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Saor: Andy Marshall about being Scottish

Scotland is a country that speaks to the imagination. Apart from a lot of clichés that strangely involve many elements of the film Braveheart, it is a place of rugged nature that has inspired many artists over the years. Andy Marshall with his various projects is no difference at that.

Saor is his main output lately, a solo endeavour with which he has released three albums this far. The latest is titled Guardians and shows a new side to the nature inspired atmospheric black metal Andy produces. I decided I needed to learn a bit more about his work and got in touch.

Originally this interview was published on Echoes & Dust.

Hello, how are you doing?

Andy: I’m good thanks.

Can you tell a bit about yourself and how you got into metal music?

Andy: I started listening to metal in high school. I used to listen to a lot of rock and mainstream metal in the beginning, which then led me on to more extreme and underground bands. In my late teens/early 20’s I listened to a lot of black and folk metal. Nowadays I usually only listen to the classic albums from the 90’s/early 00’s and don’t listen to a lot of new bands.

What made you feel attracted to the combination of metal and folk elements? Though it’s a broad scope, you’ve clearly found your own combination of the two, where they complement each other.

Andy: I was inspired by other European bands who mixed their countries traditional folk sounds with metal. It always puzzled me as to why there were no Scottish bands doing this considering we have an interesting history, amazing nature/landscapes and lots of great traditional folk music. I grew up around Scottish folk music, so I guess it’s in my blood.

You’ve just released the third album under the Saor name, including Roots [which was released under the name Àrsaidh originally], what can you tell about the new album Guardians? What is its concept/story?

Andy: The poems I used on the album cover subjects such as fallen heroes and ancient battles and I thought Guardians was a good title. I never really have a concept or story when I start writing an album, I usually add lyrics or poetry after I’ve written the music.

You’ve done this record mostly on your own. How does the recording and writing process take place? How do you select the musicians to work with on your album?

Andy: I usually start off with a few basic demos with guitars, bass and drums. I then start adding folk instruments, strings, piano etc. Most of the guest musicians are friends of mines, but I asked Meri Tadic (fiddle) to play on Guardians because I am a fan of her work and Kevin Murphy (bagpipes) got in touch with me online.

 

You’ve briefly taken Saor to the stage, why did you abandon that avenue?

Andy: We’ve decided to play a few exclusive live shows this year to see how it goes. A lot of people really want to see Saor and the other guys convinced me to continue playing live. I don’t particularly enjoy it, I find it pretty stressful and I get quite anxious on stage. We had a run of poorly organized shows last year and I really couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. We will see how these shows go in 2017 and then I will decide from there if we will continue.

In the past you’ve been doing a lot of work by yourself. What is your philosophy behind doing things yourself, releasing music by yourself with Fortriu Productions and how is it to now release Guardians on a label?

Andy: I think the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” sums it up. I have always preferred writing music myself and managing things myself. All three of my albums have been physically released by Northern Silence Productions, but I released them all digitally under Fortriu Productions.

What does being Scottish mean to you? I ask this in the broadest sense, since it seems to pervade in all your musical endeavours.

Andy: It means that I probably will never see that big warm ball in the sky (I think they call it “the sun”) for as long as I live here. It means that I will never get to see my national team progress to a major football tournament again in my life time. It means that I will probably die young due to a bad diet and alcohol problems… But seriously, I am obviously inspired by my country’s history, its nature and landscapes, its traditions and art, but apart from that, as Renton said in Trainspotting: “It’s shite being Scottish!”.

Is it for you the nature or the culture that inspires you? For me it seems like Saor is akin to a number of bands in that appreciation for the land more than its culture. What do you think about this?

Andy: A lot of things inspire me. Nature, culture, art, good ale and life in general. But yeah, I agree that nature and landscapes play a bigger role in my themes than culture.

Which bands inspired and inspire you to make the music you do?

Andy: As I said in a previous answer, I grew up listening to a lot of the early traditional, black and folk metal bands, so there’s probably a few of them who inspired me to make this kind of music. Nowadays I tend to listen to non-metal genres and try and get inspiration elsewhere. I actually find that places, books and films inspire me more nowadays than any music.

Are there any other Scottish bands that you feel people should know about (and why)?

