Saor – Aura (Northern Silence Productions)

Wednesday, 23rd April 2014
Rating: 9.5/10

One of metal’s finest qualities is that of catharsis.  Whether it’s a thundering Suffocation-esque breakdown, a neck-breaking Revocation riff, or even a somber and gloomy acoustic moment from Insomnium, metal provides a release for the day’s stresses that no other genre can match.  While Aura completely lacks the visceral punch many bands rely upon, few releases this year will be as reflective and emotionally consuming.

Upon first listen, it is very clear that Aura is something special.  The perfectly drawn Celtic artwork lays the groundwork, but when “Children of the Mist” begins its 12-minute voyage, the stage is set for something truly extraordinary.  Utilizing black metal as a loose frame to incorporate a number of traditional Scottish instruments, Saor sets focus on balance.  The ratio of guitar-driven material to non-traditional instruments taking the lead is roughly 50/50, providing a good mix of black metal blasting (courtesy of Austin Lunn of Panopticon) and memorable riffs with more atmospheric and introspective moments.  Nothing ever really gets too aggressive but the amount of captivation generated by each track is impressive, created through some masterful songwriting and coherence.  Every moment seems deliberate, and songs never falter due to their length.  The (sparse) vocals steer away from the traditional black metal aesthetic, going instead for a powerful but desperate sounding roar that feels as urgent as the music behind it.

There are few albums that come to mind as a journey, but Aura does make that list.  Moving through the five tracks, each seems stronger than the one before it.  Whether it’s the triumphant lead guitar of “Aura,” the driving riffs in the middle of “The Awakening,” or the clean vocals of “Farewell”, each track does a fantastic job of making you not wanting it to end, only to be equally enamored by the next track.  Then the closing “Pillars of the Earth” initially undersells with a slow build-up that just plain erupts at the nine-minute mark.  The last three minutes of this disc are probably some of the most ethereal and cathartic this writer has experienced.  After listening numerous times at this point, it still brings goose bumps and a case of the dreaded (by metal standards) warm-fuzzies.

Without question, Aura is one of the finest offerings you’ll hear this year.  With only two offerings, Andy Marshall has already mastered what it takes to write a breathtaking and grandiose metal journey.  If you listen to atmospheric black metal, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

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