Saor – Origins Review

We’re now a decade into Andy Marshall’s uniquely Scottish take on metal, blending furious black metal with majestic melodies and Scottish folk instrumentation. Saor is an experiment which has demonstrated great results, with the likes of Aura and Guardians being some of the strongest folk/black metal albums of the 2010s. 2019’s Forgotten Paths was solid but easily my least favorite release, but with a new decade comes a new record called Origins. Is it a return to Saor’s roots, or does it represent a new beginning?

Origins is a surprising return to black metal’s 90s intensity (perhaps giving rise to its title), representing the fastest and heaviest release in the Saor discography. Its tracks are shorter than ever before; an average song-length of less than 7 minutes is positively ephemeral by Saor standards. It spends less time building hypnotic melodies and more time deploying Sick Riffs™. Punchy, trve guitar leads control the direction, aided by the mix which prioritizes the guitars more than previously. Marshall’s powerful bellow sits back a little this time, as do the string and wind arrangements. I hear more Windir now than at any time since my first listen to Saor, and it’s a powerful reminder of the sub-genre’s tradition. The good news is that even when the music is “merely” imitative of 90s melodic black metal, it’s well-executed and engaging.

While my notes on prior Saor albums strongly lean into my emotional response, my accounts for Origins are littered with musical anecdotes and trinkets which caught my ear throughout. A cool choral harmony (“Call of the Carnyx”), a rocking lead (“The Ancient Ones”), a flashy drum fill (“Origins”), a show-stopping solo (“Aurora”). It’s a far cry from what came before, featuring melodies and guitar tones which are recognizably Saor, but focusing on what’s immediately in front of the listener rather than the grander, emotional tone. This derives from the dynamism of Origins. Sometimes it moves fluidly between heavy and light passages in order to progress its songs, and sometimes it wraps harmonies or counter-pointing melodies into surprisingly intricate passages which naturally balance the heavy and light. At all times it’s an involving listen.

Structurally, these songs shift around enough to stave off repetition and boredom, but not so much as to be unfocused. Riffs and passages move fluidly but always feel like they’re pulling in the same direction. For example, “Fallen” leverages a cool descending lead in its first half. This would have been a perfectly good riff in its own right, but it’s cutely mirrored with an ascending riff in its second half. And while they could have simply concluded in the same vein for the closer, Saor build a sense of progression simply through recalling their previous work. “Origins” is a perfect finale, peeling back its initial heaviness for a beautiful string interlude that establishes the central theme of the record’s final minutes. The haunting, grand melody is ripped right out of the Guardians playbook, and embodies a welcome reminder of where Saor came from before the change that this album represents. It concludes the music on a strong note and excites me for my next listen.

I really don’t have any complaints about Origins. It cannot boast the awe-inspiring grandeur of Aura and Guardians, but it’s also not trying to. I admire the development demonstrated on this album as Marshall has aimed for something much punchier and more focused. I don’t love it as it’s arguably a more generic release and it lacks that magic to take it over the edge. However, it exemplifies robust, engaging melodic black metal with folksy touches and I’d recommend it to any fan of black metal. It’s certainly a positive development in a discography that was just beginning to stagnate.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: June 24th, 2022

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