It is a fool’s gold that makes rich a man now
and your truth will buy you only the lonely walk
to our hungry gallows
– Solstice, ‘White Horse Hill’
For those in the know, Solstice have been one of the finest doom/heavy metal bands of the last twenty-five years. To Sol a Thane sees the band honing chops one last time before presumably recording their third full-length, and their first since 1998’s classic New Dark Age. In a band that has always been blessed with exceptional singers, Paul Kearns has now taken over duties from the inimitable Morris Ingram, and immediately makes the band’s sound his own. The new songs are less medieval, for lack of a better word, than those on New Dark Age, and have a not insignificant aspect of Americana about them; some of the quieter moments bring to mind the Appalachian strains of an obscure but perennial personal favorite, The Handsome Family‘s Through the Trees.
Doom metal broadly operates on two scales, the personal and the cosmic. Noteworthy exponents at the more extreme end of the style like Thergothon and Skepticism lean towards the latter, creating swathes of atmosphere through slow motion and a distorted delivery, eschewing all direct appeal to the ego, and in the process rendering an almost-meditative air to the music.
Of more earthly preoccupations are renowned names of the canon like My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. These bands care about form , presentation, and embellishment, and incorporate an element of gothic theater in their music. The result is overwrought, in which emotion becomes a commodity to be peddled album after album because that pathos and that alone has now come to define the band’s sound.
Solstice have traditionally achieved the most exquisite balance between these two objects. These are true craftsmen at work, and their labor shows in every facet of the finished article. Lyrics are elegant and without guile, resembling much the same ode to European prehistory which Atlantean Kodex excel at. And that is not the only comparison between the two bands; the younger band, after all, accepts Solstice with pride as one of its primary influences. The deduction, as in The White Goddess, is inescapable; To Sol a Thane is wistful in demeanor but it is a sadness filtered through optimism and, ultimately, the futility of that optimism. History may come alive in books and insulate us from reality, but a time past is a time lost forever; for how long then does one miserably hanker for something that will never be again?
Songs are alternately driven by lead guitar lines and Paul Kearns’ immaculate sense of placement and sustain. Never boring, never repetitive, despite having vocal reminiscences and minor hooks embedded throughout, these songs and the words that support them are true stories of metal, and, together with their proteges, represent the finest that this artform has to offer today.