Review Summary: A sublime mix of black metal and celtic folk, serving as the soundtrack to an epic battle upon the lush, green hills of medieval Scotland.
Few types of music have the ability to evoke such vivid imagery as atmospheric black metal. Ever since the inception of the genre during the days of Satanism and church burning, black metal visionaries have utilized the atmospheric nature of their music to convey strong visual imagery to the listener. With his sophomore release, Aura
, Scottish musician Saor has taken this concept into his own hands and crafted one of the most imaginative and visually striking albums to come out of the black metal scene in years.
is firmly rooted in black metal, Saor’s take on the genre is one both refreshing and highly-inventive. The album offers a masterful mix of black metal and celtic folk, with every aspect of Saor’s music serving to create an atmosphere that fully immerses the listener into the album’s picturesque, albeit grisly vision. Frenetic instrumentation and whimsical celtic melodies place the listener directly into the heart of a violent battle upon the lush hills of medieval Scotland. Thunderous vocals echoing the battle cries of heroic warriors and drums reminiscent of military percussion further show Saor’s commitment to bringing this war-torn environment to life. Other types of music are thrown into the mix as well to further breath life into the album’s atmosphere and story, with the warm ambient intro of the title track and the neoclassical melody at the start of “The Awakening” reminding the listener of the album’s serene setting.
Over the course of Aura
, Saor never loses focus of the album’s concept, immediately grabbing the listener’s attention and refusing to ever let it go. Furthermore, the album’s tone continuously changes from song-to-song, akin to a flowing narrative. Opener “Children of the Mist” is epic and energetic, kicking off the album as if the listener is riding off into battle. After a soft intro, the song quickly picks up with a triumphant melody and intense rhythm, giving off an effect not too dissimilar from an adrenaline rush. Following track “Aura” is easily the most emotional number on the album, with a cathartic flute melody desperately weaving its way through layers of boisterous riffs and vocal roars. The most folk-oriented song on the album, “The Awakening” utilizes an absolutely beautiful violin melody as well as clean, chanted vocals to create an incredibly uplifting atmosphere that brings the album’s heroism motif back to the forefront. “Farewell” combines the folkiness of “The Awakening” with the frenetic rhythm of the opener to create a track that is relatively short, yet also extremely exciting. The most memorable track on the album is closer “Pillars of the Earth.” The song begins with gorgeous acoustic strumming, piano, and a pounding drumbeat. As more and more layers as piled up, the song becomes increasingly intense, until eventually exploding into the darkest, most unflinchingly fierce riff on the entire album. Throughout the track, its tone seamlessly shifts from absolute chaos to slow, contemplative, and mournful. In fact, throughout its twelve-minute length, the song seems to encompass each of the album’s emotional themes, being both energetic and haunting but also harkening back to the folk and celtic melodies found throughout each song. Not only is “Pillars of the Earth” the most effective song that Aura
has to offer, it may as well be one of the most ingenious compositions from this particular style of music. While the closer is undeniably the highlight, no song ever ceases to be interesting or is noticeably inferior to any other on the album.
One of the most interesting features of Aura
is its production. In typical black metal fashion, the album’s production is raw and relatively poor, although nowhere near as poor as most black metal music. While the sound quality of Aura
is without a doubt its greatest fault, it also adds a certain cinematic element to the music that the album would most likely not possess had it been better produced. Due to the muddled sound of the guitars, the flute melodies are made all the more vibrant, and the noisy instrumentation actually helps add to the album’s chaotic atmosphere. Furthermore, the way in which the vocals are shoved into the background of the music adds to the despair and desperation in the vocalist’s powerful screams. Still, the dynamics between the instruments are far from perfect. Due to the loudness of the guitars, the drums occasionally sound slightly discordant during the more intense moments in some songs, and the bass playing is either dull or entirely mixed out. Luckily, as a result of Saor’s superb musicianship, the flaws of the production are usually unnoticeable and almost always work to the album’s advantage.
To lose oneself in a musical composition is one thing, but to be completely immersed into one man’s imagination is an entirely different affair. Yet, Aura is just that; a fully realized vision, and one that brings the black metal genre to new heights. Due to Saor’s outstanding musicianship, creative use of celtic folk music, and epic songwriting, the atmosphere found throughout each song paints an extremely strong picture. Over the course of Aura
, it’s difficult not to imagine yourself standing on the bright green hills of Scotland, feeling all the emotions of a warrior as he clutches his sword and triumphantly rides into the most exciting battle of his life.