Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker (Earthling Publications)

This is my first non-music related blog in a while, but in honor of Lemmy’s passing in December, and because Motörhead’s “Hellraiser” has been stuck in my head for the past few months, and because we all love that music video with Lemmy playing poker with Pinhead, here’s a blog about The Scarlet Gospels.

I received my copy in the mail a few days ago after having it shipped to Italy to be remarqued by Malleus (who provided the awesome cover art for this edition), and then to Britain to be remarqued by Les Edwards (who illustrated the text), and I must say, the book and the remarques are gorgeous.  I have provided photos below.  I only wish I could have Mr. Barker draw a sketch in it of his own!

Here's a sketch of the Malleus Rock Art Lab remarque: 

He was inspired by the scene where Lucifer pulls the nails out of Pinhead's skull. Lucifer can be seen playing with the remains of Pinhead's quilted scalp, spelling out "the end" (of poor pinhead).
Here is Malleus' actual remarque in the book.  I was thrilled when he decided to use colored ink on the black endpage for the drawing:   

And here is the remarque by Les Edwards (who also goes by Edward Miller), featuring a stunning illustration of Pinhead releasing the origami birds:

I will also say that Earthling Publications did a wonderful job with this edition.  I especially like the design of the limitation page, with the Lament Configuration dangling from the chain:

Now, about the book.

Publication details didn’t start to materialize for this book until the summer of 2013 as I remember, though Barker was writing it in 2005 and 2006, and maybe earlier.  Barker said in 2006 that he was trying to finish the “Scarlet Gospels journey” to free himself of it, because his heart really seemed to be in writing the next three Abarat books (the details of which have still yet to surface).  2013 was a happy year for me.  It was weak musically, but we finally learned that The Scarlet Gospels was officially on the way.  It took physical form last year, nearly thirty years after the The Hellbound Heart, and for the first time in that same amount of time, we have more stories about Pinhead!  And this time around he’s actually called Pinhead.

The narrative of this novel is a little more grandiose than that of The Hellbound Heart’s, as it really has three plot points, all of which are large in scope:

1) Clive Barker’s mythology of Hell
2) Pinhead’s scheme to conquer Hell
3) Harry D’Amour’s effort to thwart Pinhead’s conquering of Hell

A little different than The Hellbound Heart, which was a story carried by a few average individuals and some extra-dimensional beings, which took place almost entirely in an old house in a neighborhood somewhere.

So was The Scarlet Gospels worth the wait?  Yes and no.  I enjoyed it, for sure, but in all fairness it would have been really hard to make an unenjoyable book based on these characters, who are so damn interesting.  Pinhead might be the greatest character ever created in all of horror.  Harry D’Amour is Scott Bakula.  And Harry’s friends, Lana, Norma and Caz are even more interesting than Harry is.  So yes, I expected it to be good, and it is good, but it didn’t floor me like The Hellbound Heart did. 

The Hellbound Heart was to Hellraiser as The Scarlet Gospels is to Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  The reason The Hellbound Heart was such an unsettling, terrifying little novella is because it was so mysterious.  We didn’t know anything about the Cenobites.  They were alien, metaphysical beings, and because they were so unknown, and frankly, so difficult for us to wrap our heads around, they were terrifying.  As Pinhead famously responded when asked who he was: “An explorer... of the further regions of experience.  Angels to some, demons to others.”  And other than their physical descriptions, and the little bit about their desire to be appeased by their victims with jugs of urine, that’s about all the information we were given.   And we didn’t know anything about the Hell they came from except than it was a place where the unfortunate people who summoned these extradimensional beings were taken to suffer.  It was a small story with small scope, but the reader knew there was something fantastic going on behind the scenes that Barker intentionally kept from us.  He wanted our imaginations to do all the work.                  

In this book we have a literal translation of Hell, as Barker basically writes his mythology of it.  He lays it all out – its occupants, its landscape, Lucifer himself, Lucifer’s abode, Lucifer’s attempt to commit suicide, etc.  It’s very interesting because it expands the universe we knew nothing about, adding layers of depth to Pinhead’s life, but in doing so it sacrifices the element that made its predecessor scarier.  Hellbound: Hellraiser II essentially did the same thing.  We went from a house in a quiet neighborhood into Hell itself.  It’s for the same reason the second installment in the Hellraiser series was, though a horror movie I would still recommend to about anyone, inferior to the original.  

