For the second album Aura from the Scottish one man atmospheric black metal project Saor, Andrew Marshall has enlisted help of a host of guest musicians, and created an astonishingly vibrant and epic take on the genre. As majestic as this style of music gets, through epic Celtic melodies and expressive black metal, Aura takes you on a journey to the Scottish highlands and the battles that ensued there in ages gone by.
Saor weave a majestic sound throughout the album. Choppy riffs make their way through the release in true black metal fashion, catchy, melodic and with the requisite trebly distortion the choppy style is very powerful. Tremolo picked riffs also make their way through in the release, used to add dazzling shimmering leads to Soar’s great atmosphere. Add a militant, pounding drumming performance, and it really invokes the atmosphere of a medieval battle for freedom. The performance behind the sticks is really fantastic, whether militantly rhythmic, slow and expressive, or blasting it’s way at speed, the way it fits in with all the twists and turns of the album is fantastic. The bass also gels so well with the rest of the music, the deep soft tone adds another cathartic hypnotising layer to the brilliant music. With vocals coming in the form of low pitched screams, the energy behind them resonates with as much power as the music, really filled with emotion, especially as they’re not used particularly frequently. With soft gorgeous female cleans and male chants on the opening track Children of the Mist a folky quality comes through, giving it that extra sincerity.
What really sets Saor apart is their use of strings – they’re incredibly beautiful and stirring, playing gorgeous slow melodies, really gelling incredibly well in the softer sections, and speeding up to add a mesmerizing layer of sound to the faster sections. The melodies they use are so incredibly catchy that they will stick in the mind for hours after the album finishes. Their use is not a gimmick, they’re an entrancingly beautiful part of the whole atmosphere Saor creates. Using tin whistles, strings, viola and Bodhrán, the traditional elements that really invoke the powerful Scottish atmosphere are used superbly alongside the metal music to make a very complete, gorgeous atmosphere.
The way Saor builds their songs is fantastic too, and one of the other things that makes the album stand out. The lead guitar running through the introduction to title track Aura, flowing majestically through a current of distorted rhythm guitar, fast blastbeats and strings is one of the best examples of how fantastic Saor are at building a track. The way the traditional wind instruments come in and add to what already sounded like a beautifully crafted piece of music, and just takes it all up another notch, shows how great he is at building and evolving his songs. In the middle of the track it breaks down into a soft section of gorgeous acoustic guitar, with percussion from the traditional drum the Bodhrán, the strings eventually coming in to add that extra power, before it all kicks back of again with really inventive drumming, prior to a fantastic wave of harsh tremolo picked riffing comes back to the mix, and it’s devastating. The main melody from the wind instrument comes in and out over the cours of the song, adding that grounding to the piece that otherwise evolves so naturally and freely. Weaving between different tempos, letting each instrument take over the lead in different sections, the song length is over 13 minutes long, yet it remains constantly invigorating and full of power.
Whether it’s the beautiful chanted melodies on The Awakening, the haunting female cleans on Children of the Mist, the incredibly varied drums throughout or the power of the choppy riffs, or the captivating strings on Aura, the variation and expert crafting used for each song means that there’s not one dull moment in 56 minutes of music here. Five songs of eleven minutes and length, and each one is incredibly well constructed, taking you on a journey through the Scottish highlands and all the beauty and history that entails. Each track has it’s own identity, yet the same brilliant sound flows from the start to the finish of this outstanding album. You won’t find a better atmospheric black metal album than Aura this year, Saor have released the sort of mind blowing original album that doesn’t come along very often. Incredibly sincere, stirring and sublime, Aura is definitely a must have for fans of atmospheric black metal, and an absolute gem of an album.