Andy: The Twilight Sad is a really good shoegaze/folk/indie band from Scotland. I think their sound is great and the vocalist is amazing. My friends Cnoc An Tursa are releasing a new album called The Forty Five soon, which I highly recommend for fans of power, black and folk metal. If you’re into traditional folk music then Julie Fowlis is an amazing singer you should check out. Another suggestion would be the mighty Runrig!

What other things inspire you to make the music you do?

Andy: Hillwalking, being outdoors, books, films, art, poetry, life.

So earlier in 2016 you’ve also released an album under the moniker ‘Fuath’. A completely different sound, stripped down and direct, what can you tell about Fuath and why did you form this project?

Andy: There’s not much to say really. I wanted to try something different and darker to Saor and I had a few ideas I couldn’t fit into Saor. I probably won’t do much more with it.

Though this is an assumption from my side (which I hope you’ll pardon me for), but it seems that there is a perhaps minor political element to Saor (the link to Saor Alba). Politics and folk metal don’t mix well it seems. So my question is, is there a political element and how do you feel about the politics in extreme metal?

Andy: I wouldn’t say there’s a political element in my music. I first seen the word “Saor” in the phrase “Saor Alba” (Free Scotland) and thought the meaning behind Saor (“free”, “unconstrained”) suited my music really well. I’m personally a supporter of Scottish independence and I have always been inspired by my nation’s fight for independence, but I’m not going to try and push a political agenda down people’s throats. My lyrics are mainly based on traditional poetry or love for nature/landscapes. My music is meant to be an escape from politics and all of that kind of stuff. I want people to put my music on and be transported somewhere else. If other bands want to push a political agenda in their music then that’s up to them.

Do you have any future projects on your mind or that you’re working on?

Andy: I’ll be focusing on Saor in the future. This year I am focusing on the live shows and I’ll probably look into making some new merchandise.

If your music was a dish, a type of food, which would it be?

Andy: Deep fried Mars Bar.

Underground Sounds: Harmasar – Din Pământ

Label: self-released
Band: Harmasar
Origin: Moldova

Moldavia is too most, me including, a strange land. Caught between east and west, the orient and the occident. It’s not fully known to me what the identity of this place is. Reason enough to rejoice, for Harmasar is there to tell us more about it with their particular Moldavian folk metal. There is a connection with bands like An Theos and Bucovina.

‘Din Pământ’ is the debut of this group and it tells us of the great battles that took place in the region in the ancient past. Back then the region fought against foreign invaders, like the Romans and Ottomans. It’s that feeling the band puts in their music. It also sets them apart from other folk bands who use folk more as a gimmick. In the sound of Harmasar it seems to be more fundamental, even more so it’s the base for their sound. The group hails from the capital Chisinau, where an active scene is brewing.

The title track opens the record with an upbeat bit of balkan folk, with a tinge of melancholy and an oriëntal flavor (however mild) to it. That folk element gets the heavy weight and bravado of a more modern war chant thanks to the addition of the guitars and drums on ‘Daoi’. A thunderous bit of war metal, with burly, masculine vocals, that even further set the tone. There’s a lot of screaming guitars, but all in all the music is not trying to over complicate the metal part. If needed a folky flute will give that special feel to a song ina solo

Particularly nice is that the band doesnt eschew any of the stereotypes of the region. They use what is there, which is also the sorrowful song on ‘Tapae’. It leavces you picturing a group of men sitting around a campfire, there wagons in a circle. The men are singing of their trouble. The tendency for the dramatic is definitely something you’ll find in Balkan music. Using it is only logical. The same goes for the energetic rhythms. The lamenting vocal delivery is in concord with that same whistle, which blows gently. Granted, the production is’nt sublime, but it’s good enough to properly convey the sound of the band and their gruff essence.

‘Din Pământ’ is a bold statement that puts Moldova on the folk metal map. Where folk metal has grown stale with an endless flood of German and Nordic bands, this is something new and more folk-based. Let’s hope translated lyrics will open up the rich history in the songs to the wider public of the genre.

 

Underground Sounds: Skogen Algiz – STIF

Label: Self released
Band: Skogen Algiz 
Origin: Italy

The band Skogen Algiz, which is a bit shrouded in mystery, plays Alpine folk music. That is music that translates as the mountains, as grandiose peaks and deep dales with darkening trees. Of old myths and forgotten creatures. But then again, according to the bandcamp the music was made without ideals, just as an expression.

