Saor GuardiansAs an unpatriotic Englishman, it’s not an issue for me to love Saor. From North of the border, Andy Marshall’s evocative vessel for Scottish pride and history hasn’t yet failed to impress, from Roots to Aura and now on to Guardians. Celtic-infused black metal softened with strong melodies and atmosphere, the two prior records aren’t significantly different and yet both come highly recommended. I was marginally concerned this time given the release of Marshall’s other project this year – had there been enough time given? Had ideas been split between the two? I can happily report that my fears were unfounded and he’s really nailed this one.

Though the tracks are as lengthy as they’ve ever been, Marshall has that Moonsorrow-like knack for writing long, cyclical songs that are thoroughly engrossing throughout and truly embed themselves. If anything, Saor‘s melodies have even more resonance this time around. Each track is obviously the result of much time and effort and they’re remarkable and all invoke some new emotion: wonderment on “Guardians;” longing on “The Declaration;” distance on “Autumn Rain;” heroism on “Hearth;” and pride on “Tears of a Nation.” Your heart will soar, wrench and swell as the album flows and it’s truly one of the most emotive things I’ve heard this year. There’s an over-arching entrancement present but the emotional gamut it nonetheless runs is wonderful.

Saor 2016But more substantially than such touchy-feely bollocks, it’s the compositions that make Guardians tick. The riffs are plenty good and surprisingly technical at points, such as on the title track and in the neat flourishes transitioning into the heightened melodies on “Hearth.” But it’s when these are layered with the traditional instrumentation that Saor leaves their competitors behind. The duality of distorted guitars with fiddles, strings, bagpipes and other whistles elevates all involved instruments. Indeed, bagpipes are used more prominently here than anywhere in their discography. Though all writing is accredited to Marshall, recognition must also be given to his range of guest musicians fleshing out these other aspects, including Bryan Hamilton (Cnoc An Tursa) on drums, John Becker on strings, Meri Tadic on fiddle, Reni McDonald Hill on bodhrán and Kevin Murphy on bagpipes. This ensures all parts of the music are executed professionally and haven’t been cheaply integrated, which is a cut above most folk metal.

It’s a testament to the strength of the song-writing that the structures are entirely repetitive yet no track is dull. Particular passages can repeat with few variations for significant periods of time and the only substantial development save a couple of quieter interludes is an emotional heightening towards the end of all songs. Though by the end this swelling is expected it’s no less powerful for it. The conclusion of “The Declaration” is utterly undeniable with a melodic black metal passage from 8:10 which rivals the best of them. Similarly, the slow solemnity before the final climax on “Hearth” is just exquisite and that climax may be the best part of the album. It’s just so epic. Guardians is formulaic but it’s a formula that works incredibly well.

What remains is something to make even the most cricket-playing, Pimms-drinking, colony-acquiring Englishman rip his trousers into a kilt and cry for the blood of the South. As if simply recording at Cairndow and on Skye wasn’t sufficiently Scottish, every note from Guardians exudes Scotland, acting as a resounding reminder that I need to revisit the beautiful Highlands. Even if the subject matter wasn’t so conspicuous in the lyrics and themes, the resulting melodic black metal would still be excellent. Saor is habitually great but this is particularly so.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps MP3
Label: Northern Silence Productions
Websites: facebook.com/saor | saor.bandcamp.com
Releases worldwide: November 11th, 2016

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  • AngryMetalBird

    can somebody f*****g invent time travel so we can pick this one up straight away???

    • ricin_beans

      Yeah it’s always torture when I read a review like this and it turns out it’s almost two weeks ahead :[

      • hardysponge

        Want to have now! No vinyl though as far as I can see.

  • Antorus

    Listened to this a few days ago when it was leaked, fucking amazing!

    That forever alone “band” pic tho…

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      When you are as manly as Marshall, putting anyone else in the picture would severely diminish the manliness rating. Having his reflection visible might even be too much manly in a single shot for the uninitiated.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    “Though the tracks are as lengthy as they’ve ever been, Marshall has that Moonsorrow-like knack for writing long, cyclical songs that are thoroughly engrossing throughout and truly embed themselves.”

    Opinion alert: Saor is considerably better at doing this than Moonsorrow, and this album is just further testament to that. Album rules start to finish.

    • The Unicorn

      Im a huge Moonsorrow fan, but their 2016 offering left me luke-warm at best. This right here is very good. I need to hear moar. Moar dammit, moar.

      • El_Cuervo

        I feel the same.

