~reviewed by Joel Steudler
With Lost Tales, Summoning has once again lowered the bar for what I expect of them. After reaching their creative peak on Stronghold - an epic masterpiece of transcendent quality - they have sunk further into mediocrity with each successive release. Many of the problems that marred Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame also plague Lost Tales (which, perhaps ironically, is comprised of two tracks from Summoning's distant past). Both "feature" terrible production values and irritating samples from Tolkien radio plays. That's where the similarities end, though, and there are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise disappointing release.
Summoning's greatest strength has always been their ability to musically transport the listener to the ancient realms of fantasy which form the basis of their thematic content. Typically, they have done this in the past though the use of bombastic percussion, dense synth atmospheres, trilling guitars, and resounding harsh black-metal vocals. The two 'lost tales' presented on this album, though, eschew all vocals and guitars. The resulting compositions use synths to outstanding effect, evoking the somber grandeur of Middle Earth as well as any of the band's other output. Sadly, though, both tracks are considerably diminished by two curious decisions made by Protector and Silenius.
Perhaps to try and compensate for the lack of vocals, a decision was made to lace both tracks with sampled bits of dialogue from Tolkien radio plays. As they did on Let Mortal Heroes..., these samples simply served to remove me from the trance-like mood the music creates, effectively destroying what made Stronghold and Nightshade Forests so great. Summoning's best songs capture the imagination, but when dialogue clips of specific characters or scenes are added to them, it takes away your ability to imagine what's going on for yourself.
Adding salt to the wounds the samples gouged is the hideously bad production on both tracks. Bad production is somewhat understandable, as both these songs were recorded between the band's 1996 release Dol Guldur and Stronghold which came out in 1999. Nevertheless, 'Arcenstone' sounds like it is being played off a casette tape that's set out in the sun too long, and 'Saruman' akin to an AM radio broadcast. It is regrettable that Summoning didn't re-record, or at least remaster the two tracks for this modern release.
Lost Tales fills me with disappointment. Its two tracks are marvellous compositions, full of the same epic spirit from the band's best material. They are difficult to enjoy, however, due to the considerable problems detailed above. Unless you are an obsessive Summoning completist, or are unfazed by foul production and bothersome vocal clips interrupting your music, I recommend you pass up this release. I remain hopeful that Summoning will once again fill me with awe and carry me to ancient lands over long forgotten pathways.. but I have my doubts that they will ever again reach the pinnacle of songwriting they displayed on Stronghold years ago.
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