The Rickety Old Shack

Saor — Forgotten Paths

album cover

Back in 2014, when I was first inspired to get back into black metal — and begin the process of playing catch-up after a lengthy period of completely ignoring the genre — it was Panopticon that triggered it all. A friend recommended I check out Roads To The North (review), and I was reminded of everything I loved about the genre and was also impressed with how it had evolved to include more atmospheric and regional influences. As a result, I also snapped up a copy of Saor's sophomore album, Aura, solely because Panopticon's Austin Lunn played drums on the album. I ended up becoming a die-hard fan of both projects, and spent the majority of that winter listening to both of those records.

Fast-forward 5 years later, and both Panopticon and Saor continue to steadily improve their sound and drop new albums. Forgotten Paths marks Saor's fourth full-length album, although mastermind Andy Marshall also released an atmospheric black metal album under the name of Fuath. Elements of that project can be heard on this latest Saor album, with the material retaining its edge and metallic fury while incorporating incredibly affecting melody as well. The blending of electric guitars, metal drumming and violins is incredibly well executed, giving the instrumentation a truly grand and epic feeling. This is more than just metal with some cursory backing strings, the material on this record blends its influences into a wholly unique style unto itself.

The tracks on this album are lengthy, with the record running ~38 minutes over the course of 4 songs. The final cut, a calm, instrumental closer, is 4:50 while the rest of the tracks average a length of 11-and-a-half minutes. That said, Forgotten Paths doesn't waste any time; there's no filler to be found on this record. Saor have easily produced the best album under their banner yet. The tracks are largely instrumental, with sparse gutteral vocals in select places and guest appearance from Alcest's Neige on the title track. The haunting female vocals on "Bròn" were also a nice touch, further enhancing the melodic parts of the track. Every passage in these long, intricate songs transitions seamlessly to the next, making the whole record run together as a single piece of music. The closing track, "Exile," puts the perfect capstone on over 30 minutes of gripping, powerful music.

Since the debut offering, Roots, every Saor album that has followed has greatly improved on its predecessors. The mix of Celtic folk, traditional metal and black metal continues to prove compelling and a fertile ground for inspiration. Forgotten Paths at times gives me chills while making me want to bang my head during others; I've enjoyed every Saor release to date but this one outclasses them all by a significant margin. The production is crisp and clear without while still retaining the humanity of the performances. Every instrument given ample room to shine in the mix, balancing everything for maximum effect. Every aspect of this record is on point, making Forgotten Paths not just currently the best Saor album but also one of the year's best metal records.

This album has pretty much everything a metal fan could ask for: intricate rhythm patterns, pounding drums, a nuanced blend of aggressive and melodic song-writing, all packaged together in a concise, mature recording. The black metal genre has expanded greatly over the years, and Saor is one of the projects at the forefront of the genre's evolution, pushing it forward and contrasting its nihilism with a unique and striking sense of melody. This record feels like a project really hitting its stride; as impressed as I am with Forgotten Paths, it feels like the best is still yet to come.

Summary

Combining Celtic folk influences with a strong base of blackened heavy metal, Scotland's Saor drops their most powerful, affecting album to date. Forgotten Paths is an immensely talented project reaching a new level of maturity and capability. This record is just under 40 minutes of beautifully melodic, groove-laden metal that truly illustrates the diversity of underground metal. Saor blends their numerous, disparate influences into an incredibly cohesive mix. Forgotten Paths is an early contender for the best metal album of the year — I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Album Information

Release date: February 15th, 2019
Record label: Avant Garde Music

Andy Marshall — vocals, guitar, bass, piano, flute
Lambert Segura — violin
Carlos Vivas — drums
Neige — vocals (track 1)
Sophie Rogers — vocals (track 3)
Kevin Murphy — bagpipes (track 3)

Track Listing

  1. Forgotten Paths
  2. Monadh
  3. Bròn
  4. Exile

Link: saor.bandcamp.com

—by Derek

Published: February 15th, 2019.