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ALBUM REVIEW: SAOR- ‘Guardians’ (2016)

A unique blend of Scottish folk and atmospheric black metal inspired by traditional Scots poetry and heritage.

saor-guardians

In reviewing this amazing album I really hope i can do it the justice it truly deserves.Sadly celtic-metal is not a music genre I am too familiar with although I can myself returning if theres more bands like Saor knocking around! Now Saor (which means ‘Free’ or ‘Unconstrained’ in Scottish gaelic) are not strictly a band they are the brainchild of talented multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Andy Marshall. Andy was originally a member of Glasgow band Falloch who received great critical acclaim for their debut album Where Distant Spirits Remain in 2011 although Andy left the band the following year. Striking out on his own Andy released his first solo album Roots in May 2013 again to an avalanche of critical applause. There were only four tracks, that came in at nearly fifty minutes long, which upon listening to managed to evoke the essense of Scotland from the first few bars of the self titled opening track. As one reviewer described it

“The sensation of standing among ancient Scottish mountains captured in sonic form, it speaks to my soul, utterly beautiful”

The following year in June, Andy released Aura. A five track album with the sound fleshed out somewhat by several guest musicians. Passionate and majestic the music soars and again won them an array of positive reviews. Around this time Saor played a handful of live shows but it has now been decided that Saor will remain a studio-only project and there will sadly not be any more live shows.

andy-marshall

So after a two year absence Saor have returned with an album laden with their trademark celtic melodies with their new release Guardians out on November 11, 2016Recorded over two years, in Cairndow and the Isle of Skye, Guardians begins with the self titled track and as is the way with a lot of celtic albums its the sound of a running stream and birdsong that opens the song. It doesn’t take long before crashing guitars and the glorious sound of pipes fills the air and we off on our journey. The drums rock in and the speed ramps up and ‘Guardians’ soars and ebbs and flows while Andy gives it that true death metal growl while he’s singing of tragedy and loss.

“On the mountains of heather they slumber together.
On the wastes of the moorland their bodies decay.
How sound is their sleeping, how safe is their keeping
Though far from their kindred they molder away.

Oh, never to perish, their names let us cherish,
The martyrs of Scotland that now are away”

The song lyrics are all inspired in some way from real events in Scottish history and various parts have been taken from ancient Scottish poetry and the absolutely amazing way that Andy has managed to incorporate that into the songs.

In ‘Guardians’ Horatius Bonar poem ‘The Martyrs of Scotland” is utilised while ‘The Declaration’ is inspired by the Declaration Of Arbroath and Robbie Burns. The declaration was in in the form of a letter submitted to the Pope dated 6 April 1320 declaring Scotland’s an independent, sovereign state.

“By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!—
Let us do or die!”

The words come from a poem previously put to music by The Real McKenzies, the poem ‘Scots Wha Hae’. Written by Burns in 1793 it took the form of a speech given by Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The song which served for centuries as the unofficial national anthem of Scotland until the present day popularity of ‘Flower Of Scotland’ overtook it. It retains its anger and its passion and Saor pay tribute to it faithfully. The shortest of all the tracks here it still lasts over ten minutes giving it plenty of time to build up and release and build up again. Starting fast before the whole thing slows down for the fiddle while the drumming is simply superb emphasising the sound of the other instruments without ever taking over. The words for following track, ‘Autumn Rain’, come from ‘Culloden Moore’ by Alice MacDonnell and was inspired by her direct descent from a hero of the battlefield.

“Noble dead that sleep below,
We your valour ne’er forget;
Soft the heroes’ rest who know
Hearts like theirs are beating yet”

The battle of Culloden was the final confrontation between the Scots and the English in 1745 and the last major battle fought on this island. Lasting only forty minutes the devastating slaughter marked the end of the military phase of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745/6. Following the battle repression rained down on the native Scots and officers and chiefs who had escaped left for Europe while many of the Jacobite rank and file fled to the American colonies. The sorrow is palpable and Andys voice cries out in pain for them. Even today, they say that the birds don’t sing at the site of the Battle of Culloden. Alice Macdonell of Keppoch, writing at the end of the 19th Century writes of the bleakness of the place, after seeing it in the rain in autumn.

