Friday, May 21, 2010

Summon - Baptized By Fire

Summon - Baptized By Fire
2000, Baphomet Records

Coming as a complete surprise to me, this Michigan band has crafted a suitably original (within the close confines of black metal) and fresh album out of elements that I now will safely say (once again) are becoming the hallmarks of American black metal: a raw edge, overt death metal influences, moderately technical riffing, and an atypical drumming style. Reminding me a lot of Epoch of Unlight, actually, another band that has reached a certain level of success straddling the line between black and death metal, this album expertly demonstrates the musical heights a band can reach when it doesn't limit itself to influences from just one genre. In fact, if I hadn't been made aware of Summon before the release of this album, and going on its own merits alone, I don't think I would have hesitated to place it alongside the current crop of revenant death metal bands now bursting forth from these shores and gaining new credibility: Angelcorpse, Diabolic, Hate Eternal, etc.

I know that these guys supposedly wore corpse paint before, were hailed as part of the nascent black metal scene in this country, and share influences with a number of those bands, but I am going now by what I hear on this album, not by what has transpired before. Also, as far as I can tell, this band ceased to exist shortly before or after last year's Milwaukee Metalfest - I am not aware of their current status. I am guessing this isn't a posthumous release, and that things have been resolved in the Summon camp, but I am not sure as to what exactly this band is planning for the future (where's that band bio when you need it?). In any case, let's just stay close to the purpose of this review: an examination of the music.

Starting with an excellent and slow-building intro (which I don't think is credited in the CD booklet), Summon begin the proceedings by launching from that dark mood setter into their first bold attack, a rancorous slice of slashing proto-death metal called 'Sons of Wrath' which quickly lays before you the characteristics of the Summon sound: pulsing, bursting blast beats and grind-influenced drum fills, high clinking cymbals, a bottom-heavy thick bass tone high in the mix, two rapidly oscillating guitars biting and gnawing, diving and swarming on the left and right channels, and a decidely black metal scream from the vocalist spitting out its debt of venom. Also (are you ready for this?): solo work from both guitarists. Surprised? I was. The solos are actually pretty good, too - much better than what you probably would expect from 'black metal musicians', coming as they do (this shouldn't stun you by now) directly from death metal influences - at certain points the solos overlap and cross each other, ala Slayer, as at the 3:40 point in the first song. I don't think I've heard that before from an American black metal band. Like the other metal bands that I mentioned above, most of the influences for the guitar music seem to come from older death metal instead of the latest generation of gore-grind-core-whatever that has infected the scene for some time now. Instead of merely repeating what those bands brought to the musical landscape (Morbid Angel, for example), Summon instead try to build something original and new on that hallowed ground.

The rest of the album follows, for the most part, the blueprint set in the first song, and this album remains unrelenting and punishing until the very end. There are interesting exceptions - the fuzzed-out bass tones and whispered words that form the intro to 'The Silence of Chaos', for example, or the slow clean guitar and soulful leads that start 'Realms of No Return' (which also has a surprising prevalence of keyboards, you'll notice) and the other atmospheric segments that fill out the structure of this key song.

Ultimately, I think this is a important album, and something that Summon can definitely build upon as they obviously have the musical talent and creative energy to effect some kind of change in black metal aesthetics within their own scene. I hope they will continue to explore their original ideas as they progress, and that their next album (if there is one) will be a convincing display of what they have learned in the meantime. This record is another victory for the American underground.