      • Levly

        I’m sorry but I have to protest both those opinions and issue a contrary one: Moonsorrow is the master bar non of long songs dynamics, and their songs are varied and well constructed, with a great balance of headbanging groove and soaring melodies and harmonies, making time fly by. Saor has some beautiful harmonies but their songs don’t switch riffs enough and repeat each melody one or two too many times. They lack energy (the production is also to blame perhaps), drag on and make my attention wander away after a while.

        Also, the 2016 Moonsorrow record is absolutely brilliant, and hands down my ROTY so far. True, not much progression from the last one, but they dialed the folk element up (oh those Viking chants!) and wrote a masterful and cohesive album where each song shines on its own (specially the opener, song of the year) and the whole is a delight from beginning to end, with enough compositional skill, energy, wonderful melodies and groovy riffs to put any band to shame, Saor included.

        • The Unicorn

          The last Moonsorrow even after hundreds of listens, evokes feelings of thunder, ice, wind and utter demise. That journey it paints with sound is fucking stellar, so I knew it would likely never be topped. Good god, the tone of the bass on that album is like the mighty hammer of Thor crashing down upon the skies and releasing the thunder of the gods.

        • El_Cuervo

          Generally I prefer Moonsorrow’s “long song dynamics” but I prefer Saor to Moonsorrow this year. My opinion.

        • Wilhelm

          I’ll also add that Saor’s vocals are a weak point with them being mixed too low and with too much added reverb, Moonsorrow’s are heard loud and clear and also mixed well…not to discredit Saor, because I think this album is also brilliant.

          • [not a Dr]

            Actually, Saor’s vocals being low in the mix are one of the things that makes me like it. It adds a sense of hearing them from very far away. Like they are overcoming great distances and piercing through a tightly woven wall of music.

        • The Unicorn

          Ok, so I have gone back to Jumalten Aika, its been a few months. Im enjoying it quite a lot. It still has that thunder, but it doesn’t walk me through a mental book like Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa. Good god I hope I spelled all that correctly. Unicorns are not very good at smart things. n/ n/

          • Levly

            Well VKKM (yes, those titles…) told a complete story and was a true concept record, executed masterfully. So yes it is a more coherent and imposing work, a true masterpiece. Jumalten Aika simply has a unifying theme and vibe, and is less ambitious. It still kicks a lot of ass, and I’m happy you’re enjoying it anew :)!

  • Diego Molero

    Beautiful album artwork and I’m sure I’ll love this as I loved the past one. Definitely top 10 of the year.

    This guy does not disappoint and neither do you, Cuervo.

    • El_Cuervo

      Diego 4 Cuervo

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        #cuervo4president2016

  • Ferrous Beuller

    I see it’s that time of year again where I cast aside my tea and crumpets and grasp the caber… figuratively speaking.

  • pfk505

    His most accomplished work yet, brilliant the whole way through and sounds like a million bucks.

  • Diego Molero

    By the way Cuervo, Aura or Guardians? Which one is better/you like the most?

    • PropsToOrpheus

      My vote goes to Guardians, despite really loving Aura.

    • El_Cuervo

      Same as the other guy. I prefer this.

  • themetalbeernerd

    Well done, man! I’ve been listening to the available tracks on Spotify for a while, and have been listening to it pretty much non stop for a week after it’s been released. Also, the beginning of the last paragraph of your review may have made me giggle a bit. Can’t wait for my preorder to get to me!

  • John Abraham

    It’s amazing how only one man manages to right such beautiful music.

  • Eli Valcik

    Khemmis still holds my vote for ROTM, really enjoyed this one though.

    • Diego Molero

      This one is out on November, so you can have both!

    • The Unicorn

      2nd’ed.

    • El_Cuervo

      Khemmis is my RotY for October. Saor is my RotM for November. Simple.

      • Eli Valcik

        Yeah, I agree, unless something truly amazing comes out in November.

        • Zach Ward

          Metallica…. lol

        • lennymccall

          Witchery 11/25!
          But man all I do is listen to Khemmis. And when I’m not listening to Khemmis I have Khemmis songs replaying in my head over and over forcing me to…listen to Khemmis again.

        • Anthony Ippolito

          Deathspell Omega’s Synarchy of Molten Bones was just released, and it is fucking incredible.

  • Reese Burns

    I’m foaming at the mouth for this, one of my most anticipated albums this year.

    • Hammersmith

      It looks to be streaming on bandcamp and youtube if you can’t wait any longer.

      • Reese Burns

        Thanks!

  • The Unicorn

    Got Damn this embedded track is good. Great review.

