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
When 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.
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.