The mythology itself though, I must say, is very imaginative, believable (more so than most fantasy), captivating, and even consistent with some early church orthodoxy.  There’s a fabulous passage in the book where Lucifer, who is referred to throughout as “The Mourning Star,” expresses his anguish in the absence of his creator, and professes that this is why he's spent the last few thousand years trying to commit suicide.  Hell in Barker's mythology is a confined area that's completely absent the presence of God.  This adds a great layer of depth to Lucifer's character, that he regrets his ambition and is sentenced to spend eternity in misery for it. I actually found myself wishing he could make amends with God and leave Hell for Pinhead to rule, because Lucifer felt like he didn't belong there.

Another bit of genius on the part of Barker was to refer to the starring cast as 'the Harrowers', a name taken from the Harrowing of Christ, which was when Jesus descended into Hell after being crucified.  This is also early church orthodoxy.  The Harrowing was never once mentioned in the Bible I don't think, but is evidenced to be conviction in the early church by the language used in the Apostles' Creed: "[Jesus] descended into hell."  In 1 Peter 3:19, Peter references it though: “this Jesus, who by the same spirit by which he is raised from the dead goes and preaches to the lost spirits in prison.” That text has been used as the principal proof to say that Jesus, at some point after his death, generally believed to be between his death and his resurrection, descended into hell.  I was told by a Duke seminary school grad that it was believed that Jesus went into hell to experience the fullness of the magnitude of suffering - the full penalty for human sin - in order to be able to give complete atonement for sin through and following the resurrection.  Barker refers to Harry, Caz, Lana and Norma as 'the Harrowers' because they are the first since Jesus Christ to descend into Hell and then ascend.        

My greatest complaint about Barker’s mythology is the lack of cenobites other than Pinhead.  We aren’t introduced to a single cenobite.  I would have expected Pinhead to gather an army of cenobites in his quest to take over Hell, but we don’t even know if any cenobites other than Pinhead exist at this point.  He was always accompanied by his 'colleagues' when he appeared in The Hellbound Heart.  Instead we have other demons of lower orders, and Pinhead is sort of a god among lesser beings – the Hell Priest, Barker calls him – and it’s assumed he’s just under Lucifer on the pecking order.   

Anyway, it's a harrowing experience.  Recommended to anyone who wants another tale with a heavy dose of Pinhead.  The second and last.    

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Looking Back 10 Years: 2006

In 2006 I was too busy gorging myself on Iron Maiden and Metallica to appreciate the material coming out at present.  I was that kid acting like the disgruntled old man, saying shit like, “all the good shit came out twenty years ago.”  While there’s not a thing wrong with loving some Iron Maiden and Metallica, it’s a shame I didn’t realize at the time that 2006 was one of the best years for music ever, and now that the decade has passed and we’re halfway through the next, I can say with conviction it was the best year for music post-turn of the century. 
I got to thinking about this because Metal Injection posted a list of albums celebrating their 10 year anniversary in 2016, which can be seen here.

Needless to say, the author left out a lot of albums that should’ve been on there, including: 

Giant Squid’s Metridium Fields
Wolves in the Throne Room’s Diadem of 12 Stars
Ahab’s Call of the Wretched Sea
OM’s Conference of the Birds

…Just to name some of my favorites from that year.  But he did mention the best two of 2006: Agalloch’s Ashes Against the Grain and Celtic Frost’s Monotheist, not just the two best albums of that year but two of the best albums – metal or non-metal – of all time.


While Celtic Frost went out in dramatic fashion by throwing down the gauntlet on just about every other extreme metal album ever written (which I touched on in my last blog), Agalloch carried on and has since grown from a place of well-regarded semi-obscurity to become one of the most beloved and influential metal acts of the new millennium. And they themselves picked up some influences along the way (Godspeed You! Black Emperor on Marrow of the Spirit), and have done what any metal band needs to do to be great: they have evolved.

