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A tartanic sonic voyage through Scotland - 91%

PassiveMetalhead, December 31st, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Northern Silence Productions

To the north of the U.K lies unique and picturesque scenery. There, you can bask in the spectacular sights of Scotland’s numerous Lochs, with their smaller siblings of pools and meandering glens dotted around the rolling hills of the Highlands. Further north, the tranquil lochs gradually expand into imposing spines of mountains that stand adjacent to golden beaches, dense forestation and turbulent waves that crash into the distant nomadic isles across the sea.

Andy Marshall, the multi-instrumentalist brains behind Celtic black metal Saor, values the unique elegance and rich culture that has forged Scotland’s rugged land better than most. The tartan of Saor is fabricated from the history, geography and culture of the location in which it was conceived. As with Saor’s two preceding albums, “Roots” and “Aura”, Marshall continues to bond with something larger than the mortal spirit of man and attempts to carve deeper into the heart of the Highlands on “Guardians”.

Despite tight production, expert song-writing and meticulous attention to detail, the general expression that “Guardians” resonates is a sense of freedom. The average song length is about 11 minutes, which is ample time to allow the music to breathe and progress naturally. However, the bane of songs with long durations is the crucial requirement to keep an audience captivated. The structures of the 5 songs on “Guardians” appear repetitive, but Marshall’s ability to subtly steer the course of the songs into different territories is a testament to his skilled craftsmanship as a musician. ‘The Declaration’ commences with energised tremolo while dipping into pools of folksy fiddle, bagpipes and flutes; all of which are native to Scotland’s heritage. After a brief, bleak intermission, the song explodes into a gorgeous crescendo where the fiddles and bagpipes are in full march. ‘Tears of a Nation’ also features a repetitious structure where dancing folk and sorrowful metal take precedence. However, the advantage of Marshall layering both of these elements simultaneously, revealing each in equal measure, allows both forces combine efforts in a heightened assault of compelling emotional outbursts during the climactic ending.

Certain moments of the album express specific feelings that make the content of “Guardians” so emotive and cinematic; like any of Saor’s music for that matter. The strained strings and despondent riffs in ‘Autumn Rain’ emit a mournful tone as Marshall’s fervent lyrics detail a swelling tribute to fallen warriors. But as always, it’s the subtle changes that draw you in further. As the lyrics become more proud, the music follows suite with galloping drums and embracing female cries. Arguably, the ceremonious ‘Hearth’ is the most emotive composition here and is a true tear-jerker. It proceeds through ancient causeways of delicate folk and racing tremolo, but then the song cascades into Marshall’s clean vocals which echo a sincere adoration for his motherland. It’s difficult not to be moved over the vivid imagery of Scotland’s proud reputation that Saor artistically paints us.

Simply put, this album is atmospheric black metal with intricate folksy elements woven into the fabric of the album. Nevertheless, it’s clear that upon first listen to the aptly named title track, “Guardians” is as expansive as the landscapes it is inspired by and as prevailingly prideful as the Scottish heritage that the album has been wrought by.

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