Solstice
Lamentations, Halcyon EP, New Dark Age Re-issues

So back in 1998, one of my many blind purchases back then was New Dark Age, by this Bradford, England classic doom act. Of course, at the time I was all about death metal and because of ‘England’ and ‘doom’ was fully expecting something akin to Paradise Lost, Anathema or My Dying Bride. Of course, when I heard the clean croons of Morris Ingram belting out, I was completely put off and sold it/traded it. Then, over the next few years I see New Dark Age become a revered classic in UK metal and doom history, as well as see Misanthropy Records close their doors. So I basically let a now classic, hard to find LP go for about $4.

Now, of course with far broader musical horizons and maturity under my ever growing belt, thanks to Cyclone Empire I get to hear this classic album again, re-mastered with bonus tracks and the band’s other two releases, 1994’s Lamentations and the 1996 EP, Halcyon, both given the re-master and bonus track treatment.

Now, how a tiny independent German label managed to score these CD re-issues is beyond me (I think there have been some limited vinyl re-issues in the past). But re-issue them they have, and in retrospect, when you look at the various line ups of Solstice over the years it reads likes a who’s who of UK metal with various members having been in or going on to serve in acts like Anathema, Cradle of Filth, Extreme Noise Terror, Dragonlord, Napalm Death, My Dying Bride, While Heaven Wept and Twisted Tower Dire, you wonder why this band’s catalogue never got the re-issue treatment far earlier. With their style of classic heavy metal/doom, comparisons to the likes of St. Vitus, Pentagram, Candlemass, Solitude Aeternus are abound, but Solstice had a sort of epic medieval/pagan aesthetic going on rather than the dreary woe is me, where is my life/love, its the end of the world mantra.

Now, I should say I still am not sold on the vocals. Neither Morris Ingram (New Dark Age) or Simon Matravers (Lamentations and Halcyon) are truly ‘great’ singers, and in truth, both are pretty flat and characterless apart from Ingram’s continual rolling of his “r’s” on New Dark Age. However, they do fit the style and to be honest, Solstice are more about their timeless riffs than their vocals.

And what riffs. New Dark Age alone contains enough truly genre defining moments that it should be heard and owned by anyone who appreciates metal, particularly tracks like “The Sleeping Tyrant” (arguably one of the greatest classic doom tracks ever written), “The Cimmerian Codex”, “Hammer of Damnation” and “Cromlech” make it an absolute, must have classic. The inclusion of some wonderful atmospheric, acoustic tracks like “The Anguine Rose” “Blackthorne”, “The Keep” (where Ingram actually fits perfectly), complete the album’s place in history. This effort is the most sparse of the three re-issues, only giving us give us two cover tracks; a superb rendition of Iron Maiden’s “The Prophecy” and “Stormchild” originally penned by Trespass, but with such an amazing original product, merely having it is worth it.

Now, I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t give Lamentations and Halcyon as much attention as New Dark Age, as I was so thrilled to have New Dark Age in my possession again. I don’t think either quite rise to the level of seminal quality as New Dark Age, with Halcyon being the better release over the rather rough Lamentations, but either way, Cyclone Empire was more than generous with the bonus tracks on both.

The Halcyon EP (already with a cover of Manowar’s “Gloves of Metal”) give us 1997’s Drunken Dungeon Sessions that include various demo versions of tracks that would appear on New Dark Age, some unreleased demo tracks, as well as a cover of Candlemass’s “Solitude”. But you can see the seeds of what New Dark Age would be forming in tracks like “The Ravenmaster” and “To Ride With Tyr”.

Lamentations is the weakest of the three, in my opinion, partially due to Matravers performance, though the inclusion of three tracks from 1994’s Ragnarok demo make it worthwhile for avid collectors. The material does have flourishes of classic doom brilliance such as “Only The Strong” “Absolution In Extremis” and “These Forever Bleak Paths” and the band’s arcane, medieval hues together with the acoustic atmospheric injections still make it a above average classic doom release.

Anyway, here as my fingers start to cramp, I’ll conclude by thanking Cyclone Empire forgiving us these splendid re-issues. I’ll recommend New Dark Age to absolutely anyone with a passing interest in any form of metal as it’s a truly bona fide, legendary release, but the other two are for collectors and fans looking for some nifty rare and demo material to bolster already fine albums.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
January 3rd, 2008

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