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After a short stint with scene parasites Falloch, Andy Marshall completely redeems himself with this one man monument to the natural world. Like Falloch this features very high production values and can't be called rough around the edges, but there is one major difference - this has heart. It doesn't feel watered down. Falloch took the whole post/Cascadian/blackgaze trend in black metal and made it as lightweight as possible, stripping it of all life and adding horrendous emo/alternative rock vocals just in case the album wasn't marketable enough to a non-metal crowd. The very digestible production here undeniably fits the sound and this work feels completely honest and from the heart.
Àrsaidh, which is Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) for Archaic, in some ways feels like a lighter Winterfylleth with more atmospheric breaks, and many parallels can be drawn between this and the myriad of other folky "nature metal" bands. It's hard to call this actual black metal, but it still feels like something that has grown out from the genre. It has an atmosphere akin to many black metal bands, there is some tremolo and bombastic drumming and Andy's massive bellow does retain some rasp. This evokes images of oak-laden panoramic views and twisting waterways without sounding close to what you'd expect from the Cascadian black metal scene. This makes sense, as he wanted to bring the Scottish landscape to life instead of the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Àrsaidh fit pretty soundly into that folky not-quite-black-metal niche, and throw in some doomy vibes for good measure. Clocking in at 50 minutes, this features four lonely tracks, one of which is a brief instrumental. The long running length that Andy allows his songs lets a viable atmosphere soak in and lets the tracks slowly twist and turn at their own discretion. The songs oscillate between flowing subtle post-rock(ish) atmospherics and sweeping epic grandeur. Although the riffs are there, Àrsaidh relies more on a shifting soft-loud dynamic, melody, songwriting and atmosphere to carry the sound. The riffing never really takes to the forefront and pummels away in all of their unrelenting fervour, but being disappointed over this would kind of be missing the point. This is about feeling out an atmosphere and building something dynamic on top of it, not unfettered annihilation.
Although the metal sections are pretty spectacular, it's the stuff in between that really makes this release. There is a solid selection of keyboard sounds, piano, acoustic guitar, replicated strings and even tin whistle. In fact, the tin whistle at the end of "Carved In Stone" is quite possibly the catchiest part of the entire album. The occasional blowing wind sample immediately brings Agalloch to mind. The subtle droning bagpipe tones in the interlude "Saorsa" establishes a distinctly Scottish feel. A truly talented musician knows when to hold back and when to go all out, and that is readily apparent here. When a band goes all out with constant blast beats and ever-present aggressive riffing without any breaks for the duration of an entire release, this can often lead to it not feeling as heavy as it could be because the aggression and sonic intensity become somewhat normalized and to a degree lose their effect. Although this certainly isn't the heaviest or most primal metal out there, the subtle instrumental sections really make the metal sections feel that much more riveting and intense when they come in.
This is a very well realized one man offering, and it certainly feels like a full lineup could of been at the helm. Although this does feel decidedly clean and with well trimmed edges, it completely fits the sound. There are two sides to nature, the beautiful expanding vistas that might grace a postcard and that of the untamed wilderness that one might experience when actually traversing deep into the bush - this is the side of nature that can actually kill you if you don't know what you're doing. The vibe that Àrsaidh evokes falls purely into the first camp - and there's nothing wrong with that. This feels more like comfortably viewing a grand panorama of looming trees and interweaving rivers from atop a small mountain than trudging through the bush, relying on your wits for survival. However grandiose, this trip is a pleasant one. This album should serve as a lesson to Andy's former band Falloch: you can make highly accessible nature inspired metal without sacrificing the heart of the music.
The two other reviewers have labelled this as very similar to " Winterfella" or some equally kooky band (guess I outta check them out), but for me this whole leafy, sad 'n' pretty long-walks-in-the-forest sound comes off as somewhere between Agalloch and Wintersun. It's got the call-of-a-thousand-ravens super serious forest shtick of the former, and it's got the never ending bombastic of the latter. It's also significantly better than both- not that that's saying much, but yeah.
Yeah, it's a nice album, a bit of post-rock in the long, repetitive melodies and the not very aggressive tremelo riffs, a bit of black metal that's.. somewhere I guess (the vocals and drums, I guess?) and that's pretty much it. Don't expect much in the way of proper BM- indeed, don't expect much in the way of aggressive anything here- but that's pretty much the point of this album. You could tell me that this album is the gayest thing since Coldplay and I'd be pretty hard pressed to deny it!
