For over a decade now, Alunah has remained one of the UK’s consistently finest purveyors of superb Doom, albeit having had assorted labels such as the very niche “female fronted occult rock” tag that was beloved of so many reviewers. Regardless of how you choose to define them, they have always delivered the goods live and on album, and with ‘Solennial’, their first in partnership with the highly regarded Svart Records brand, they have simply got even better.

Opening with the haunting ‘The Dying Soil’, a mesmerising combination of plucked notes and simple beats weaving around crystal clear vocals, the tone is immediately set for a journey into musical beauty that makes ‘Solennial’ for me, the first essential album of the year. Things get heavier with ‘Light of Winter’, and as you might expect from a band raised in the shadow of the city that birthed Black Sabbath, the riff is deep and dense, owing more than a little to that master of the Gibson SG Mr Tony Iommi. A more delicate introduction heralds the arrival of ‘Feast of Torches’, promising a pastoral journey through ancient British mythology, before the gentle idyll is blown away with a combination of pounding rhythms and down tuned riffs, Sophie Day being joined on the choruses by a voice that made me believe that the band had carried out some long forgotten ceremony to summon up the ghost of Peter Steele to do backing vocals. Like any truly great song, despite clocking in at well over the seven minute mark, and played at a pace beloved of the fans of Doom, it still seemed to race past all too quickly, demanding repeated plays.

Things continue hard and heavy with ‘The Reckoning of Time’ and lead track from the album ‘Fire of Thornborough Henge’, where the dark musical tones both contrast and compliment the clean sweeping vocals that tell tales of magic and ritual that are the staple part of Alunah’s output. Whilst many bands that get tarred with the brush of Doom stick to lyrics of substance abuse and depression, those of Alunah are of spirituality, light, and the cycle of life, an element that is just one of many that helps to set them apart from the crowd. A new dimension that comes even more strongly to the fore in ‘Petrichor’ and the following ‘Lugh’s Assembly’ is the addition of Charlotte Nicholls on cello, a musician who has previously added her own distinct sound to tracks by the likes of Spider Kitten and Sigiriya. On ‘Petrichor’ the cello acts as a bridge between the lead guitar of David Day and the bass and drums of Dan Burchmore and Jake Mason, whilst in the latter it is more of a lead instrument in its own right. For those who live for walls of down-tuned sustain the cello beats any guitar with even the heaviest of strings. What next; Conan on stage with bows in hand? Rounding out the album is the bands first recorded cover, ‘A Forest’, the laconic delivery and ethereal vocals giving a whole new take on The Cure classic, taking the original song and making it their very own.

‘Solennial’ is a tribute to the continuing development of Alunah, with each album getting better and better, and their own unique identity coming through more strongly with each release. Add in their use of the ever more highly regarded Skyhammer Studios, and working together with the always exciting Svart Records, and ‘Solennial’ is an album that should take pride of place amongst a host of “Best of 2017” lists; by this time in 2016 my own personal list was starting to fill out, but this is the first album of the year I’ve had to review that is guaranteed a slot. Furthermore, Alunah are hitting the road soon in support of the release, and I cannot do anything but recommend that you treat yourself to their live shows.

(9/10 Spenny)