It appears taht Skogen Algiz is a one person band, which hails from the Italian part of Tirol. It would also appear that the man behind the band (mr. Formisano) is normally focused on photography, but I can  tell you already that he must be rather passionate about music too.

The sound feels very small, like it’s recorded in a tiny cabin in the woods. There’s no grander notion to the music, it’s not for a big party or to dance to, but just to escape into. Gently trickling guitar play is all the listener gets and the rare chiming of bells as well, like on track number 3. The chanting has a ritual tone to it, which drags the listener (if he wants to or not) to a place of calm and contemplation.

Sometimes the music sounds much closer to the modern pop, like the guitar notes on ‘no. 6’, that remind me peculiarly enough of the xx with that laid back sonic blanket feel. It’s a warm sound, but it takes you places as well. The song ‘8’ feels much more like a trippy journey, playful and recorded in a fuzzy way to make it feel more… fuzzy I suppose?

The record feels very pure, stripped of everything that it doesn’t nee dan in a way almost ritualistic, the way the guitars gently proceed and the music just lingers in the air.

Folk, land, heritage without hate

To me it matters where I come from, it matters where I feel at home and I feel a connection to certain traditions and religious tendencies. I’m happily embracing the harmonious ideas of heritage, This is something that is very persistently present as well in extreme metal music. The connection has provided us with endless political discussions, but does that make as much sense as we think?

Though there is the rare band that embraces national socialism, racism and nationalism at large, it’s a very rare occurence. Most bands say they are anti-political and not without reason. Extreme metal has one characteristic that defines it.

Individualism: Defining the self

Extreme metal has often been about the individual. This is probably why NSBM is such a weird mix of two world views. Metal is against the herd and for the self, but that leaves the void of identity for a person. We, as human beings, like to define ourselves as something, we are always looking for a sense of belonging and reason to be. Even black metal warriors delve into identity and spirituality on all sorts of levels.

Connecting to something like our heritage, traditions and maybe nationality is a logical thing to us. Sure, we can still accept that we are all one people, but we’re defined by where we are from. Does that make me a Germanic pagan? Not necessarily, but it might just as well. Bands like Skyforger, Winterfylleth and Moonsorrow had a hard time getting the difference across. Self-identification is an individual proces, which sometimes works as a concept and identity for a band, but that doesn’t make it the herd behavior of institutionalized nationalism or racism. It’s about defining the self, not the other.

The Other: Defining the opposition

The other side of the medal is when identification of the self is done in order to define the other. The other is, for some reason or purpose, the opposed of what the self should be. This is a lot harder to do in a way, so much easier to do by defining the other first. Now, here we come into the terrain of professional hate mongering. Defining the other with unwanted characteristics is very effective, because it defines both sides. This completely binds the relation to the other in an absolute relation of the lesser and the better. There is no need to approach the other anymore, because the other is evil, wrong, lesser and the enemy.

When we’ve defined the other, we usually end up with  a stereotype, with a group we’ve vilified. This puts us in a group too and sadly we soon will find likeminded individuals. The hate is concrete enough to fuel itself, but high-over enough to define all others. Though metal has the tribe mentality to form a cohesive group, it just isn’t in the nature of the culture to find such unity. Individualism is part of that identity and so is discussion and interaction. This sort of defining just doesn’t work in that environment.

Open hearts, open minds

It’s perfectly possible to have an identity bound up with the local, the past and belief, but be open and tolerant to others. Interaction between cultures is what shapes them, but if you define your opposed identity you’ll never know this beautiful variation. I talked to a Latvian metal singer once who said: “It’s ok to be proud of your country, your tribe or your belief, but if you feel superior to others you missed the plot.” Superior thoughts lead to isolation, which creates a fearful protection of what is yours. Of vague ideas of tradition and identity that don’t really matter at all. Imagine a culture on its own. How does it get any value if it’s not challenged by different ones?

I see this constantly in the metal world. People are embracing their own culture and past, but also interacting with others. Clearly showing that, a while ago a compilation album came out titled”One and All, Together, for Home” on Seasons Of Mist. Why would all these bands work together if they were the kind of nationalists depicted in the media? If they had superiority motives, why would they ever join on a record? It’s that sort of love for land, folk and belief that creates. It connects and enriches itself and the other.

