Solstice
White Horse Hill

Despite being one of the least productive bands around (at least when it comes to albums), England’s Solstice is still one of the more revered bands in the traditional/Epic/Classic Doom/ heavy metal genre, largely on the strength of their last full length sophomore album 1998′ New Dark Age. Since that release, the band has released splits. EPs, demos and compilations like crazy, but in 2011 there were rumors of a new album and some new material/demo tracks culminating with a 2013 teaser EP, Death’s Crown Victory.

Well, it’s finally here! A new Solstice album! And it’s utterly worth the wait, even if about half of the material is from the 2016 To Sol a Thane vinyl/digital demo the band released on bandcamp.

Despite the band’s status, their vocalists in the past, Morris Ingram (New Dark Age) or Simon Matravers (Lamentations and Halcyon) have always been the band’s weak link to me (just my opinion mind you). But that has finally been rectified as Paul Kearns (Fifth Dominion, Arcane Sun, Eden Obscured) joined the fold in 2011 and is absolutely stunning on White Horse Hill, elevating the already majestic, doomy, rousing heavy metal to another level. His voice is a perfect match, with a clear, epic, soaring delivery that’s powerful, austere and not too falsetto. I’d kill to hear him on a rerecorded version of “The Sleeping Tyrant”.

Speaking of that legendary track, musically, “The Sleeping Tyrant” also stands as a clear backbone for the new (ish) material. Starting with intro “III” (yeah, the third album), with Kearns teasing the rest of the album before “To Sol A Thane” rumbles into view with one of 2018’s best opening riffs, a aural manifestation of pure, brilliant heavy metal that will give you goosebumps. The title track is more of the same, with a thunderous, fist raising gait and crunch, showing how goddamn good these guys are at riffs and allows Kearns to really show his range. The album’s centerpiece though is new, new 13 minute  track “Under Waves Lie Our Dead”, a more somber, traditionally doomy number that saunters with despondent power and range that’s as much Moody Blues‘ “Knights in White Satin” as it is Candlemass or Iron Maiden. It peaks with glorious soaring, melodies and riffs that will stay with you long after the album is over.

On the very minor down side, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of this material was already released, and there are only 3 full ‘songs’ on the album with four being interludes or purely acoustic/instrumental numbers (“III”, “Beheld, a Man of Straw”, “For All Days, And For None”, “Gallow Fen”) , and while they add to the austere majesty of the album, I want more riffs goddammit! Surely after 20 years, there’s some more waiting to be unleashed? Plus, closer “Gallow Fen” seems to about to deliver one of the album’s best climactic songs, and it suddenly stops. I actually checked to see if my promo download was complete or cut short.

None of that stops White Horse Hill being one of 2018s best albums and well worth the 20 year wait for  follow up to New Dark Age. I’m glad Dark Descent is handling the CD version ( the digital/bandcamp version has been out for a while now), I could not think of a better label to handle this epic /long awaited comeback (including a yet as unnamed bonus track for the CD version). Let’s hope that the next album isn’t a twenty year wait and has a full set of brand new, epic heavy metal.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
March 12th, 2018

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