It was roughly two years ago that Saor became a landmark band in the underground scene. Blending atmospheric black metal with a heavy amount of orchestrated folk metal, Saor was the topic of discussion after releasing 2014’s Aura. The studio-only project briefly took a turn to playing live, but has since returned to its original status, allowing founder and composer Andy Marshall to focus heavily on songwriting. Thus, we are given Guardians, the project’s third album that builds off of everything that came before it, and delightfully so as it is shaping up to be a bigger album than its two predecessors.
Guardians immediately benefits from becoming a better album as it goes on. While it opens with a dynamic title track that perfectly summarizes what Saor is as well as what the album is going to be, there is an ever-increasing quality of songwriting, musicianship, and arrangement. By the end of the second track, “The Declaration,” in which the song segues into an emotional and awe-inspiring outro, it should be evident that this experience is going to be a moving one. Saor is no stranger to these writing styles and may even be considered conventions for the project’s sound, but they are always done in a masterful way that it still remains fresh in songs it becomes a feature in.
The songwriting does become the star of the Guardians, as it has been for their discography, but even still the album flows exponentially. Each song fits into one another like puzzle pieces, often completing the soundtrack of changing seasons between autumn and winter. In particular, the mid tempo and ever-changing “Autumn Rain” compliments this style effectively, serving as the album’s middle point and a more relaxing and meditative track than the rest.
I can praise this album endlessly, as it is so well developed with an amazing first impression, but there obviously comes a point where you must point out anything that bothers you about the release. For one, the production does have faults within it. Make no mistake, this is an terrestrial sounding album but at times it comes off as cluttered. Only ever so slightly, but at times the vocals feel like they could have used a few more ticks of reverb to capture the atmosphere and pushed back in mix, as well as possibly lower the overall volume of some aspects such as the guitars. Comparatively to Roots and Aura, this album is a bit louder and as such it doesn’t let the overall atmosphere or the quieter moments come through nearly as much.
These production qualms don’t detract from the overall impression this album leaves. Moments such as the anthemic closer to “Tears of a Nation” are truly inspiring and will leave the musicians’ (Particularly the black metal ones) jaws agape as they scramble to try and compose on this level. Even moreso is it being worth noted that Marshall himself makes it evident that a lot of time and effort went into this. There are a number of great musicians included on this, ranging from highland bagpipes to fiddles and a bodhran, too, but the mind behind all of it deserves an applause.
At its conclusion, Guardians is a journey of emotion, musicianship, and allegory all compacted into 56 minutes. Minor woes aside, Guardians serves as a reminder that Saor, independently, is setting the new standard in both black and folk metal this year. As each song builds off one another and eventually climaxes to some of the project’s finest work, Guardians stays to its earthly roots and shows what is capable when you put thought and emotion into your music.
Guardians is available everywhere on November 11th. You can pre-order it on Saor’s Bandcamp as well as stream the album both there and below.