Review Summary: Predictably enjoyable, unpredictably less.
As a self-proclaimed, long-time Saor fan (and a fan of the larger atmospheric black metal niche in general) I’ve had to take a step back from just blindly worshipping the likes of Falls Of Rauros, Wolves In The Throne Room and Winterfylleth… (et al). I mean I could put my blinders back on, heap praise and call it a day, but then the music itself becomes… less. Less special, less majestic, and more of the same. What I’m trying to get at, in this very round-a-bout way, is that sometimes sticking to a shtick or the same shtick over and over again would very much be akin to beating a dead horse…probably with a stick. Andy Marshall, the man behind the Saor project for a decade now has vision, or should I say had
vision, releasing a series of records that are uniquely Saor. While combinations of folksy heritage and natural motifs have run rampant from Aura
or the debut under the Arsaidh moniker, Roots
to the more recent Forgotten Paths
, the band’s newest export does branch out from too familiar portraits.
Maybe that’s the issue here. While a jaded musical community continues to scream bloody murder for change and innovation, some acts are immune to the need to develop. Origins
itself is a detachment from the grander slopes and majestic melody found on the other albums. In fact, at forty-two minutes, Origins
is the most condensed, primal and transient album to be released by Marshall so far. Relying instead on combining his signature blackened heritage with a more mid-nineties wave of traditional black metal. Where Saor’s other albums spent time meandering, marinating over motifs before building ideas into lush compositional crescendo, Origins
itself instead cuts to the meat and bones of riffs and blast beats. Andy Marshall swaps grandeur for immediacy, with mixed positive results.
While the recurring melody from “Call of the Carnyx” inspires a call back to the typical Saor compositional tropes, its focus is certainly that of guitars, blistering leads and direct riffing. The album’s mixing is clearly shifted away from the atmosphere of the mountains to which fans are familiar, instead offering ice and cavernous adventure at a breakneck pace. “The Ancient Ones'' is much like the opener. Prominent guitar melodies race across the breadth of the track’s run-time, spaced out by choral chants and hypnotic phrasings, but the ideas are simply displayed, not used as a foundation for something grander, something more. Burly, galloping riffs soon take over, while melodies trundle in and out the fray with varying degree. “Aurora'' relies on much of the album’s preferential treatment of nineties black metal aesthetic, but at eight and a half minutes it’s the most fleshed out of Saor’s newest compositions. Choral chants provide a direct dichotomy with Marshall’s pronounced shouts, while Celtic wind instruments dance above jugular riffs. Delicate folksy bridges allow introspection between the heavier moments, but the track’s heft fails to achieve a pronounced level of atmospheric immersion the band’s other albums are known for. It’s a shame there’s not ‘more’ here, because Origins
is an enjoyable listen overall.
Despite the tweaks and changes there’s some magical moments peppered across the record. Whether it's the opener’s glorious climbing guitar solo, notes sustained into the awaiting air or the choral, group vocals sporadically peppered across Origins
more direct portrait. Somehow Andy Marshall saved the best for last. The title track, which closes this forty minute dash through the mountains, is chock full of melody, pipes and grandeur. For fans looking for the spark of Aura
, it’s the title track that pays dividends. Sure, it’s a comparative summary of soundscapes, especially in regards to the albums just mentioned in comparison, but the track’s uplifting central melodies are just what the listener needs
to hear in the wake of such a guitar driven, by-the-book ode to following a nineties blueprint without forgetting who you are and what you’re supposed to do
. Ultimately Origins
is a great record, hampered by its own inherent ability to sound direct, punchy and…generic all at the same time. Now, don’t get me wrong. Origins
is an enjoyable listen, in tune with the seasons, but I'll be damned if I don’t reach for Aura
before throwing this back on.