Scottish black metal explorers Saor continue to expand vision, boundaries on ‘Forgotten Paths’

It’s incredible hearing a really gifted band and great musicians progress through their career, especially if they don’t abandon the roots they grew to get out there. Record by record, you hear the music coming into its own and becoming a new beast each time out, and that makes every new creation something to anticipate and which to dissect with great enthusiasm.

I say that today because we have “Forgotten Paths,” the excellent new opus from Scottish black metal band Saor to drink up. This band has been tremendous from the start, that being 2013 debut “Roots,” and continues to this day. Along the way, primary creator Andy Marshall has created music on par with Panopticon as far as thought-provoking, emotional work that draws you in, makes your heart surge, and leaves you completely fulfilled. This record is even a step up from 2016’s “Guardians,” itself a magnificent creation, but things have been amplified to even greater heights, as these four songs are some of the best work Marshall ever created. While Marshall is the driving force behind this music, he also had a nice fleet of supporting musicians to help flesh out the record and make it even more alive.

The title track kicks off the record with driving melodies, the leads soaring, and a strong folk essence that’s woven into the song. Keys drip as the harsh cries erupt, with the tempo picking up the intensity before heading into calm, gazey ambiance. Clean wordless calls come (courtesy of Neige from Alcest) before screams burst anew, whistles flutter, and things come to a crushing end. “Monadh” is foggy when it begins, mired in mystery, before the guitars awaken, keys rain down, and the strings stir. The track blows apart with crazed shouts hammering, trading off later with clean singing, with the track easing up and melting. After a stretch where the atmospheric wind is thick, the track ramps back up, strings sweep, and the emotional toll is heavy and true.

“Brón” has a chilling opening as the guitars begin to churn and the tempo is torn to shreds. Growls and shrieks mix together, feeling wintry and spacious, as Sophie Rogers’ singing adds a different element to the track. Spirited folk glory rises up as the song stretches out and explores its surroundings with strings sending chills before the heaviness returns. Harsh wails and bleeding emotion rush to the surface as the song’s giant chorus returns and swells your chest, Marshall’s and Rogers’ voices align, as the track subsides slowly and gently. “Exile” ends the song with chamber-style strings (Italian harpist Glorya Lyr had a massive hand in its creation), angelic and dreamy passages chilling your skin, and a Medieval sense of wonder unfurling. As the track nears its end, it feels like spring crawling out from under winter’s grasp, as warmth blooms, and waves crash to the shore.

Saor remain one of black metal’s more atmospheric and ever-evolving bands, which you can hear on their stunning “Forgotten Paths.” This feels like a natural progression not only from “Guardians” but even from the project’s infancy, as Marshall continues to add his own heart and emotions into his enthralling music. Hearing this band continue to grow into its own has been a great thing, and I’d imagine this isn’t the last stop in their creative growth.

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