it all left me hungering for some dirt. A patch of rough tone here, some thicker reverb for the bass there, something to reflect more substantially the demonic presences their playing and titling evoked.
To be clear, the production (handled by Jack Daniels at Sicktone Studios) is professional, and fantastically done, but so much of the musical activity is in a high register that the lack of variety on the guitar’s tone really starts to stand out in a one-sitting listening, as does the rarity of moments for the bassist to step forward and show off. The brevity of the songs (only a quarter of them break the four-minute mark) only makes this even more evident, to the point where the later songs are hurt by it.
But maybe that’s just me. As I said, I have no doubt that this is going to blow away tons of listeners, especially those death metal fans who don’t want their intense arpeggios and drilling beats sullied with rough touches. But even if you like your metal soaked in feedback textures and welded to arrhythmic string grinding, there’s a lot here that is worth your time. Huge props to Summoning the Lich for putting together such an ambitious and successful album for their first release.