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Solstice - White Horse Hill Award winner

White Horse Hill
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 24 April 2018, 7:55 AM

SOLSTICE is an Epic Doom Metal band hailing from England, which is basically the birthplace of the genre.  In addition to numerous EP’s, split releases, demos, and box sets, this is their third full length album.  I hope they release full lengths more frequently because this is some high quality, very well written Doom Metal that certainly gives both the genre and their home country something to be proud of.   I should probably save this for the end of the review but I want to go ahead and say it: this is now the best Doom album I have heard this year so far.

There is a lot going on in this album so it’s hard to really describe them…they definitely have a sound all their own.  Although Doom owes everything to bands like BLACK SABBATH, PENTAGRAM, CANDLEMASS, TROUBLE, MY DYING BRIDE, and KATATONIA, these Englishmen really don’t sound like any particular type or era of Doom.  Rather, they pull from each style of a variety that often goes unnoticed to most.  Their guitarists Walker and Whittaker really lay down riff filled songs and melodies that are so grandiose that I found myself humming along to them and trying to “sing” them.

The pacing of the album is highlight unto itself.  Even the best Doom bands can sometimes be a little long winded but SOLSTICE avoid that with a smartly placed track order.  The beginning and end songs are shorter epics and the longer ones in the middle are broken up by a beautiful two and half minute tune called “Man of Straw.”  The nature sounds that run through the track add to the atmosphere of the masterfully played clean guitars and bass.  This softer approach to their sound is no less imaginative, thoughtful, and emotionally crushing than the heaviest of the heavy.  Kearns’ soft vocal approach in this song, almost like faint wisps of wind on a cold winter day, are icing on the musical cake.

After the aforementioned opening track, “III,” which rumbles along like distant thunder getting closer by the second, an (almost) eight minute long track kicks in.  The song is “To Sol A Thane,” and it’s a great example of what the band is going for on this release.  The melodies are wonderful, the harmony between the guitars is perfect, and the bass and drums keep it all together.  When Kearns opens up his pipes, the smile (I mean scow.  This is Doom.  Grr.) on my face got a lot bigger.  I just love his voice; he has the right tone and pitch.  He rides the line between a traditional Stoner/Doom voice and the Gothic tones of some of the European bands.  He has an actorly way with his vocal approach and theatrical sensibilities.

The title track begins with clean guitar and something rare: atmospheric drumming. Buddy’s drums evoke emotion as depth filled and rich as the other instruments and that is something rare to find, in any type of music.   He and the lead guitar really make this track standout together. The guitars for “For All Days, And For None,” are all clean but despite no electric heaviness, I’ll be damned if this song isn’t as Doom as anything I’ve heard.  This is how I was hoping the acoustic portion of SWALLOW THE SUN’s “Songs of the North,” was going to sound. Buxtons’ bass is a thunderous pile driver even without distortion and even among the entire band’s amazing performance, his is the highest of the highs.

Under Waves Lie Our Dead,” is without a doubt the highlight of the album.  It is over twelve minutes in length but I found myself wanting to listen to it over and over again.  The rhythm guitar in the track’s early moments is crushing and the lead parts soar like an eagle.  The track stays consistently heavy until the part from 7:18 to 8:30, where, once again, the band shows Metal, even Doom Metal, can still bring lighter moments that are just as intense.  The song finishes strong, and soon after, the final track “Gallow Fen,” comes around.  It begins clean until around 1:18 then melodic rhythm guitar joins with the leads to create a sorrowful sound for the vocals, drums, and bass to work with.  It is only four minutes in length but it has become one of my favorites from the album just because in those few minutes it gets everything about Doom so right.

If my review hasn’t convinced you, you need this album in your collection if you are a Doom fan.  One of the most essential albums I’ve heard thus far in the year.

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. III
2. To Sol A Thane
3. Beheld, A Man of Straw
4. White Horse Hill
5. For All Days, And For None
6. Under Waves Lie Our Dead
7. Gallow Fen
Richard M. Walker – Guitars
Rick Buddy – Drums
Andy Whittaker – Guitars
Paul Kearns – Vocals
Ian Buxton - Bass
Record Label: Invictus Productions


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