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Encapsulating The Scottish Landscape - 90%

dystopia4, June 19th, 2013

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.