Review Summary: Oh yeah, its that bloody good.
Black metal's fundamental aim and role, as a whole, can be defined as "opposition to the Christian values of today". Whether it invokes the strength of pre-Christian times, reflects on the beauty of nature, or just plain hails Satan, black metal is at war with Christianity. In a Pagan/Nihilistic/non-Christian society, black metal would have no artistic value, it would be fighting a foe that doesn't exist and therefore would be entirely unnecessary, in the same way guns created solely for shooting down planes become unnecessary when every plane has been destroyed.
This doesn't apply to Summoning. They aren't part of the war. They're the proud, glorious ride home on horseback, having already vanquished their deadly enemy, holding high in triumph the heads of those slain. They transcend the war, they are victory. With Christianity gone they lose no value, they are simply representative of the glory and honour of Romanticism. This is why, to many, their designated label over the years has been "post-black metal" (no, not the same as those bands with a shaky BM aesthetic accompanied by over-the-top orchestration and pretentious gimmicks, this is real post-BM); once BM reaches its goal, they are the logical progression. While most albums that invoke the medieval spirit possess a sense of longing, there is none here, because in Summoning's world the medieval is reality, and in that I find more hope for a better future than in any other album I've ever listened to.
Without doubt, this is one of the most important metal albums ever recorded. While their previous releases had a slight aura of cheesiness about them (they rule, don't get me wrong), as well as a lack of coherence in places, their songwriting talent really comes together here. Not one foot is put wrong, not once do you think "hmm, that could have been better", it is absolutely immersive from start to finish, and reaches a height of totality/wholeness that very few can achieve.
The majestic melodies are slowly developed through repetition into epic, grandiose climaxes, accompanied by the most powerful drumwork on any metal album ever composed, militaristically throbbing thunderously, albeit slow and fairly simple, as well as being a drum machine. Sadness is poignant in places, though there's no immature sentimentality here, simply a great sense of respect and reflection upon those who gave their lives to the cause. Just listen to Khazad Dum - listen to the way the original motif is built on layer-upon-layer, taking the imagination into a bombastic, beautiful journey of emotion and spiritual refreshment. In fact, just listen to any song, they're all sensational (Nightshade Forests and Elfstone are my personal favourites).
If that wasn't enough, this is one of the greatest-produced albums ever as well. Every single instrument appears to be dominating at the same time, yet they aren't fighting with one another, they're working together in harmony. From the booming echoey drums, to the rich, warm guitars. The strong, throaty, proud vocals. The various brilliant uses of keyboards, from the hefty brass sound, shining the sun's warmth down upon the men on horseback, to the sweet woodwind; a flock of birds flying over a healthily flowing stream.
Many of the best metal artists have at least partially had inspiration from those classic books by a certain Mr. Tolkien, which you may or may not know about. The tales explore various ancient Romantic/Nihilistic notions, such as having the will power and honour to increase the value of one's life through one's great achievements (rather than having inherent worth by obeying a set of external morals), great respect for the beauty of the land, etc. Few bands are quite as heavily motivated by those epics as Summoning. Indeed, virtually their entire discography focuses upon nothing but the quests and events of Middle Earth, and the resulting music is no surprise considering the scope and depth that those books covered, and the values held within them.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you again that this album is a masterpiece, but I'm going to anyway. THIS IS MAGNIFICENT. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR YOU NOT TO OWN THIS. BUY IT NOW.