Saturday, 18 May 2013

Àrsaidh – Roots (2013) | 93%

William Wallace would be proud.

"Evoking ancestral wisdom, I stand hypnotised"
The man behind Askival, after a short inclusion in Alcest wannabees Falloch, came back to his roots (pun intended) with this album. My expectations were high when I learned that Andy Marshall had a new project and it wasn't post rock/shoegaze. When I saw the gorgeous cover art decorated by the logo full of trees, I was hoping for the best and boy, I wasn't disappointed. The scenery on the album art is, well you can see it, but the snowy peaks and the dark sky reminds me of both the remote places in Scotland and a surreal, almost martian setting. Painting an accurate portrait of the sound, the art reflects the sadness found in the music. Expect great things because Roots is an amazing record and the best thing the atmospheric folk/black genre has to offer in 2013.

The album, a 50 minutes journey to Scotland's countryside, is composed of 3 very lengthy numbers and a short 2 minutes interlude. The long songs are giving the musician the time to let grow the trees he threw seeds for. There's gorgeous and expanded atmospheric parts with folkloric instruments that can really live on their own without the need for a lot of vocals. Indeed, the focal point of Àrsaidh is the flow of the music, the sixteen, thirteen and seventeen minutes songs are long and soothing rivers that you cross on the raft you found on a riverbank. You definitely have the required time to admire the River Tweed without having to fear the mouth of the wild North Sea. Hell, the first title track has no vocals for the first 6 minutes and it doesn't freaking matter with Àrsaidh. Maybe for the more impatient people, the task will be arduous but the whole release is truly rewarding when you take the time to enjoy the album. It works as background music too (I like to study with music and I'll be able to with this project) and it's never boring. The amount of craft in the songwriting is without a doubt the highlight of Roots and for a solo band that's definitely impressing.

Roots, while having a copious amount of atmospheric tendencies and even a post rock baggage, really has a worthy amount of black metal influences. Probably not enough for the pure warriors resting in their Norwegian fjords though. But for someone such as myself who enjoys bands like Winterfylleth or Agalloch, I can enjoy a varied album like Roots without any corpse paint issues. The atmospheric/post is to me, the cement which holds this album together, it gives a much needed bond between the folk instruments and the metal elements. I rarely heard such a talented blend of sounds, it's subtle and done tastefully while never crossing the Cheese Kingdom. That's certainly good for Scottish metal, I'm sure they prefer to be represented by Àrsaidh than these silly pirates in Alestorm. There's a lot of bagpipes, acoustic guitars, violin and keyboards but it's all so cohesive and integrated in a well thought formula that even if you're not fond of folk metal, you'll have no problem with the album.

Although I think there's a shortage of riffs to be found, it doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable. The music is slow and mournful and are relying on repetition to move the listeners and it works very well. There's melodic simple leads such as the one in Roots and it gives a grand epic feel to the music evoking at times the atmosphere you can find in a band like Summoning. The vocals are pretty damn good too, there's no full on clean eruptions and they're not that present but when they are, it's awesome. Andy is using an harsh throaty voice and it fits the post metal side of the band because it's somewhat near the way atmospheric sludge bands are singing. There's some clean chanting such as the start of the second track Carved in Stone, one of my complaints is that I wanted more of these epic vocals as I'm an huge sucker for these and Primordial fan but it's still a mild criticism. It doesn't detained my enjoyment as it's really an amazing album and it's establishing Andy Marshall as the de facto king of Scottish metal or at least I would support him as I would also support the national referendum in Scotland in 2014. 

Talking of Scotland's national question, the lyrical approach of Àrsaidh is similar to the one of many English bands, it's mainly about the Celtic cultural heritage and it's written in a sorrowful way. Taking inspiration from classic poetry, the lyrics are subtle and reflects the dramatic history of this northern region of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, I can notice the similarity 
between Québec and the sake of Scotland. Both in the black metal's lyrical research and the history of assimilation, conquest and divide. And this only adds to my appreciation of Roots. While I'm transported into a land of mountain and rivers, I feel my feeling of belonging to the universe increased. While I'm not quite a nationalist for the sake of it and I'm often divided between the archaic concept of nation and human rights and freedom, I like this approach and I know where he's going with it.

"We are sorrow's children /Torn from Alba's womb /A reflection of fallen martyrs The lifeblood of this land "

A superb production is decorating the long and excellent dirges. Àrsaidh is a good (well, no excellent) compromise in the atmospheric black metal scene. It's more epic than Fen, more folky than Winterfylleth and better, less cheesy than Wodensthrone. If you're looking for a fast paced album full of catchy anthems, look elsewhere. This album is pure sorrow and it's a perfect mastery of a folky yet dark atmosphere. One of the jewels of 2013, that's for sure.

Like Àrsaidh on Facebook
Listen to the title track

Buy the album on Bandcamp

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