November 15, 2016

Double Feature: Gateway to Selfdestruction and Saor

By Hera Vidal. 2016 has been an excellent year for black metal releases, and, despite its shortcomings, the genre continues to show that it has more tricks (and releases!) to bring to the table. Thus, for the purposes of this double feature
By Hera Vidal.

2016 has been an excellent year for black metal releases, and, despite its shortcomings, the genre continues to show that it has more tricks (and releases!) to bring to the table. Thus, for the purposes of this double feature, we are looking at two bands that deserve our undivided attention (if they don’t have it already): Saor and Gateway to Selfdestruction.

Artwork by Martin Mordoc

Gateway to Selfdestruction is a new and upcoming German atmospheric/depressive black metal band that formed back in 2013. Despite of them being relative newcomers to the scene, they have played in a lot of successful live gigs, including one at In Flammens Open Air back in 2015. Their debut from Northern Silence Productions, Death, My Salvation, is one that people should take note of, because it sounds familiar, yet it has something completely new to it.

Their debut album Death, My Salvation, which was recorded, mixed and mastered in July 2016 by one of Germany’s leading Black Metal producers, Patrick W. Engel (Temple of Disharmony), shows influences ranging from old Katatonia (primarily the Brave Murder Day-era) to more contemporary acts such as Shining, Woods of Desolation, Ghost Brigade or Antimatter. The lyrics describe the moment when one decides whether to live or to die as well as the history behind such a decision and its aftermath.

While I completely agree that atmospheric black metal can be considered a saturated subgenre due to the many bands that have come out in the past decade, there have been a few diamonds in the rough that I have come to appreciate over the years. Death, My Salvation has caught my attention for two reasons: the cohesiveness of music and the emotional range it has at the backbone of the music. This album is the crossbreed between Shining’s emotional, vocal range and Katatonia’s dreary atmosphere. This album shows an incredible emotional spectrum while playing music that seems to enhance that emotional range with harrowing vocals, fast drumming, and soft melodies that are layered underneath the atmosphere the music has constructed. Gateway to Selfdestruction may still be a young band, but they clearly know what works for them. Their capacity of taking their influences and merging them with their own personality astounds me, as they have made the sound their own.

One key note to discuss is the impressive musicianship that seems to accompany the album. The music never wanes or loses its character as the album progresses, only amplifying the vocals that seem to accompany you in those existential moments. After the sixth track, “Soziopath”, and the music’s energy begins to wane towards the beginning of the last two tracks. Considering the level the album carried itself, having to stop the musical assault means that the band decided to close the album on a softer note, which is rather nice. The scream at the end of “Mirrors of Despair” is an interesting choice to end the album on, which begs the question of whether it was intentional. Whatever its intentionality, it definitely surprises the listener, as it remains as unexpected as it should.

As far as debut albums go, Pain, My Salvation is great and definitely worth checking out. It’s emotional, has various influences in its atmospheric black metal DNA, and will eventually grow on you once you give it your undivided attention. This album is a good beginning for cementing the band’s career, and I expect great things to come from this fledgling band.

Cover painted by Sebastian Wagner

If 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that you should expect the unexpected, especially when creators have strong work ethics. While I had expected—and looked forward to!—various releases out this year, I didn’t expect Andy Marshall to announce a new album this year. I was slightly concerned about the album Marshall had released this year under the name Fuath, and all I could think about was whether the sounds of both projects would overlap, bleeding onto Guardians. I also thought about the release dates of both albums; would there be enough time in between releases for people to know the difference? I am happy to say that Fuath and Saor are two completely different entities that each show a side of Marshall’s personality.

When it comes to composition of both music and lyrics, do you need to have a particular mindset or do you need to be at a particular place to compose?

I don’t need to be in any particular place but I like to take my acoustic guitar with me when I’m visiting my family’s cottage in the Isle of Skye. It’s really remote and the landscape from the garden is stunning. I also get a lot of inspiration from hill walking or when I’ve been out exploring in the wild. Sometimes it just takes a film, book, or soundtrack to trigger my creative side. I usually start out with a guitar riff or melody then start adding other instruments. As for mindset, I definitelyhave a place in my head I go to when I’m writing Saor material. It’s total escapism.

This album has everything one comes to expect from Saor: beautiful melodies, emotional, fluid passages of music, cohesiveness in its structure, and superb songwriting. It is also highly atmospheric and sorrowful, as if commemorating the life and struggle of Scotland. This album picks up right where its predecessor, Aura, left off, and it shows the deep love Marshall has for his home. After all, when you adapt native poetry and melodies into your music, your pride and love for your mother country tends to show.

One of the things I can appreciate about Saor’s superb songwriting and composition is how they always seem to have a theme that the listener can easily follow. Whether it shows up throughout the album or it fills into some of its tracks, you can always be sure that the theme will be there. In this case, the theme was weaved throughout the entire album, and showed up prominently in “Guardians” and “Autumn Rain”. That construction makes the album come alive, especially with additional instrumentation from the likes of Bryan Hamilton (Cnoc An Tursa) on drums, Meri Tadic (Ex-Elueviete, Irij) on fiddle, John Becker (Austaras) on strings and Kevin Murphy on bagpipes. Despite the somewhat repetitive nature of the music, it isn’t dull, and the addition of those instruments and their tonalities help the album from becoming boring. The layering of the music, the instrumentation, and the vocals provide the album with a sorrowful, melancholic tone. Unlike Aura, where there seemed to be elements of pride and happiness, the sorrow that engulfs Guardians takes a life of its own, adding a deep level of melancholy and respect to fallen lives and the struggles Scotland has faced throughout its history.

Guardians is definitely worth your attention, and it continues to show that Marshall’s brand of Celtic-influenced atmospheric folk/black metal has not slowed down in the slightest. This album remains a beautiful piece of work and I am sure it will be a contender in many end-of-the-year top 10 lists.

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