Agalloch's guitarist and pianist, Don Anderson, touched on some of Agalloch's influences when asked in an interview about Agalloch attempting to expose listeners to a variety of types of music: 

"We really do want to expose our fans to different kinds of music, because we ourselves are very eclectic listeners. We’ve always been eclectic with our listening. In fact, when we wrote The Mantle, we weren’t listening to metal at all. We were very disenchanted with it. At that time, it was a very difficult time for metal. The only metal record I remember John and I listening to was Bathory‘s Hammerheart — that was a big influence. Otherwise, we were getting into singer/songwriters like Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and other things like that. Of course, then there’s the neofolk scene: Death in June, Current 93, Sol Invictus, etc. That’s when we really started trying to adapt neofolk into our music. One of the other weird records was by a band called Sand — a record called The Dynamic Curve. John was getting into a lot of electronica like Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada. We were trying to bring all of those different influences in, because we were trying to expose our fans to all of those sorts of different music. It’s rewarding, but of course, we like to provoke!"

- Don Anderson, PhD
Heathen Harvest interview, July 19, 2015

Yes, Anderson has PhD in English and teaches at the University of Washington. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn he assists the typically credited lyricist, John Haughm, in the lyric writing process. The band's lyrics have always been very mystical and enchanting, often describing natural landscapes and old world emblems, without sacrificing devotion to even heavier subjects, like divinity.

I never heard any Autechre, Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada in Agalloch's music, but the folk influences are obviously there. The band used folk to establish its signature sound, and they did it right, in my opinion, without going completely over the top as some Finnish bands I'll refrain from naming have.  And we heard more Bathory influence later on, notably in Faustian Echoes, than perhaps anywhere else in Agalloch's catalog.    

Celtic Frost never wrote two albums that sounded the same, and neither has Agalloch.   But while Celtic Frost's change-ups tended to be more sporadic and unpredictable, Agalloch has taken a more linear evolution that feels more natural, kind of like Metallica did between Kill 'Em All and And Justice....  Each album is distinct in its sound but the artist is never in question.  And, importantly, (up to The Serpent & the Sphere) the evolution felt right

When Marrow of the Spirit came out in 2010 I felt a twinge of disappointment because it was so dramatically different than what's still Agalloch's best, Ashes Against the Grain, and this is even despite the fact that Marrow of the Spirit had the obvious influence of my favorite band throughout, especially on the album's standout track, "Black Lake Nidstång," and was thus stylistically at an advantage. But something about the heavy, polished emotion on Ashes Against the Grain, at a time when black metal and doom metal coincided less frequently, gives it standing above all Agalloch's other albums. I really think it might be the greatest metal album ever written. 
So what years were as good as 2006? It's a hard question. 

1970 - Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Deep Purple’s Deep Purple In Rock
1971 - Led Zeppelin’s IV, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, The Who's Who's Next
1973 - Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy
It goes without saying that Black Sabbath released one great album after another between 1970 and 1975. 

1975 - Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Black Sabbath’s Sabotage, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run
Then there was 1986, which raked in a ton of classic albums.

1999 was a great year too, with Immortal's At The Heart of Winter, Sigur Rós' Ágætis byrjun, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada, Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile, etc.   

But I don't know if any of those years were as strong as 2006 was.  

Okay... maybe 1973 and 1975 were. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Terra Tenebrosa's V.I.T.R.I.O.L. - Purging the Tunnels (EP)

I have been listening to Blut Aus Nord's The Work Which Transforms God, which is one of the most unsettling and disturbing albums in my collection.  It's a little problematic because it's so draining to listen to it.  A lot of music can inspire us and build us up but this album works at crushing your soul.  It not only works at it - it does it.  Not many recordings can put such a dampening on the human spirit.
The Work Which Transforms God had me yearning for more, so I started searching for bands similar to Blut Aus Nord, of the avant-garde, industrial black metal variety.  I came across Terra Tenebrosa.  I saw they had released an EP this year - V.I.T.R.I.O.L. - Purging the Tunnels, which is the third and final instillation, and will serve as the closing chapter, of the conceptual approach of the two albums that came before it: The Tunnels and The Purging.  The next phase of the band is going to be, according to one of the members, more violent, and... wait for it... more ugly.   

