Summoner Put Out the Best Heavy Psychedelic Album of 2020
When Summoner recorded their set at the Day of Doom Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn last year, were they even planning on releasing it? Did they have any idea that it would turn out to be the best heavy psychedelic rock record of the year?
It’s been desperate times, desperate measures for most artists this year. There’s never been such a deluge of archival live recordings dumped on the web, since studios have been officially put on ice by the lockdowners. Some of those albums are dodgy, but a surprising number are top-shelf and Summoner’s Live at Day of Doom – streaming at Bandcamp – is the best of the bunch. It’s amazing how this band manage to sound so unhinged yet so tight.
No overdubs, no punching in to fix mistakes: they’re in their element, playing through St. Vitus’ magnificently loud (and now tragically silent) PA system to a pretty rapt crowd. What immediately hits you about their performance is the subtle touches. For example, the way frontman Chris Johnson’s bass slithers up into the highs over the fanged guitar riffage of the opening number, Skies of the Unknown. That’s foreshadowing. He’ll do that later, especially toward the end, when he isn’t playing with a gritty, growling tone…or detuning his E string for the slashingly Arabic-tinged Into the Abyss.
Even though Summoner don’t sound much like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, you can see they’ve built off those groups’ best ideas to make something completely new. Listen to how guitarists AJ Peters and Joe Richner play their twin leads with a powerglide sleekness on that opening number. They’ll do that again in the evil, slurry chords of The Interloper over drummer Scott Smith’s stampede.
Counterintuitively, the centerpiece of the show is not an upbeat number but a slow, epically spare, almost ten-minute take of Let the Light In. It’s closer to Nektar or Desert Flower than, say, Mastodon, lingering jangle and clang rising to crushing waves. The eerily glimmering tremolo-picking and surreal flanged contrast between Peters and Richner’s guitars will send your natural opiates through the roof.
The chromatics get more sinister in The Prophecy: Johnson’s melodic approach essentially gives the band three lead guitarists. Textures spiral and roar and scream throughout the anthemic, galloping Horns of War. The band wind up the set with Conjuring, their Children of the Grave, with seamonster bass piercing the surface and a tantalizing exchange of solos. Every band this good – and there are hundreds of them around the world – needs to make a live album like this.