(spare an hour to watch this amazing docu-drama from Peter Watkins made in 1964. Cleverly reconstructing the battle of Culloden as if TV cameras were present.)

Fourth song ‘Hearth’ starts with acoustic guitar and the simple rhythm of the drums before it explodes into action with Andy’s vocals never more powerful than on this song. The words come from ‘My Native Land’ by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Andy sings with a passion here, its the only time on the album you can hear some of the words, and while the words could apply to any country it is Scotland they were written for.

“This is my home
My heart
My soul
My hearth”

This is clearly the most celtic of the songs on Guardians and I love it. The swirling upbeats, the fiddle and tin whistle and the crashing guitars give this song in particular a feel of Scotland.

Guardians ends with ‘Tears Of A Nation’ and the words here come from ‘The Tears of Scotland’ written by Tobias Smollet (1721-1771). As is obvious from the title it’s another mournful tribute to those who laid down their lives over the centuries for a free Scotland.

“Mourn, hapless Caledonia, mourn”

So while Andy undoubtedly provides the backbone, at the very least, of Saor it would be unfair not to give the guest musicians who also appear a mention here. Bryan Hamilton from Falkirk metallers Cnoc An Tursa on drums, John Becker from Chicago prog-rockers Austaras on strings, Meri Tadić- Fiddle, Reni McDonald Hill on bodhrán and Kevin Murphy on highland bagpipes all provide excellent accompaniment for Andy. Vinyl and tapes will be available soon and the Digipak CD comes with a ten page booklet with lyrics. Guardians may have only five tracks but the word epic could have solely been invented to help me to review this album clocking in as it does at just over fifty five minutes, with each song lasting over ten minutes. As Andy explains

“I start off with a riff or melody on guitar and start recording demos. Once I’ve got the basics down, I begin adding other instruments and vocal ideas. I’ve no idea how the songs become complex and long, it’s just something that naturally happens when I write music”

From the admittedly little I know it would seem that the genre of folk-metal has long been the domain of Scandinavian bands whose traditions and songs seem to more revolve around trolls and Lord Of The Rings-esque characters while the small band of actual Celtic based celtic-metal bands seem to add something more substantial and real. Ireland’s Primordial, the first celtic-metal band, and Cruachan and Saor keep that flag flying and here on Guardians it is that fury and anger at the ills inflicted upon Scotland and the sadness and melancholy of the history of their land while at the same time the realisation that freedom has surely never been so close that gives Guardians such a dramatic feel to it. The music sweeps you away and if like me you are a stranger to celtic-metal then this is a perfect place to start and immerse yourself in the soundscape of Scotland.

(you can listen to Guardians by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)

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*THIS IS A PRE-ORDER. RELEASE DATE IS NOVEMBER 11TH*- FromTheBand

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CATCH UP 2014 REVIEWS! BLACK 47, CELKILT, BIG ART PETERS, CRUACHAN, MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE, DUCKING PUNCHES, DEIEDRA, HARD UP, JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS, LES FOSSOYEURS SEPTIK, NOWHEREBOUND, THE POKES

Here at 30492- LONDON CELTIC PUNKS blog we much prefer to do really detailed reviews but its been impossible for us to keep up with all the great releases we have come across so here’s a few quick ones just to catch up and get 2014 out of the way. Each and every one are worthy of your time so go ahead and check them out.

Black 47- 'Rise Up' (2014)BLACK 47- ‘Rise Up: Political Songs (2014)

A sad year for New Yorks premier celtic-punk band as they finally called it a day after an amazing 25 years together. Influenced by reggae, hip hop and jazz as well as folk and punk I gotta admit I’m a late convert to Black 47 but better late than never. This is a compilation of the best of their political songs. Irish republicanism looms large with the standout tracks the emotional renditions of ‘James Connolly’, ‘The Patriot Game’ and  ‘Bobby Sands MP’. The real standout though is the fantastic ‘San Patricio Brigade’, with the band accompanied by Eileen Ivers, which tells of the Irish deserters from the US Army who fled racism and mistreatment to join the Mexican Army and formed the St Patrick’s Battalion back in 1846. More on that here.

