Solstice – “White Horse Hill” (Invictus Productions)
Hand crafted pagan heavy metal from the English countryside for luddites and grumpy old men alike, Solstice are something of a cult band with little in the way of pandering to the whims of modern metal. Playing it as they were weaned on vinyl records, fanzines and pre internet communications (i.e. talking face to face with another person!), Solstice mix doom melancholy with plenty of English medieval folk and pagan melodies fuelled by English mythology, but all brought to bear on a massively epic soundscape! Formed in 1990, the band rose to be signed to Candlelight Records and undertook successive UK and European tours with the likes of Count Raven and Anathema before sadly collapsing a decade later due to disillusionment in the music business. However, never forgotten, the band recovered and reignited itself, releasing a well received mini album in 2013, thus preparing way for the 2 year making of this stunning release! Adopting a DIY approach rather than aligning themselves to commercialism, technology and timescales, “White Horse Hill” features 7 stunning tracks mixing epic heavy metal with ambience, but all hand crafted with rustic charm (and plenty of cider to boot!). The childhood dream of founder guitarist Richard M. Walker, Solstice features a strummed guitar backbone at times not hugely dissimilar to early Primordial, but graced by some of the most incredible melodies and passionate breaks and solos that leave you breathtaken, while graced by the mournful but soulful vocals of Paul Kearns either in ethereal form, or more powerfully passionate in expression. While other bands may employ orchestras, choirs and technological wizardry, Solstice rely on only the magic and spiritual reach of their music, which clearly they they take their time to compose, and to their ultimate satisfaction. The result is master craftsmanship on a musical level, as songs like the 8 minute ‘To Sol A Thane’ with its tribal drums, intricate weaving pagan melodies and strummed rustic bass along with Kearns high soaring vocals reach right into your soul though their unending passion. On the 8 minute title track ‘White Horse Hill’ the genteel medieval guitar gives way to powering epic riffs and even more heart breaking melodies, along with Andy Whittaker’s unforgettable solos and not forgetting Kearns bringing his own deeply emotional dimension to end it all blissfully. Becoming more dark and stormy on the 12 minutes of ‘Under Waves Lie Our Dead’ with its rich, melodically layered guitars and hard drumming from Rick Budby, the overall beauty conveyed through the melancholy is nothing short of captivating. An incredible listen from start to finish made all the more impressive by the professional production and sound clarity courtesy of sheer hard work rather than pro-tools, “White Horse Hill” befits the proud legacy of the pagan ancestors from whom Solstice are descended.