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Tears of a Nation - 91%

dystopia4, December 17th, 2016

I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant about the new Saor album. This is largely because Aura was so impossibly good. That album holds a very special place in my heart and going on numerous hikes in the Rockies with Aura being my soundtrack is something I will never forget as long as I live. Needless to say, it is a tough act to follow. Aura was the perfection of the sound started in Roots and to do a third album along the same lines could end up an act of redundancy. To make matter worse, Panopticon mastermind Austin Lunn was no longer behind the kit. His unique and enigmatic style is a massive part of what made Aura so good, and is probably the best drum performance of his entire career.

So how does this stand up to one of the greatest atmospheric folk metal albums of all time? Well, it doesn't outdo Aura but does prove itself to be a very capable successor. The sound isn't too far removed from what we have come to expect from Saor. As per usual, the songs are long and epic, bringing to life the majesty of the Scottish highlands. Saor is billed as a one man band, but this is only half true. While it is wholly the brainchild of Andy, he has a drummer and a host of session musicians at his disposal. The additional instrumentation is a large part of what sets Saor apart. Here, Saor has strings, fiddle, bagpipes and bodhrán (not going to lie, had to look that one up - it's a traditional goatskin Irish frame drum - pretty fucking cool!). The additional instrumentation widens the scope of the album by a staggering degree and the bagpipes and flute do a lot to give it a distinctly Scottish flavour.

All these bells and whistles are well and good, but they wouldn't mean shit if the metal wasn't good. It would be like an expired $4 grocery store steak served with caviar and gold flakes. Well fret not, because the meat of the music is juicy and full. The metal is drawn out and bombastic, and this is a rare case of metal not really needing to rely on big riffs, instead drawing out grand soundscapes with metal providing the backbone. The leads here are fantastic, with the repeating melody at the end of album-closing "Tears of a Nation" being astoundingly moving and uplifting - I'd be very, very surprised if it wasn't plucked from a traditional folk song. The way the lead is repeated for minutes at the end of the song reminds me of Agalloch's "Into the Painted Grey", and a few of the leads on Gaurdians actually are pretty reminiscent of some on Marrow of the Spirit.

Recorded in cottages in Isle of Skye and Cairndow, this is another grandiose testament to Andy's native Scotland. Being more drawn out and about showcasing wonderful non-metal instrumentation than Aura, this is another excellent offering from Andy. I have to wonder where he'll go from here - this album seems like the end of a trilogy to me. Roots laid down the framework, Aura perfected it, and Gaurdians experimented with it. I hope it's something a bit different, but I'm sure he'll find a way to do something worthwhile. Gaurdians shows Saor once again leading the pack for atmospheric folk metal.