So why's it good then, you may ask? I think because the dude behind this really knows what he's doing, and it's such a triumphant, life affirming sound that it's hard not to run along with it and have it as your rainy winter's day album (winter down here right now, remember) for a month or two, before forgetting it entirely and digging out Caradan Brood again or something. It is remarkably pleasing on the ears- so many super melodic lead lines (guitar, pan-pipeish and violin!) soaring over the sad 'n' serious tremelo'd guitars. Or those yelled/despairingly sung cleans soaring over everything in Carved in Stone. Choir pads stuffed in their too underneath the rest of the layers; I guess the best summation here is "It's not a subtle album."
Remember how I mentioned Wintersun's bombast? It's honestly quite a good comparison- except that Arsaidh know that you've got to let up occasionally for maximum effect. And credit where credit's due- there's enough folky moments and long intros to keep the songs dynamic and to keep the sugar rush from tripping you out into a complete diabetic meltdown. Personally, I would've liked the whole deal to have incorporated a few more hushed moments and maybe even a moment or two where things are just, y'know, a little bit ugly. Stately and pretty is cool, but just as you can only stare at a Monet painting for so long before you get bored shitless, so this album starts dragging near the end of it's running time. Again though, credit where credit's due- 50 minutes is a good length here. 78 minutes would be hard to take.. it's a good length.
I like this album. It has some gorgeous moments, there's no questioning that; the guy behind Arsaidh can sure as hell generate a beautiful little soundscape. I guess it is good- just be aware of what you're getting into here; loud, bombastic and super sentimental- it's not as sappy as Alcest but it's certainly not that fair from it. Nonetheless, I recommend it.
It's probably inevitable that associations will be drawn between England's Winterfylleth and Scotland's Àrsaidh. Both bands play what might be called atmospheric, folk-influenced black metal. Both bands take the ancient heritage of their respective countries as the inspiration for their music and the focus of their lyrics. And the music of both bands is dramatic and serious-minded. In light of Winterfylleth's well-earned rise to prominence, and the temptation of fans and critics to compare new bands to better-known ones, I'd be surprised if the comparison weren't made. Hell, I think I just did it myself. At a high level, all those similarities exist, and I would add one more: Àrsaidh's debut album Roots is as deserving of attention as The Threnody of Triumph and The Mercian Sphere. In fact, Roots is downright brilliant. But there are important differences, too -- beyond the fact that both albums come from cultures that have warred with each other for longer than they've (ostensibly) been united.
Roots really is deeply atmospheric, but it doesn't rely on riffs or hard-hitting rhythmic movement. For most of the time in the album's very long songs there's a background wash of tremolo-driven distortion -- rising, falling, sometimes almost pulsating -- and racing, rolling, tumbling drumwork. This provides the bottom layer of these multi-faceted songs, to which Àrsaidh adds simple but affecting melodies that are carried by a variety of instruments -- acoustic and electric guitar, piano, echoing flutes, synthesized strings (sometimes in the movement of a soaring chorus, sometimes the soulful voice of a single violin). The spare melodies range from wistful to mournful to rousing and defiant. They're driven into the listener's mind through prolonged repetition. When combined with the power of the roaring, grinding guitar and bass and the changing drum patterns, they gave the music an almost cinematic scope and sweep, which befits Àrsaidh's attempt to capture in the music the dramatic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands and the assorted tragedies visited upon its resilient people through time. They are musical tales of blood, loss, honor, and pride.
Carefully chosen moments of calm and relative quiet segment the music, those moments occupied by such things as the strumming of acoustic guitar, the slow thump of the bodhrán, the interplay of shimmering keyboards and bass, and a whispering voice. The album's short third track, which follows seamlessly from the second and leads seamlessly into the final one, is nothing but the sounds of a cold wind blowing through a mountain pass. These interludes last just long enough to lull the listener into a state of contemplation -- before the music erupts again like thunder. The songs are largely instrumental. When the vocals come in, they're like a distant, harsh roaring, as if impassioned proclamations are being howled at you from the other end of a long, vaulted hall. (Slow, distant, subdued clean vocals also make a brief appearance in the album's closer, "A Highland Lament").
Epic in its sweep and entrancing in its emotional appeal, Roots is an album that should be heard in a single sitting. It provides an immersive experience that manages to avoid monotony despite the length of the songs and their dependence on the repetition of musical patterns. It's a kind of black metal that's neither icy nor cold despite the sense of loss that pervades the melodies. It does justice to the heritage of old Alba and it should quickly elevate Àrsaidh into the ranks of atmospheric black metal bands to watch very closely.