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CELKILT- ‘On The Table’ (2014)

Imagine a catchy as hell pop punk band with fiddle, whistles and bag pipes and a very real foot in celtic history and you have Celkilt from Lyon in east-central France. Their fourth album came out to quite a fanfare and it really deserved it. Influenced from across the celtic nations Celkilt have taken the scene by storm since they arrived and with a continuously evolving and updating sound they need to be heard far and wide. Songs on this album represent all the celtic nations but is the Breton sounding title track that steals the show for me. The vocals are in crystal clear English and the production is immaculate!

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BIG ART PETERS- ‘Quit Horsing Around’ (2014)BIG ART PETERS- ‘Quit Horsing Around’ (2014)

An album of laid back country classics from Arturo Bassick, the singer and last remaining original member of 1977 punk rock legends The Lurkers backed by members of German psychobilly band Mad Sin. All great fun and will definitly remind you of those records your mammy loved back when you were a kid. Clearly influenced by Johnny Cash I half expected  Arturo to produce a spoof/jokey album but no its serious and shows the upmost respect. I can see yet another door opening for this already busy and very talented geezer.

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Cruachan- 'Blood For The Blood God' (2014)CRUACHAN- ‘Blood For The Blood God’ (2014)

Formed in Dublin back in 1992 Cruachan are one of the world’s top celtic/folk-metal bands. I must admit to a very limited knowledge of that suprisingly busy and popular scene and anything I know comes from this previous article here on the blog entitled ‘Celtic Metals Top Five Bands’. You would think not for the faint hearted but it is in fact very listenable and the folk influence is massive. This is the second instalment of a planned ‘Blood…’ trilogy and is their seventh album. The songs deal with stories from Irish mythology and chugging riffs compete with traditional Irish jigs to make a gloriously epic album.

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MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE- ‘Columbia’ (2014)

Hailing from Portland, Oregon this is My Life In Black And White’s fourth album and their blend of Social Distortion style punk and folk has got them plenty of notice. Whiskey soaked singalongs and ballads sitting next to a rough punk sound with fast drum beats and distorted guitars where you can still hear the acoustic guitar strumming away in the fantastic mix. The best bands draw inspiration from past wars and cultural struggles and so do My Life In Black And White thus they bring a strong sense of folk tradition to the songs so that even on the punker songs a strong sense of the past shines through.

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DUCKING PUNCHES ‘Dance Before You Sleep’ (2014)

New band to me hailing from Norwich away there on the east coast of England and one of many where the band members are, or use to be, members of more conventional punk rock bands. Really nice folky punk with biting lyrics and a real threat in what they say that belies the ‘nice’ music. Great storytelling songs and catchy as feck music. Highly recommended and I look forward to seeing more of these this year. A brilliant scene developing in Norwich with bands taking in every angle of celtic/folk-punk. Watch out for the East Town Pirates too.

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Deiedra-DEIEDRA- ‘Usteak Ustal’ (2014)

There has always been great links between the celtic nations and the Basque people. Both share histories of oppression and the scars of colonialism. Some even say that the Irish and the Basques are the same linked through their DNA. Deiedra play immaculate Irish folk filtered through Basque ears and sung in their native language. Some of the tunes are familiar but all are stamped with Deiedra’s own style.

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HARD UP ‘Penury’ (2014)

Leftie folk-punk that reminds me of Mischief Brew or The Dead Maggies. From Montreal in Quebec they sing in English and even though it could have benefited from a better production but as ‘Penury’ was recorded in a loft Hard Up can be forgiven. A lovely bit of DIY folk-punk with great storytelling lyrics and banjo playing.

“folk is a music for the people by the people there’s no room for blind faith at all”

Only twenty minutes long but rattles along at a great old speed and keeps up the catchiness all the way through. Available for Pay What You Want so why not take a chance on them. You’ll not regret it.

