Review Summary: Onwards to eternity we send them off, into the hands of the gods.
Plenty has been said about the ability of music to take us to other places, to reveal worlds we haven’t yet experienced or that have passed us by already, but I would think most of us can identify one particular style that we look to for the very pursuit. Personally speaking, I know the magical, frostbitten snowstorms Paysage d’Hiver can conjure and occasionally I crave the sweltering swamp heat Baton Rouge’s Thou was birthed in. However, it’s the medieval synth melodies of Summoning and Caladan Brood that do something extra special for me. It’s easy to see why considering how much of my life has been spent worshiping first the Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and more recently Steve Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen saga. It’s illustrated boldly across their album covers what these bands want you to visualize, and while some artists don’t pull it off convincingly enough to drag you into their vision, the aforementioned are prime examples of musicians who can
Summoning and Caladan Brood are good enough to keep us company for a long while, but quality black metal of this kind isn’t the most populous. Elffor is okay, Emyn Muil almost works, Utstott falls just short, and that magic I’m talking about is either a weakened shell of itself or missing altogether. But Sojourner has it for me, that atmosphere that pulls me away for a small precious bit of time. Empires of Ash
is as grandiose and sweeping as I wanted it to be, without copying Summoning too closely for comfort. That’s not to insinuate that it reaches the height of Summoning or Caladan Brood either, because it doesn’t. It doesn’t have the same grace, nor songwriting, but what is here is fantastic in its own right. Opener “Bound By Blood” has a lot of notable lead work contained within a very concise runtime, and “Heritage of The Natural Realm” encompasses all of Sojourner’s hallmarks: all hypnotic, melodious guitars, airy synths, and a mix of harsh screams with womanly crooning. The pairing of “The Pale Host” and “Homeward" is the highlight here, the former mostly consisting of soft pianos and guitars under Chloe Bray’s lovely vocals to segue carefully into “Homeward”. “Homeward” itself is just about the best track not written by Summoning or Caladan Brood, and I’ll leave it at that.
Empires of Ash
feels like the stepping stone that may or may not be needed for this style of music. It’s a little more accessible by having less repetitious songs and varied instrumentation, and doesn’t have a fetish for 12-15 minute songs. But again, its gateway accessibility isn’t the most vital thing in retrospect. The sound itself is a melodic one full of shimmering synths, lacking most of the abrasive qualities black metal was built on. Sojourner’s accessibility mostly just ends up making Empires of Ash
easier as a token recommendation rather than an important record that would lead new listeners to the actual masters of the style. That aside, it does capture a special something its influences had that really makes Empires of Ash
worth a listen, and for what it’s worth, I think Sojourner does those forebears proud.