Forgotten Paths by SaorRelease date: February 15, 2019
Label: Avantgarde Music
Contrary to popular belief, it is not shite being Scottish. As well as boasting an eclectic history and gorgeous landscapes, it’s also home to a rich cultural legacy that has been celebrated the world over. And yet, in the metal world, it has never quite gotten the attention it deserved. The short-lived Falloch was the first notable success but it’s Andy Marshall’s follow-up Saor that has made the biggest impact to date. Now four albums deep into the project, they maintain a spirit of steady evolution both within their songs and throughout their career as a whole, gradually unfurling into something that takes them far beyond our shores.
The title track opens the proceedings in the closest Marshall comes to a traditionalist fashion. It’s a headlong rush of sweeping melodies, furious drumming and tremolo salvos and it brings to mind the craggy shores and sweeping vistas that keeps Neil Oliver awake at night, but as strings enter the fray and the tempo simmers down, the images are given a new splendour that wouldn’t be possible without such delicacy. As the song tosses and turns from caustic bellows to the uplifting lilt of a piano (replete with an understated appearance by Alcest’s Neige), it presents a deft balancing act between the serenity of Scottish landscapes and a more forceful atavism that always errs on the right side of aggression, choosing to pull you into the mix rather than boot you into it.
In the case of ‘Monadh’, there’s a kind of pastoral charm that more than matches its name. Though leaning more heavily onto Saor’s more metallic tendencies, it still offers up the same sense of soaring grandeur through some nifty harmonies and a gradual build-up that never quite seems to peak, nor to dial itself back. Though Saor do sometimes rely on a formula, Forgotten Paths marks an evolution for the band in that it is an incredibly focused work. Barring the instrumental outro of sorts ‘Exile’, these songs are hardly brief, all exceeding the 10-minute mark, but they use every second wisely, neither dawdling nor throwing in proggy excesses for the sheer sake of it. Whether taken individually or as a single collection, these four songs offer a cohesive vision that is crystal clear and more than occasionally majestic to take in.
In the case of ‘Bròn’, Marshall’s goals are given their most concrete form, doubling down on the blastbeats and near-power metal levels of sheer triumph, but then throwing in the tragic lilt of Sophie Rogers and even a few choice bagpipe passages to deliver a folksiness that bears a rare authenticity for the genre. It’s a necessary counterpoint to the chaos that surrounds it, and in the context of the album, it feels like an apt closer to what has gone before. Though that role falls to the aforementioned ‘Exile’, which is more a vessel for Gloria Lyr’s stirring harp work than for the project as a whole, it’s nonetheless another fine example of Saor’s newfound focus and emphasis on lean, punchy and moving songcraft. Whether Forgotten Paths ends up being the album that wins over a legion of new fans is unknown (though it rightly should), for those who have already been drawn into Marshall’s vision, this will mark a bold and truly exciting next step.