Review Summary: If it ain't broken, move away from it before it is
So what does one even do upon hitting a local maximum of quality? Whatever the direction pursued, its constituents ironed out and blessed with the esoteric sprinkle of inspiration? Solothus were put in this position once their prior album got all the things right, cementing them as the embodiment of what makes death/doom so satisfying. What now? Keep hammering out more of the same, hoping it doesn't get stale too quickly? Forcibly move away from the established pattern in pursuit of new ground in the hopes it leads to fresh, exciting pastures? Any deviation would likely crack their masterful blend of tempos, but staying put would put extra pressure on the fickle magical spark driving the proceedings.
Solothus circa 2020 opts for more of the former, resulting in a bit of a different beast compared to its predecessor. The band sheds most of the death and zooms on the doom, focusing on the plodding tempos and mostly demoting the livelier mid-paced riffs to occasional barely noticeable interlude appearances. Working in a contrasting space is easier for listener engagement, as evidenced by everything from Nevermind to No King Reigns Eternal, and the guys are acutely aware of this fact and deploying other measures. Unusual meters are present and accented ("The Gallow's Promise", "Below Black Waters"), the prior album's uncouth harmonic moments are embraced and amplified. The fact all these aspects are secondary to the glacial ring-out of the power chords and subterranean growls makes this far from an immediate listen, taking many spins to fully appreciate. The change easiest to spot is the introduction of clean guitars, which serve as a welcome textural difference. The lead playing is masterful as ever, with the guy somehow finding new ways to make his aching vibrato even more deliberate and expressive with slow freeform articulation. The production job is stellar, letting every last dissonance and bend shine through crystal clear without sacrificing energy.
The album's best moments are the bookend tracks, with the closer in particular being a bit problematic to the reception of the album as a whole. "A Rain of Ash" busts out an actual memorable mid tempo riff that gets to play a major part in the song, and the old pacing balance the band casually swept under the rug comes crawling out. As ornately artistic as the foray into straight-faced doom is, there's just something primally satisfying about the way Solothus blends it with higher velocity parts. Contrast, diversity, what have you. Despite Realm of Ash and Blood's objective strength and accomplishment, upon finishing it I'm more inclined to follow it up with a listen of No King Reigns Eternal.