It’s complicated, being Scottish. On the one hand, there’s the pride and the poetry, the romance and the underdog resilience, whilst on the other, there’s a walloping great dose of self-deprecation and Calvinistic dourness. Sometimes it’s difficult for natives to give in to enjoyment of a culture that has been commodified as ‘tartan twee’ since Sir Walter Scott did his masterful advertising job in the nineteenth century.
So, Black Metal with Scottish Folk inflections? On paper it would make me twitchy. In reality, Andy Marshall’s project Saor has been deservedly surging forward in both popularity and song-writing chops since its inception in 2013. “Forgotten Paths” is Saor’s fourth full-length outing, and it’s an epic, gorgeous thing. Three lengthy tracks comprise the main heft of the release – “Exile” is a delicate wee closer of clean-plucked strings and rolling waves on rocky shores – and each is so ambitiously crafted that there’s no worry of feeling short-changed by the relative brevity of the record. These songs are huge, weighty, emotional, atmospheric beasts.
“Monadh” is the highlight for me: such a dynamic track, building from beautifully melancholic piano and clean guitar to something complexly layered, with driving drums and a guitar lead that’s a cunning and very natural-sounding marriage of Black Metal and Celtic Folk. Marshall’s extreme metal growl keeps things grounded in the brutal, but there are later evolutions to this song, with gentler bass and clean vocals, that blend in colours from other genres. At times it reminded me of the shoegaze-y, depressive post-metal EP that Tim Yatras of Austere/Naxzul etc. fame released under the name Grey Waters. Given that the title track features Neige of Alcest as a guest, this flavour is unsurprisingly present there too: the melodic theme of the second half of that track grows into something immense, moving, and so much more than the sum of its parts.
There are bagpipes on “Bron”. Bagpipes and a fiddle and haunting female vocals. Normally, I’d be hidden under a table at the very thought, but instead I’m hitting the repeat button… Somewhere between all these features, the lovely, trem-laden, classic black metal coldness, and the outstandingly-produced wall of sound that grows behind it, my natural Caledonian cynicism slips away, and I’m flat-out enjoying myself. “Forgotten Paths” is poignantly powerful: all fog on the moors and heavy rain on the firs. A release of superb quality and inherent poetry for anyone who likes their Folk Metal with plenty of bite.