Cnoc An Tursa // The Giants of Auld
Rating: 4.5/5.0 — Auld lang syne
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: myspace.com/cnocantursa  |  facebook.com/cnocantursa
Release Dates: EU: 2013.02.25 | NA: 03.26.2013

CNOC-AN-TURSA-the-giants-of-auld-300x298When one thinks about black metal, the image that probably comes to mind is that of the pine barrens and frozen desolation of Norway, the extreme cold only briefly warmed by burning churches dotting the landscape. Scotland, on the other hand, is not usually the landscape that one imagines, but rather than the icy fjords of Scandinavia, Cnoc An Tursa hail from Falkirk. The band formed back in 2006 around core members Alan Buchan (vocals and guitar) and Rene MacDonald Hill (guitar and keyboard). After touring with Winterfylleth in 2010, the band was picked up by Lone Vigil Recordings, who entered into an agreement with Candlelight Records to release Cnoc An Tursa‘s full-length debut, The Giants of Auld.

While drawing upon the epic poetry of past civilizations is hardly a new strategy in heavy metal, some source material has been strip mined particularly bare, especially Norse mythology. Cnoc An Tursa look elsewhere, and have hit upon an incredibly rich vein of material almost untouched by their peers: Scottish poetry. The literary tradition of their homeland is both wide an deep, and Cnoc An Tursa make fine selections for their source material, drawing lyrics from the works of the venerable Robert Burns (“Winter: A Dirge” and “Bannockburn”), John Stuart Blackie (“Hail Land of my Fathers”) and Sir Walter Scott (“Ettrick Forest in November”). The lyrics are often lifted directly from these source texts, and range is subject matter from the mythos of Scottland to significant battles in the quest for independence from England.

While I could easily geek about about the literary references for ages, it is also worth noting that the music is damn good too. The melodic structure of the songs frequently draws upon traditional folk songs (some of which have even more literary connections: Robert Burns made a hobby of collecting traditional Scottish folk tunes as he travelled Scotland, and Cnoc an Tursa frequently used them as inspiration as well). The songs have a lilting melancholy to them and a distinctly regional character that sets the music apart from Cnoc An Tursa‘s peers.

The folk elements are great, worked into the songs deftly and intelligently, and the traditional instrumentation is always employed judiciously. While this aspect of The Giants of Auld is certainly well done, there is also no question that this is a metal record. The riffs are powerful and unremitting as a harsh winter wind, and the vocals, while acid and harsh, also have a mystical, almost spooky quality to them. Moments when a spiky, climbing riff structure is suddenly joined by an aching flute or a squalling blast of pipes are positively shiver-inducing.

Cnoc-An-Tursa

While there are certainly emotive moments, Cnoc An Tursa have always chosen to err on the side of epic. The songs are vast, sweeping and often cinematic aural landscapes. During “Bannockburn,” an album highlight, the pace captures thefrantic, forward energy of warriors tilting into battle. “Culloden Moor,” which has a more mystic atmosphere, is nonetheless a stirring, driven piece. Every song on The Giants of Auld inspires drama and movement. The closing track, “Blar na h-Eglaise Brice,” is positively haunting.

In terms of production, the record is dynamic and well-balanced, with just the right amount of organic texture. It’s no small wonder it sounds so good, as it was mastered by Chris Fielding (Winterfylleth, Primordial) at Foel Studios in Wales. Fielding handles the material with respect and intelligence, and knew how best to uphold the integrity of both the black metal and folk elements.

For their debut, Cnoc An Tursa have wrought an album with a unique character, excellent energy and strong, memorable songs. The combination of black metal instrumentation, Scottish poetry and folk music and powerful forward movement. A surprising, genuinely exciting debut, The Giants of Auld speaks well of a long and promising career for the band.

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  • Faustian Bargain

    4.5? really? This sounds like shit to me.

    • Huh, it’s funny how music is subjective. I loved this record. Maybe I’d not have given it a 4.5 but I would have rated it high as well. Really solid stuff.

      • Faustian Bargain

        eh, subjective only to a certain extent. It doesn’t excuse certain listening proclivities. But whatever. If you enjoy it, cheers!

        • No, I’d say pretty subjective all the time.

          • RU63

            So, is this the Record o’ the Month? I need to know ASAP, as I buy all your RotM; and I like instant gratification.

          • Hard to say. ;)

          • RU63

            AARG! I’ll buy it anyway.

          • It’ll be up sooner than later. :)

    • Realkman666

      I wouldn’t say “like shit”, but it doesn’t strike me as incredibly special indeed.

  • Kryopsis

    I rather like what I’ve heard from Cnoc An Tursa so far. The song ‘Hail Land of My Fathers’ was a highlight of the Candlelight winter sampler and ‘The Lion of Scotland’ featured here lives up to Natalie Zed’s glowing review of the album.

  • Lookie here, the first rather decent album cover of 2013

    • Faustian Bargain

      you like that album cover? it is cheesy all to hell to me.

      • ZacP

        Be at peace, my brother

      • Still better than Voivod or Crest of Darkness

        • Madam__X

          Lol isn’t that the truth!

      • Rac

        Aren’t you the grumpy one.

  • Tanuki

    Great stuff. The Influences of traditional Scottish music is a nice change from the norm, but that stuff has always been happy and camp. I’d prefer some meatier vocals to contrast it.

    • Yeah the style feels a lot more folky than other releases by bands such as the mentioned Winterfyllet and perhaps Woodensthrone, and the vocals seem to be more into that folk camp as well. Still, it has enough to keep me interested.

  • Musically, the song posted above sounds pretty damn catchy, but the vocals aren’t really my thing. Maybe I just need to give it time to grow.

  • RU63

    Cnoc An Tursa – The Lion Of
    Scotland has been recently uploaded to youtube. Finally I was able to hear a decent version of the song, and I must say, it kicks ass!

    • RU63

      Got it, don’t like it (boring). I think it is under the passenger seat somewhere and I don’t care to go digging for it.

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  • Where can I find this album?

  • I actually found this album boring and unoriginal :/
    Typical folk metal, a very simple one at that, with core-ish vocals.
    Not that I don’t like the vocals but I find the album pretty bland and uninteresting.

  • hellspawn geco

    I don’t like the vocals here.