March 12, 2019

Saor - Forgotten Paths

By Calen Henry. Through his three previous albums, Andy Marshall’s largely solo project Saor honed a unique sound. The project is rooted in atmospheric black metal, but riffier and more melodic, seamlessly weaving in bagpipes, fiddle, and tin whistle
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Atterigner

Through his three previous albums, Andy Marshall’s largely solo project Saor honed a unique sound. The project is rooted in atmospheric black metal, but riffier and more melodic, seamlessly weaving in bagpipes, fiddle, and tin whistle, elevating it to something transcendent.

Saor’s core approach has largely stayed the same, apart from moving to cleaner production from Aura to Guardians. Forgotten Paths, however, marks a musical shift. Prior Saor albums have delved deeply into Celtic music, with many tracks sounding inexorably Scottish. While the main approach remains unchanged, Forgotten Paths branches out from Saor’s roots to use Marshall’s compositional chops to create something less Celtic, but even more beautiful than his previous releases.

Photos by Franck TEXIER

Four elements make up Saor’s core sound: melodic tremolo riffs, driving palm-muted riffs, acoustic passages, and folk melodies. Marshall has a compositional gift for all four, but their juxtaposition and combination is the magic of Saor. Taking cues from post rock, he builds long songs that present motifs separately before dropping into heart-stopping moments with layered folk instruments on metal riffs, then breaking away from metal completely to let the folk instruments shine. These moments have always been gorgeous, but the sonic shift on Forgotten Paths makes them even prettier than before.

It’s exciting to see an artist create a niche and then transcend it. Forgotten Paths does just that. It’s unmistakably Saor, but more diverse and lovely than any prior album. The black metal portions hew closer to blackgaze (helped by a guest appearance by Alcest’s Neige), and the folk arrangements are less reliant on bagpipes, using fiddle and tin whistle more than before. It’s a subtle shift, and although it isn't ostensibly better than Saor's "Celtic incarnation," it stands with the other records as top-tier folk metal.

March 5, 2019

Un - Sentiment

By Karen A. Mann. Just by their name alone, Seattle funeral doom quartet Un would lead you to believe that they are bleak and depressing, bogged down in the darkness of negative energy. The word “un” signals everything that is not: unhappy, unloved, unliving.
By Karen A. Mann

Artwork by Cauê Piloto

Just by their name alone, Seattle funeral doom quartet Un would lead you to believe that they are bleak and depressing, bogged down in the darkness of negative energy. The word “un” signals everything that is not: unhappy, unloved, unliving. The band even states that they wrote their latest album, Sentiment, “as a token of gratitude for all those who struggle against the weight of their own existence.”

“If you have ever questioned your worth,” they write, “if you have ever felt unloved, if you have ever asked yourself if any of the pain is really worth it... these songs are for you.”

There are only four songs, the shortest of which is almost 12 minutes long. Each varies between slow and slower, heavy laden under layers and layers of pulverizing, rumbling fuzz. Singer/guitarist Monte McCleery (who also handles bass duties in heavy doomsters Samothrace) sings an a scraping growl that sounds like a boulder being rolled from the mouth of a tomb.

Yet for all its crushing despair Sentiment is luxuriant and warm, with a contemplative quality that’s ultimately uplifting and even triumphant.

Album-opener “In Its Absence” begins with a radiant, singular guitar melody that evolves into a massive, lumbering riff. On the album’s strongest song, “Pools of Reflection,” guest singer Kelly Schilling of Dreadnought brings an ethereal quality with her high, angelic voice, contrasting nicely with McCleery’s growl and providing a brief reprieve from rumbling morass. The album’s last song, “A Garden Where Nothing Grows,” features an almost psychedelic melodic section with a slow-burning clean solo, before ending in a slow, blackened frenzy. With these last notes, Sentiment leaves the listener with a sense of aching loss that nevertheless feels radiant and serene.

Sentiment was released in September last year. More recently Un released a split with UK doom trio Coltsblood.

March 1, 2019

Chrome Waves - A Grief Observed

By Justin C. Way back in 2012, a fantastic self-titled EP by a band called Chrome Waves came out. Natalie Zina Walschots described it evocatively on our own site, saying, “Heavily blackened and beautifully atmospheric, the record displays both a light touch and a heavy mood
By Justin C.


Way back in 2012, a fantastic self-titled EP by a band called Chrome Waves came out. Natalie Zina Walschots described it evocatively on our own site, saying, “Heavily blackened and beautifully atmospheric, the record displays both a light touch and a heavy mood, like a delicate sketch made with a piece of charcoal pulled from a funeral pyre.” But then for a variety of reasons, the group went dormant, and I sadly thought that the EP was the only thing we’d get.

But rejoice! With some personnel changes, founder Jeff Wilson (formerly of Nachtmystium, Wolvhammer, and Abigail Williams) has brought Chrome Waves back to life with a new full-length, A Grief Observed. I don’t think I’ll come up with anything quite as poetic as Natalie’s words, but I’ll give it a shot.

Genre tags are tricky with this project. I’ve seen post-black, blackened doom, and even blackgaze, all of which are kinda/sorta accurate, but also miss the mark a bit. My oversimplified categorization involves the marriage of DBSM with funeral doom, but without the more polarizing aspects of those subgenres (the yelping vocal style and epic song lengths, respectively). The second track, “Past the Lights,” hits a lot of these marks: It’s a moody piece, but pierced by vicious blackened rasps with just a hint of emo edge. The melodicism is strong throughout the album, whether it’s conveyed by passages of delicate guitar work or the occasional clean vocals.

The title track is a slow burner with heart-on-sleeve emotions, riding on graceful swells and falls in the string-like synths and the rhythm section. But the album isn’t all slow and brooding. Those familiar with Wolvhammer will recognize a punky black aesthetic that shows up in “Predatory Animals,” a rager that manages what a lot of more esoteric metal fails to do: be legitimately, pop-song catchy without a hint of cheesiness.

Really, the greatest strength of this band might be their ability to touch on so many different aspects of metal without sounding like a mixtape of different bands. Each song is unmistakably Chrome Waves. A lot of musicians are capable enough of evoking influences, but it’s the seamless blend that separates the wheat from the chaff, and Chrome Waves delivers. It may have been a long hiatus, but here’s hoping for a lot more music from them in the future.