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JOHNNY KOWALSKI AND THE SEXY WEIRDOS- ‘Kill The Beast’ (2014)

Second album from this Birmingham based band that combines elements of ska, celtic, balkan, punk, rock’n’roll, mariachi, carnival and a whole lot more that I havent yet realised into the tumbler and gives it a good shake before knocking it back. A rollicking good time to be had by these. Nothing too serious just a seriously great time…

“He gathers forth distrusting words
He reach a stream, he can’t cry out
After knowledge always doubt
When over the hill there comes a shout
The distant smoke, the smell of stout”

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LES FOSSOYEURS SEPTIK- ‘La Pelle du désordre’ (2014)

They come from France and even though I don’t speak French Les Fossoyeurs Septik sound very pissed off! All yer classic bits of folk-punk and folk and punk are complimented by some very good reggae touches that don’t sound out of place at all. Another band in Mischief brew territory but with none of the Americana of said band these are French and sound like it. Like I said have got no idea what their singing about except they support the Animal Liberation Front so unfortunatly they got a lot to be pissed off about so. Their are only the occasional celtic moments but don’t let that put you off definitley worth keeping an eye on.

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NOWHEREBOUND- ‘Mockingbirds’ (2014)

Formed in 2010 out of the ashes of local Austin, Texas punk bands Nowherebound’s third album is more punk than previous ones have been but the same touches that impressed me with My Life In Black And White’s album (see above) are also evident in heaps here. The acoustic guitars have been retired but the sound of Nowherebound hasn’t changed. Thank feck! From hard rock in-yer-face to pop punk melodies to raise-your-glass-and-sing-along-anthems Nowherebound hit you in the heart and head.

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THE POKES 'Mayday' (2014)THE POKES ‘Mayday’ (2014)

Last one and its The Pokes from Berlin and on first listen it was legendary North-Eastern England band The Whiskey Priests that it reminded me of. Celtic-punk without being particularly celtic it is nevertheless absolutely superb party music and looking at their videos they are something else live. Their fourth album and much the same great fiddle, banjo and accordion wrapped around clear vocals and often hilarious lyrics. Influences abound with everything from ska to polka sticking their nose in and combining to prove why The Pokes are one of the best and most popular bands in Germany.

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apologies to all the bands as each and every release deserved the full LONDON CELTIC PUNKS treatment but time has got the better of me. If anyone out there wants to help out on the reviews front drop us a line. Don’t be shy we are always looking for help.

CELTIC-METAL’S TOP FIVE BANDS

Having touched on celtic-hip hop last week I’ve since been looking into the genre of celtic metal which basically combines celtic folk music with heavy metal of course. With Scandinavian heavy metal bands delving back into the history of their respective countries for years now and adding elements to their music it was only a matter of time before bands from the celtic nations started to do the same.

Celtic Metal

These are my top five celtic metal bands as well as what are considered to be their best albums and where they come from with a wee bit of info added. It’s all my opinion of course and I’d be the first to admit that my knowledge of metal and celtic metal is pretty limited so if you know any others please feel free to leave a comment.

1. Primordial (Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand) Dublin, Ireland

Formed back in 1987 they originally started as a standard metal band but slowly their sound began to become more epic and the use of celtic instruments pushed them into a new sound.

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2. Waylander (Kindred Spirits) Armagh, Ireland

Formed in 1993 and dogged by the coming and going of band members over the years and various record label problems but still going strong…

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3. Cruachan (Pagan) Dublin, Ireland

Formed in 1992 and originally a band influenced by Vikings and Tolkien they soon evolved into one of the original celtic-metal bands. More information and discography and videos here.

Web-Site  Facebook

Folklore, Cruachan’s third album was  recorded by and features vocals by the legendary Shane McGowan of the Pogues and the single ‘Ride On’ reached number 40 in the Irish charts.

4. Alestorm (Black Sails at Midnight) Perth, Scotland

Formed in 2006 and describing their sound as ‘true Scottish pirate metal’. Two Scots and two Irishmen make up this band of buccaneers so that puts them firmly in the celtic-metal camp! Like all these bands absolutely huge on the continent and getting more and more popular here all the time as well.

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5. Mägo de Oz (Gaia) Madrid, Spain

Formed in  1989 they’re well known for the strong celtic feel to their music strengthened through their constant usage of a violinist and flute. The name means ‘Wizard of Oz’ in Spanish!

Web-Site   Facebook  where they have over 2million likes!

  • For our article on celtic hip-hop go here for ‘Celtic Hip-Hop’s Top Seven Bands And Artists.

UPDATE

cheers for D for extra information. rather than just cut and paste from it if you’re inclined then head over to Rate Your Music here and for some music here.

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