Released: 2016, Northern Silence Productions
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Scottish atmospheric black metal guru Alex Marshall is back with the newest addition to Saor’s discography. Marshall’s majestic auditory representation of the very soul and essence of Scottish and Celtic culture shines throughout the duration of his newest record, entitled Guardians. Having never previously failed to capture and successfully project themes of sorrow and grief, alongside nature and landscape, Guardians is no different. A highly anticipated record amongst fans of both pagan and atmospheric black metal, Guardians will probably be regarded as one of the stronger releases of the year.
With his record, Marshall again manages to envision the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, creating images of beautiful landscape and scenery, and highly emotive musical segments. The instrumentation is delicate and professional, and especially the frequent use of violin, alongside the raw and gritty distorted guitars, is effective in creating emotive atmospheric moments. It sometimes amazes how music so widely regarded as aggressive and threatening can in an instant turn into a soothing and emotive rollercoaster of feelings, invoking an impression of sensual consciousness in the listener whether you want it or not.
As with previous releases, the main focus is on the power of the music itself, and vocals merely serve as a secondary appliance. It is still delightful whenever Marshall’s vocals enter the picture, and especially the clean singing/chanting towards the end of “Autumn Rain” is particularly soothing. The production, being rather gritty and distant, rather than crisp and perfectly clear, is also an effective tool in the quest for provoking feelings with the music.
Guardians follows the same formula as the two previous records, with 4-5 songs about 10 minutes long each, ticking in at roughly an hour’s duration. The artwork for this one is particularly beautiful as well, serving us a visual representation of the scenery that the music so graciously mirrors. Artist Sebastian Wagner deserves all the praise he can get.
What disappointed me is the fact that there is a sense of recycled material on this one, and more than once. This isn’t a complaint about the sound of the record itself, which is perfectly in line with what Saor has always sounded like, but rather an unfortunate copy-paste mentality that seems to have been present during its production. Several melodies sound very similar to former works, easily noticeable on both “Guardians” and “The Declaration”. The biggest letdown though, comes in form of an almost exact copy of the intro melody for “Children Of The Mist” from Aura being featured in the intro for “Tears Of A Nation”.
There's always a fine line between creating an atmospheric section in a song, leaving it on repeat to linger and please the listener for some time, and just needlessly dragging out a section where moving on would seem a vast improvement. Halfway through “Guardians” we are presented with such as segment, where I honestly found myself bored, hoping for it to end soon. Still, the beauty of atmospheric black metal, as with everything else, is in the eye (or ear?) of the beholder, and whereas I might see the repetition of a segment as redundant and rather dull, others might love just this about the music.
All in all, Guardians is a delightful listen, and successfully progresses the legacy of Saor’s music. There is no doubt that it is a strong record, but personally it doesn’t quite surpass Aura for me. In all ways a worthy addition to Andy Marshall’s discography, Guardians fills me with positivity awaiting what is to come from his projects in the future.
Review by Torbjørn 'Toby' Jørstad