(Review originally published here: http://www.nocleansinging.com/2013/06/08/arsaidh-roots/)
"Evoking ancestral wisdom, I stand hypnotised"
The man behind Askival, after a short inclusion in Alcest wannabees Falloch, came back to his roots (pun intended) with this album. My expectations were high when I learned that Andy Marshall had a new project and it wasn't post rock/shoegaze. When I saw the gorgeous cover art decorated by the logo full of trees, I was hoping for the best and boy, I wasn't disappointed. The scenery on the album art is, well you can see it, but the snowy peaks and the dark sky reminds me of both the remote places in Scotland and a surreal, almost martian setting. Painting an accurate portrait of the sound, the art reflects the sadness found in the music. Expect great things because Roots is an amazing record and the best thing the atmospheric folk/black genre has to offer in 2013.
The album, a 50 minutes journey to Scotland's countryside, is composed of 3 very lengthy numbers and a short 2 minutes interlude. The long songs are giving the musician the time to let grow the trees he threw seeds for. There's gorgeous and expanded atmospheric parts with folkloric instruments that can really live on their own without the need for a lot of vocals. Indeed, the focal point of Àrsaidh is the flow of the music, the sixteen, thirteen and seventeen minutes songs are long and soothing rivers that you cross on the raft you found on a riverbank. You definitely have the required time to admire the River Tweed without having to fear the mouth of the wild North Sea. Hell, the first title track has no vocals for the first 6 minutes and it doesn't freaking matter with Àrsaidh. Maybe for the more impatient people, the task will be arduous but the whole release is truly rewarding when you take the time to enjoy the album. It works as background music too (I like to study with music and I'll be able to with this project) and it's never boring. The amount of craft in the songwriting is without a doubt the highlight of Roots and for a solo band that's definitely impressing.
Roots, while having a copious amount of atmospheric tendencies and even a post rock baggage, really has a worthy amount of black metal influences. Probably not enough for the pure warriors resting in their Norwegian fjords though. But for someone such as myself who enjoys bands like Winterfylleth or Agalloch, I can enjoy a varied album like Roots without any corpse paint issues. The atmospheric/post is to me, the cement which holds this album together, it gives a much needed bond between the folk instruments and the metal elements. I rarely heard such a talented blend of sounds, it's subtle and done tastefully while never crossing the Cheese Kingdom. That's certainly good for Scottish metal, I'm sure they prefer to be represented by Àrsaidh than these silly pirates in Alestorm. There's a lot of bagpipes, acoustic guitars, violin and keyboards but it's all so cohesive and integrated in a well thought formula that even if you're not fond of folk metal, you'll have no problem with the album.
Although I think there's a shortage of riffs to be found, it doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable. The music is slow and mournful and are relying on repetition to move the listeners and it works very well. There's melodic simple leads such as the one in Roots and it gives a grand epic feel to the music evoking at times the atmosphere you can find in a band like Summoning. The vocals are pretty damn good too, there's no full on clean eruptions and they're not that present but when they are, it's awesome. Andy is using an harsh throaty voice and it fits the post metal side of the band because it's somewhat near the way atmospheric sludge bands are singing. There's some clean chanting such as the start of the second track Carved in Stone, one of my complaints is that I wanted more of these epic vocals as I'm an huge sucker for these and Primordial fan but it's still a mild criticism. It doesn't detained my enjoyment as it's really an amazing album and it's establishing Andy Marshall as the de facto king of Scottish metal or at least I would support him as I would also support the national referendum in Scotland in 2014.
Talking of Scotland's national question, the lyrical approach of Àrsaidh is similar to the one of many English bands, it's mainly about the Celtic cultural heritage and it's written in a sorrowful way. Taking inspiration from classic poetry, the lyrics are subtle and reflects the dramatic history of this northern region of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, I can notice the similarity between Québec and the sake of Scotland. Both in the black metal's lyrical research and the history of assimilation, conquest and divide. And this only adds to my appreciation of Roots. While I'm transported into a land of mountain and rivers, I feel my feeling of belonging to the universe increased. While I'm not quite a nationalist for the sake of it and I'm often divided between the archaic concept of nation and human rights and freedom, I like this approach and I know where he's going with it.
"We are sorrow's children /Torn from Alba's womb /A reflection of fallen martyrs The lifeblood of this land "
A superb production is decorating the long and excellent dirges. Àrsaidh is a good (well, no excellent) compromise in the atmospheric black metal scene. It's more epic than Fen, more folky than Winterfylleth and better, less cheesy than Wodensthrone. If you're looking for a fast paced album full of catchy anthems, look elsewhere. This album is pure sorrow and it's a perfect mastery of a folky yet dark atmosphere. One of the jewels of 2013, that's for sure.
Check the review on my blog!