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  • JammT



Why is Scottish Black Metal not more of a thing? It does exist alright, but mostly sporadically and often with one-person truly underground manifestations. Yet, in terms of scale, it is not even close to the likes of Scandinavia where it is a multi-generational, storied, established sub-culture. Yet like the Nordic counterparts, Caledonia has an abundance of potential subject matter in its pre-Christian heritage, a geographical ruggedness, and an unambiguously blood-soaked history – all the textbook inspiration sources for over 30 years in BM circles. Also, let’s be clear: Scots have a certain reputation to consider – and we are not talking Biffy Clyro or Paulo Nutini. Yet despite all this, Scotland remains better known for black pudding than black metal (though both are good).

So it is left, largely, to Saor (Gaelic for ‘Free’ – Scottish Gaelic you can find on Duolingo…you should give it a try!) to lead the highland charge. A solo project, turned permanent outing by multi-instrumentalist Andy Marshall, Saor has been going for over a decade now and, on the basis of Origins, the quality keeps improving. This is, for the most part, a rampaging outing and one of the most noticeable elements is that it can be stridently and unashamedly melodic. It is less harsh and evil sounding than, say, Marshall’s other outfit, Fuath. The opener Call of the Carnyx is galloping, strident heroism that flows brazenly with an unrepentant power metal melody that summits with a bagpipe-backed apogee. In similarly lusty fashion, Fallen has a resplendent, chest-beating folk-metal crescendo. Over the course, Origins has a sound that is more folk-tinged than blackened, more triumphal than mendacious. The Ancient Ones has stylistic overlaps with the likes of Sassenach counterparts, Winterfylleth or perhaps Grima in that it incorporates soaring, wistful catchy hooklines with vicious black metal snarls.

Origins demonstrates that Marshall, who is self-taught, has a true nifty penchant for penning irresistible catchy earworm riffs. The record is brimming with rousing harmonies and uplifting hooks that would make Iron Maiden drop their copies of Victor. This is consistent throughout the record and executed with confident focus. Some of it is truly tuneful but, moreover, it has a depth of atmosphere and a vibe of heroism and mystique. Crucially, this doesn’t verge into cheesiness or theatrical oafishness for which folk-metal often provides a natural habitat. The incorporation of bagpipes, for example, provides well-timed epic embellishment rather than stereotypical tackiness. For all the triumphalism, the savagery of black metal haunts the background with hyper-active, warp speed clattering percussion, throat-shredding rasps, and spitting raw aggression. Furthermore, there are plenty of zesty flourishes to keep the flow interesting such as mock-druidic chanted vocals, plucked bucolic strings, stirring pipe sections and occasional effects. Saor has established an idiosyncratic niche space (or broch, perhaps) where style and atmosphere has developed assuredly over the years. If you like delicious metal hooks that ride into battle infused with some raw blackened intent, you cannot go wrong with this which is arguably the strongest release from the band.

Origins is released via Season of Mist and check out Saor's bandcamp:

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