If you open yourself up to the other, to culture of others, your identity and culture will change. We learn through interaction about the other culture. We adapt, we reform, we change. Change is scary, but not bad. This sort of change we are all too familiar with. We call it growth.

If we allow growth to happen, maybe we can even get some sort of enlightenment one day.

 

 

 

Underground Sounds: Thy Catafalque – Meta

Label: Seasons of Mist
Band: Thy Catafalque
Origin: Hungary

Thy Catafalque is the brain child of mad musical professor Támas Kátai. The avant-garde musician has been active in bands like Gire, Gort, Darklight and Towards Rusted Soil. The Hungarian musician is active in tons of projects, but this is probably one of his most amazing ones as far as I’ve heard. Enter a completely new domain of musical madness with this band.

Kátai originates from Máko in Hungary, but currently resides in Scotland. It may be a climate more fitting to his frantic, rugged music, but maybe it’s a bit of everywhere anyways. The artwork is inviting, and speaks of a medieval and maybe even spiritual atmosphere. Yes, with animals. Agnessa Kessiakova from Bulgaria is responsible for the artwork. A legion of guests is also active on the album.

After a heavy intro with theatrical black metal, the energy dwindles down on the meandering folky ‘Sirály’, with vocals of The Moon and the Nightspirit’s Ágnes Tóth. Gently swooning music allows the listener to just drift off for a bit. A Ghost like chanting greats the listener on ’10^(-20)’, before it launches into a turbulent, battering assault with sharp guitars and a harrowing set of vocals. Then the song almost unnoticable switches around to a dance track with flat, repetitive vocals and a hacking rhythm. It’s exactly that, which makes Thy Catafalque so wildly unpredictable and amazing.

‘Ixión Düün’ is a track you could just as well expect to hear while playing World of Warcraft in an exciting dungeon, looming with danger. There’s the whole Dungeon Synth genre, which seems to be somehow where the inspiration for this soundtracky tune has been drawn from. Amazing stuff again, but not as impressive as the track ‘Malmok Járnak’. This is a 20+ minute epic, with bombastic passages that slowly creep by, a battery of instruments, effects and strange confusing passages. It kind of keeps on building up, slowing down and then rising up again, sticking to that soundtrack feel.

It’s hard to really write about this album, because it goes in so many directions. Every time you listen to this, you hear new things. That’s the beauty of it and also why you should be listening to it right now. Enjoy!

Underground Sounds: MASTER BOOT RECORD – C​:​\​>CHKDSK /F

Label: independent
Band: MASTER BOOT RECORD
Origin: Italy

Somewhere in Rome a rogue computer has started producing or assimilating heavy metal and chiptune music. Yes, all gates are open now, with the arrival of Master Boot Record, which/who dropped 4 records in a short amount of time. I decided to check out ‘C:\>CHKDSK /F’ as a topic for a bit of writing, because it just souned weird.

The occult imagery is blended with DOS-screens and circuit boards, that is pretty cool. Also, MASTER BOOT RECORD has been doing some stuff for a while, covering hit songs like the soundtrack of old DOS games. Think of DOOM, Syndicate and Turrican. I do suppose that some people think this is silly, but if you’ve grown up in that time and age, you know how awesome this record is to me.

So what you get is pretty awesome. Remember how good those game soundtracks, even in midi could be? Everyone can hum along with the Mario and Zelda tune, right? Well, imagine combining that with guitars, bass and drums, to create a driven, electro rock sensation! The typical thing about the game music is that it’s always pushing you forward, it’s energetic and upbeat, so this is one whole record of invigorating music that easily fades to the background, while you engage in the mundane tasks.

On ‘Config.Sys’ there’s even a bit of classical music, played in midi with raw, shredding guitars and then suddenly picking up the synthwave beat. It’s just all there, everything blended to it’s maximum effect of awesome. The superfast riffing, mixed with the midi sound, it just works great. Sure, this is probably one of the most geeky things to enjoy, but the way the record is made is just incredibly catchy and captivating.

I may not know the exact words to describe this record, but it’s the combination of oldschool gaming sensation with the balls to the wall approach of heavy metal and that works like a charm. Enjoy the other records of MASTR BOOT RECORD for free on Bandcamp!

