By Jonathon Besanko
With its band name taken from the Gaelic word for “free” and “unconstrained”, Scottish-based atmospheric folk/black metal band Saor is one of the more rich and diverse bands of the genre. With a spirit heavily ingrained in the Scottish heart of the highlands, from its use of bagpipes to the choral symphonies that drift overhead as a tonal wave, Saor is simply one of the best additions to the beautiful and diverse subgenre of ambient/atmospheric metal. From the folkish opening moments of the title track that flow in like a wave (bringing to mind imagery of ancient Scottish period scenery), what’s extraordinary about Saor is that this is a one-man project. While guest musicians have been a part of the two previous albums, for Saor’s third album, Guardians (released on November 11th this year via new label Northern Silence Productions), all instruments, vocals, and production were performed and brought together by band founder, Andy Marshall. There are obviously, however, exceptions to this rule again. The drums here come courtesy of Bryan Hamilton, who offers his style and technique to the overall record.
One of the standout aspects of this album is the strength of its guest stars. Specifically, you have John Becker, a session violinist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist who provides strings for this record. Becker’s classically-trained mind adds weight and depth to Guardians, and the strings come into play at all of the right moments; complementing the synthesizers and the overall construction of the album in a way that is undeniable. Furthermore, you have the wonderful talents of Meri Tadić, of ex-Eluveitie fame. Performing fiddle for the title track and “Hearth”, the resonance of Tadić’s playstyle carries home those notions of an honoring of the ancient ways; paying respect to a beautiful and wondrous culture that still holds as much beauty and mystery in its mist-shrouded highlands and mountainscapes as ever.
There is an immediate and noticeable change in the quality of sound production used across Guardians when compared to Saor’s previous albums. Whilst the sound quality of Roots and Aura wasn’t by any means a low-point, there is far crisper and sharper sounds here that accompany Guardians‘ five tracks, clocking in at just under an hour in length. Due to the quality of the sound, when Marshall’s vocals come into play, they complement the music, rather than overpower it. And, in this instance, it works entirely to the favour of the music. The music takes centre-stage here, and it’s in the album’s dedication allowing the folk melodies and earthy tones to encompass your ears that allow for those rawer moments and harsh vocals (that come few-and-far-between, mind you) to counteract the overall atmosphere in a satisfying way. It creates an atmosphere that all at once creates a surreal aura, and then, like a rope around your midriff, pulls you in further to create a musical experience that envelops you. This album feels more enriched than Saor’s previous entries. It feels more empowered by nature and by the music that comes courtesy of Scotland’s heritage. You hear bodhrán’s from Reni McDonald Hill, and you especially feel the power in the Highland bagpipes of Kevin Murphy. This is an album that deserves to be heard for a number of reasons. It’s an authentic and unfiltered take on Scottish folk music, not just folk metal.
The fantastic thing about this particular subgenre is that it effortlessly transports you elsewhere. You cannot help but be swept away as the all-enshrouding music that wafts over you. In the case of Saor, it carries me away to an ancient time in Scotland’s history I will obviously never see myself, but with this music, makes me feel as if I can. It is that essence of the music and production quality that elevates Guardians above its competition. If you wish to be taken back to a simpler time, rife with the spirit of the Scottish isles, but also to experience a darker and fresh take on atmospheric folk metal music, then Saor’s album Guardians is more than worth your time.
You can currently stream and purchase the full Guardians’ album (as well as the first two albums) over at Saor’s official bandcamp. Follow the link below!
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