Children have been born, raised, and become adults in the time that it’s taken for Solstice to release a new album. However, it’s likely due to perfectionism rather than laziness. The English epic doom group has always dealt with persistent lineup turnovers and has been tinkering with new material since their 2007 reformation, periodically releasing a demo or EP as marks of progress. While White Horse Hill is the band’s first full-length album since 1998’s New Dark Age, the sound is right in line with the material on their 2013 EP Death’s Crown is Victory.
While Solstice’s initial run was as a doom band with folk and epic metal tendencies inspired by Bathory and Manowar, White Horse Hill seems to be the other way around. The song lengths still sprawl out and the tempos are relatively slow, but the riffs on songs like “To Sol a Thane” burst with activity and a triumphant air is felt throughout. The band’s long running folk influence has also been retained from the soft balladry of “Beheld, a Man of Straw” to the swelling buildup on the title track and “For All Days, and For None.”
It also helps that this may be the strongest lineup to ever appear on a Solstice release. Bandleader Rich Walker and Andy Whittaker’s guitars lead the charge with a crispy tone that is raw yet allows melody to come through. The drums also stay busy without getting in the way, but vocalist Paul Kearns is the album’s real MVP. His operatic baritone can sometimes get in the lost in the shuffle, but his skill level alone is enough to easily make him Solstice’s most accomplished singer.
This quality carries over into the songwriting, though there are a couple points where the album does falter. The near three-minute ambience of the opening “III” could’ve easily had a minute shaved off, while the climactic “Under Waves Lie Our Dead” may be a little too bloated for its own good at twelve minutes long. It would’ve been nice to include a more straightforward metal number to spice things up, but such a thing would likely just get in the way of the band’s vision.
New Dark Age may still be Solstice’s best and most definitive outing, but White Horse Hill just might be their best performed. Despite the major gaps in time between releases, the band has evolved smoothly thanks to a meticulously laid out vision and gradually improving musicianship that such huge musician switches don’t normally allow. If Solstice has flown under the radar, this may be the most advisable way to get acquainted.
“To Sol a Thane”
“White Horse Hill”
“For All Days, and For None”
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