 

Underground Sounds: Vėlių Namai – Laumių Šokis

Label: P3lican Partisans
Band: Vėlių Namai
Origin: Lithuania

Ambient music is like most electronic music genres quite a thing in the Baltics. It’s fairly easy to acquire the means to make it and I suppose it fits in the nouveau hip state of the countries, which you find in the capitals mostly. Still, ambient can also turn back and look at the past or nature, which is exactly what Vėlių Namai is doing on this record ‘Laumių Šokis’.

This one man project is done by Julius Mité, who is a Lithuanian that appears to travel a lot. Still, his music or art (I feel that ambient often drifts in that direction more) is firmly rooted in his motherland. The album is dedicated to Laima, the goddess of earth and pictures of him in ethnic clothing can be found on the Facebook page. This immediately draws me even closer to the music, having just undergone a Romuva wedding in Lithuania myself, this feels close to the heart (yes, my own wedding indeed).

‘Migla’ sounds like what it means, misty with drops falling and gentle piano play piercing the hazy air. It feels a little like some of the ’90s postrock bands.  The sound shifts after a good 7 minutes when we shift into ‘Prabundu’ (I’m waking up). The music is introverted, maximizing only the elements it needs to achieve its purpose. Carefully crafted drones fill the lower sound regions and convey the voice of the earthy, while the cobwebs are still lingering in the fuzzy sounds.

The music lends itself for silent contemplation and introspection, it’s slow progressions and eerie soundscapes seem to be of the darker sort, but so is the mind. The listener is suddenly awoken from those thoughts by the vocals on ‘Mudu du, pilkume’ (us, in grey), by Hannah Knowles. Easy going, it breaks the solitude of the songs and breaks the cycle for the listener. After this we get back tot the solemnnity of the drones, synths and rare guitar line, as we find on ‘Laumių šokis (The dance of laumės). The record is not a very open one, the sounds are cavernous even and therefor the earth feels like the surrounding element.

Also there’s a sense of feeling forlorn, drifting through this undeground world and its wide expanses by yourself, weightless with just the mesmerizing drones accompanying you and painting the sight that fails in darkness. Slowly buts surely, all the other stuff falls away and just the elements remain on a minimal song with lamenting tones like ‘Vėlių takais visi mes eisim (The home beyond)’. Graceful and with a natural beauty.

This album is an experience, possibly best enjoyed with the Baltic landscape in view. Get closer to the essence and to the self and this is your soundtrack.

Your ultimate Lovecraft soundtrack part 2

Continuing on the topic of audio expressions of Lovecraftian lore, love and random fandom, I would like to take you down to a more serious form of expression, that is more Roadburny in nature.

The Doom that came over Lovecraft

To me, ever since Thergothron, doom is the ultimate music for reading Lovecraft. There’s been some great stuff on that, so I’m now venturing into personal recommendations. It’s something about that heavy pummeling, the anticipation and the cosmic stand still. In Lovecraft’s work, humans are the most puny, insignificant things. The slow pace of doom feels remniscent of that, so that’s the core of what I was looking for and I found kindred sounds.

A bit different for starters than, Nikoletta from Arizona makes Stars Eat Worlds, which she dubs surfer metal. Though this is just a demo, it shows a lot of promise. If the surf can take over a bit, it might become something grand to listen to. The songs now sometimes end up just being barrages of noise, lacking the atmospheric.

Now, I know I’m pushing this even further, but Mr. Zoth and the Werespiders produce a drone like music, infected with dungeon synth and ambient elements, to create a harrowing, nerve wracking sound effect, great for your Lovecraftian moments. More cool, these guys are designing games too.

If you can get into it, some really good, blistering noise could be working in your favor. Xothun does a great job in creating eerie soundscapes of crackling distortion and screams. Might be too much again, but I must say I dig it.

Again more ambient/drone, but with a name like Erich Zann Chamber Orchestra we can hardly ignore this Polish contribution to the sonic pantheon of Lovecraftian idolatry, right?

Time to get serious, with no other than Obed Marsh. This Perth, Australia originated group of doomsters makes the sounds of uncanny sludge and  heavy proportions. This is the soundtrack to which the nameless ones rise from the deep and sing their unholy songs to ancient Cthulhu. This is indeed exactly what I ment, talking about doom.

