Review Summary: Within the niche of a niche, Sojourner find their home.
At some point this whole fantasy literature obsessed wave of symphonic black metal has to get old right" Summoning has been executing it at such a high level for so long, and now we have groups like Caladan Brood reaching even greater heights. All it takes is a cursory glance through bandcamp to find a plethora of Summoning-lite bands trying their hand at the ever so niche style. At some point it’s going to be too much. And yet here I am reviewing another fantasy literature obsessed symphonic black metal album and loving every second of it.
While it’s easy to lump these bands together homogeneously, closer inspection reveals some variety, spanning the spectrum from Summoning’s drawn out, keyboard centric style to Sojourner’s more immediate, hook laden take. It’s in this niche of a niche that Sojourner’s sophomore release, The Shadowed Road
, flourishes. Empires of Ash
was a delightful debut, eschewing patience for instrumental variation and immediacy. Was it incredibly original" No, Sojourner struggled as many of their brethren did and do to escape the shadow of Summoning’s influence. Perhaps the key mistake is in believing that they ever can. I’m quick to proclaim Caladan Brood’s solitary debut as the current pinnacle of the sound, but there’s no denying that it was built from the foundation and framework of songs that came before. What is possible is to dig in and fortify yourself a space in that sphere of influence, and in that space you can find a need to satisfy.
That need is for a more casual execution of the sound. What The Shadowed Road
does is balance trope with accessibility. The guitarwork isn’t relegated to the same repetitive tremolo passages, instead memorable guitar leads and traditionalist riffs take center stage at many points. Likewise the drumwork isn’t confined to droning tribal patterns in favor of standard, but varied contemporary beats. Sweeping keyboards remain a central focus, but it’s appreciable that they were scaled back to allow so much else to have its moment in the mix. What really sells the record is Chloe Bray’s central vocal performance. Never an exceptional voice by any means, she lent a calming presence to the tracks she appeared in on Empires of Ash
, but here she is utilized more fully. At times emulating the melodic turns Enya lent to the soundtrack of the first entry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, she brings Sojourner further into this niche of a niche they seem intent on occupying.
Is The Shadowed Road
an exceptional album" No, but it has its place. Here we have a finely executed, but unsurprising alternative to Summoning’s original approach, an album that makes an inherently long-winded and campy style as approachable as it can possibly be. I don’t expect Sojourner to go down as one of the greats in black metal, but they’re doing something altogether necessary. And that is a fine thing indeed.