Album Review: Saor – ‘Forgotten Paths’

The short version: For something different, I take a look at the newest album from Saor, a Scottish black metal band that won me over by adding elements of Celtic folk into the mix. Their newest album, ‘Forgotten Paths’ is an album that hits my musical sweet spot, and while it’s a little out of my comfort zone, it’s also an album I had to cover in some fashion.

  • Favorite tracks: “Forgotten Paths,” “Monadh,” “Brón”
  • Least favorite track: “Exile”
  • Rating: 9/10

The long version: As an author’s preface, I should mention that this review will be much more personal than my usual country music reviews, mostly because I’m stepping out of my comfort zone with this piece.

Last year, there was some controversy regarding non-country music writers giving coverage to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, namely in how their comments tried to frame them as consciousnesses of a genre they didn’t fully understand.

Also last year, I covered a double album that was one part black metal and one part bluegrass and folk by an act called Panopticon. The album, The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness I & II, was one of my favorite albums of 2018, but while it received coverage here, I should note that I was in no way trying to act like I understood the main genre from which it stemmed.

That’s why with this review, I’m hoping to maintain that tricky, delicate balance of focusing strictly on the act and album in context of my enjoyment of it rather than any objective observations on it.

But last year, it was no surprise why I gravitated toward Panopticon’s album. The country fan in me loved the second, country-inspired disc, but I also loved how atmospheric the actual black metal part of it could be, blending nicely with the other elements as a whole.

In the black metal genre, I’m really only familiar with two acts. One of them is obviously Panopticon, but the other is Saor, a Scottish black metal band that I’ve loved since 2016’s Guardians. Whereas Panopticon was blending bluegrass with metal, Saor’s work was more melodically focused, blending black metal with Celtic folk, another easy entry point for me, personally. Now, unlike when I reviewed Panopticon’s album last year, I’m not sure if I can make the same case as to why Saor’s newest album, Forgotten Paths belongs on a country music website. But with the plethora of violins and bagpipes present, well, come on … it wouldn’t fit that out of place, right?

Honestly, I don’t care if it does, because Forgotten Paths is easily another high-point for Saor’s career. At four tracks though with three songs stretching well over 10 minutes, I’m not entirely sure the review will be any longer than this introduction.

As far as this side of black metal is concerned, one element I love about it as a pure music fan is that it sets a scene through mood and atmosphere. It’s a sound where tremolo riffing, rapid spitting drums, violins and bagpipes carry the majority of the multiple interweaving melodies and harmonies here. And as such, it’s hard not to refer to specific timestamps to try and prove my point. Whereas 2016’s Guardians gave me the feeling of going on some kind of journey into the unknown, Forgotten Paths is more frenetic and furious, like a call to arms where the storm doesn’t really let up until the soft, brittle acoustic number, “Exile.”

It’s a moment such as about a minute and a half in to “Monadh” where the piano sets that lonelier atmosphere before erupting into that perfect storm. Other feelings that spring to mind are the thought of climbing a mountain or running through a forest.

On the note of nature imagery though, Saor is unfortunately a band where the lyrical content really doesn’t matter despite it painting some striking pictures of environmental destruction on paper. A lot of this has to do with vocals, which yes, are the hardest element to really dive into and enjoy with black metal (that much I can say), but when they bring in Sophie Rogers to sing part of “Brón,” it gives the song a delicate balance that’s simultaneously soothing and yet kind of unsettling.

Another noticeable difference with Saor’s sound is that it sounds more bold and daring than previous efforts, with a heavier reliance on piano to give this album even more of an excellent melodic foundation. This is music to get lost in, especially given the length of the first three tracks. Now, if there’s any criticisms to be had with this album, it’s that the transitions from each song to the next don’t feel as smooth as they could be. This feels like an album where the individual moments carry their own unique personality, but it does lead to a somewhat disconnected project. Also, for good as “Exile” is and for as much as it might be the easiest track for country fans to enjoy, if at all, it’s the sort of burnished number that doesn’t end the album off on the high note it really deserves.

In some ways, I’m not sure I really said anything worthwhile about this project, but that’s also because it’s an album where I’d just say, “shut up and listen.” If any of the aforementioned elements sound like something that’d be remotely up your alley, give this album a try. If not, well, the good news is that The Musical Divide will be back to its regular programming by Monday. For now, Forgotten Paths is the kind of off-kilter project that I’m happy to give a home here at this outlet.

(Light 9/10)

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