I got to see Arkham Witch play live in Malta, where they did songs from their old band The Lamp Of Thoth. The old school heavy metal mixed with doom is catchy and just in a very simple way cool. I think they’re a nice listen during the enjoyment of a good New England story.

My personal favorite and I think one of the most awesome bands out there is The Great Old Ones. Already having an awesome bandname, their sound is monolythic, grand and full of the looming danger that is represented by the great old gods. This is the right atmospheric tune for your moment of immersing into the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft.

A bit more theatrical, but also dirty and grimey is the Dutch collective Swampcult, who pay homage to the master of the cosmic horror with their recent album. The album is a version of the Lovecraft story ‘The Festival’, in its entirety and it’s  one gloomy immersion that you’re facing here.

Enjoy these bands, they’re really cool but also channeling their very own experiences and feelings with the stories of Lovecraft into music. That in itself is a great thing. Listening to these bands might allow you to explore new flavors and colour to the timeless works of Lovecraft.

I say Dillinger Escape Plan? She says let’s go

Marriage, that’s old fashioned… Well, it’s just one of the things I heard when I told people I was getting married. Not in a negative sense, but as in surprise that someone still does this archaic stuff. Marriage is massively uncool but I’m nervous and excited for it anyways.

People that don’t feel positive about marriage usually associate it with the casual manner in which relationships are handled these days, and I can’t blame them. I see the cycle around me of people getting together, moving in, getting a pet, getting married, getting kids… and getting horribly fed up with eachother.

But sometimes you get to win, sometimes you find that person that you want to stay with. Yeah, sure, sometimes you’ll think that you’ve made the biggest mistake, sometimes you’ll be annoyed by everything. Relationships are hard work, they’re never easy and the work only keeps coming. You might feel that this is not what you signed up for. Not what you want.

Luckily, I get to think… but would any other just say ‘Yes!’  if I suggested going to see Dillinger Escape Plan?  She just says ‘when?’. Not because she loves the band, but because she knows it matters to me. And then I know that I’ve found the bestest bestie in the world… And I can’t wait to put that ring on her finger.

how do you top that?

Underground Sounds: Gilded Lily – Mongrel’s Light

Label: Lions Jawbone
Band: Gilded Lily
Origin: Canada

For anyone who believes Canadians to be peace loving and timid, there’s some news for you and it’s called Gilded Lily. The group hails from Barrie, Ontario and has thus far only released a demo. This full length is a statement to say the least.

Something must be stirring in the northern regions, because bad-ass genre defying bands seem to emerge from Canada a lot in recent years. Bands with a disposition to stand outside of the outsider art in a way, which is emphasized by the peculiar neo-realism artwork by Quinn Henderson on the cover. It really defies expectations in its cocktail of genres and folky riffs.

The record clocks around 32 minutes of furious, unrelenting fury that seems to combine black metal with grindcore and more. Most noteworthy and possibly overlooked are the lyrics, which are poetic and speak of a desolate place where only the lowest of the low is present.

The romantic sense of longing you clung to
Is beaten into the cement of the curb
Anointed with a mixture of alcohol
And piss and spit and cum
Where the carnal is holy

This is packed up in guttural vocals, cascading guitars and bludgeoning blast beats. It’s a big noisey composition of dissonance and blaring reverb. Whirlwinds of guitar shredding and dense atmospheric passages, sometimes all hammering at the listener at once. Never relenting and always brilliant, it gives the true feeling of inescapably to the listener. Though notoriously filled with blackened elements, sometimes there’s just the cold hardcore vibe present as well, like on the beating intro of ‘Yellow Dog’s Song’, which turns into a dirty, gritty ride.

Most tangible is the urban despair of Gilded Lilly on ‘A Sparse Room’, where over a buzzing noise vocals are screamed in what, played out in your imagination, feels like an empty factory hall. After that opening rant, the track kicks of with an almost tribal rhythm and industrial drones. The whole album is a show of force to me, but there’s that remaining feeling of gritty squats and the rawest, bleakest hardcore shows ingrained in the sound of this band. Why? Because that’s exactly the feeling these gentlemen are trying to evoke with this record, which I think they succeeded in with flying colors.