  • Hammersmith

    For “black metal” this is incredibly lush.

    • [not a Dr]

      Mr Marshall (or whoever maintains Saor’s Facebook account) insists that Saor is not Black Metal. When I asked about Aura being tagged as Black Metal, Atmospheric Black Metal and Post-Black Metal, he said that those tags were added because fans of those genres may be interested in Saor’s music.
      Label it however you want: it’s awesome.

      • Hammersmith

        Yeah, that’s cool. I just meant that sometimes black metal is intentionally recorded all shitty. And this is definitely not that.

  • DrChocolate

    Hnnnnnghghhhhh. I need this in my life.

    Panopticon’s Austin Lund and Marshall are like spiritual siblings, one is rooted in the “Old World” and one in the “New.” They do not sound the same, both being distinctly recognizable, but I get the same feeling listening to both artists. The connectedness each have to their respective homelands and personal history’s comes through crystal clear. I’ve never been to Kentucky/Minnesota or Scotland, but I feel well informed about each. Both artists are 100% trve folk music at their core. Not because of the instrumentation, but because of the way the sounds expresses location specific emotion, time, and place. It’s damn near magical. I called ‘Autumn Eternal’ transporting. Same descriptor for this piece of art.

  • Wilhelm

    This and Moonsorrow are probably about tied for pagan/folk metal album of the year; both are, without doubt, amazing.

  • Bart the Repairman

    It’s the middle of the night, cold as fuck outside, but this track makes me wanna go out and just run forward, as fast as I can. And that ending is one of the most beautiful arrangements I’ve heard this year. Deeply moving stuff.

    Usually I listen to my metal at work or before sleep, but this one looks like a perfect companion for mountain hiking. +164,5% to the enjoyment of Mother Nature’s majestic beauty.

  • John Abraham

    I don’t like how riffs sound distant at times, as was the case with previous album.

  • Willem Stander

    What a quality review! Love this god-forsaken site!

  • OzanCan

    Hail the Scots! \m//

  • Wow. I haven’t heard a track I liked this much, this immediately in many months. Proving it’s still possible to make great metal and color a bit more outside the lines.

  • Feytalist

    This. This right here. This is my AOTY.

  • madhare

    Back in September this was available as a pre-order with two preview tracks. It sounded amazing and so decided to risk it. I was still sceptical though. But then the day when the whole digital album dropped in my email, end of October, was simply one of the best days of the whole autumn. Perfectly timed for the current autumnal feeling here with leaves turning gold and chill in the air.

  • metalhead

    the artwork and that one song convinced me, this thing will be better than Aura… oh my I need it

  • The Unicorn

    This is great. Absolutely GREAT.

  • Lord Lucan

    This sounds rather tasty indeed. It almost makes up for Nicola Sturgeon.

    Almost.

  • Aguy

    Maybe it’s just Youtube compression getting in the way, but the production sounds too muddy to me for the kind of music Saor’s trying to sell. A clearer mix with more dynamic range would have served better, I think.

    • Here’s Johnny

      black metal? aye, well known for production values!

      • Aguy

        Right? But Saor doesn’t seem overly married to musical stereotypes to begin with; why not go for huge dynamics that turns the guitars into thunder and a clearer sound that makes the folk instruments and vocals pop more?

        Wonder if there’s going to be an expanded vinyl mix.

        • Here’s Johnny

          it is a one man band really, with limited resources. i’m sure the bigger they get, the better the production values will be.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Just release it already huh!!

  • Noobhammer

    I’ve been loving this album since I heard the preview tracks on band camp. Saor is slowly becoming one of my favorite bands, with their engrossing layers of metallic beauty mixed with folkish passion. It’s SO good.

  • Here’s Johnny

    ‘unpatriotic Englishman’, you will be shipped out upon Brexit then! You will be nothing but a traitor, they might think you are a johnny foreigner. You should be wearing a crusader costume and read the Daily Mail.

    Not many metal albums actually move you, Marshall seems to be able to create music that does/whilst still being heavy. Good to see this getting great reviews everywhere, destined to be huge.

    Saor Alba!

  • ArtifeX

    AOTY contender for sure, Andy keeps getting better with each release. For me this is as good as Aura. I don’t get why some people bash the production in the album. That low-fi vs hi-fi will never end I guess.

  • herrschobel

    superb. the amount of great metal i have discovered through this site is keeping me busy for the next year….looking forward to hear this as a whole…the embedded track is grande !

  • David Prawira

    Reminds me of ne oblivicaris with violin