Rest assured, the music is already pretty damn ugly.  There's nothing beautiful or life affirming about it.  It's very similar in style to industrial/ambient Blut Aus Nord, and the music has the same dreadful effect.  It's uninspiring and unsettling.  The band already has an unsettling image with all the pictures of its members dressed in creepy costumes and masks.  They're obviously trying to evoke a sense of horror.  Their music does nothing but reinforce that sense.  It's a little terrifying in its own right.  It ranges from dark and ambient to dark, loud and violent.   

Both the tracks on this EP were actually recorded during the recording sessions of The Tunnels and The Purging, so they're "leftovers," I guess you could say, but still certainly worth listening to, for the atmosphere alone if nothing else.  I'll put this music on this coming Halloween instead of Lustmord and Aghast.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cormorant's Earth Diver

I've developed an increasingly bizarre relationship with Cormorant's music.  

Before I begin I would first like to give a disclaimer: this is as much a written critique of Cormorant's style of music and the direction it's taken than a review of Earth Diver itself.  

With that in mind... 

I think it's safe to say I liked Metazoa from the start.  After a few listens I liked it even more.  After a few more listens I really began to see and understand that it was an incredible album, and somewhere along the way "liked" turned into "loved" and Matazoa climbed its way onto my all time favorite albums list, and there I think it will stay forever.

Dwellings was a little different.  Everything about Dwellings indicated that it should live up to Metazoa.  At the time of its release I think I was so used to Metazoa, and identifying Cormorant only with Metazoa, that I had a hard time letting Dwellings have the impact on me that it should have.  There can be no doubt, Dwellings is brilliant.  It's far more technical than any album needs to be to be good, it's tight and fluid all the way through (the band claimed it's even tighter and more focused than Metazoa), it's as dynamic as all get out, the songwriting and tempo variations are flawless, the riffs are melodic, the overlaying of instrumental melodies are executed with pinpoint accuracy... all signs indicated it was Cormorant.  Unmistakably so.  So I kept waiting for it to impact me the way Matazoa did.

Earth Diver is Dwellings redux.  Not musically.  But it is in terms of the response it's elicited.  I want so badly to appreciate this the way I appreciated Metazoa, to feel those feelings again, to be impacted.  I want it to feel fresh again.  Metazoa was so fresh.  Earth Diver feels burnt.

I think one of the problems I'm having with the music is the overabundance of melody.  There are so many melodies stuck in here, and stuck in there, that the music feels forced.  By forcing in so many melodies at every opportunity maximum emotional potential is trampled upon, and instead of hearing build ups or crescendos we just hear a different melody stuck in where it doesn't belong.  Take the intro to "Solid As A Crow," which, like a lot of Cormorant's intros, is brilliant.  At some point that melody altogether evaporates, and it's never replaced by anything that's as contextually appropriate or emotionally impactful.

"A Sovereign Act" is another example.  If Cormorant had simply taken the theme of the first minute or so of the song, held onto it, expanded on it, built it up, there's no telling what heights the song could've soared to.  As it stands, most all parts of the song are unmemorable and lackluster because nothing is fleshed out.  Even the intro, which is, like the intro of "Solid As A crow," brilliant, is lost and suffers deemphasis in the endless sequence of subsequent riffs and tempos.   

There is no flow.  The songs never lock into a coherent groove.  The riffs don't interlock at all and the songs just blaze on in no discernible direction with no sense of purpose.  The listener is jolted around.  Melodies and riffs cede endlessly into one another in an endless procession of, what amounts audibly to, wasted material and spent creativity. 

The worst consequence of this formulaic approach to songwriting is lack of emotion.  The music isn't inspiring.  I could wrap my head around Metazoa.  It wasn't too much.  Dwellings and Earth Diver are just endless barrages of exhausting cycles of tunes that at times seem dysfunctional and conflated.        


However, despite Cormorant's approach to writing music, in the way I've described above, there have been noticeable progressions in their sound from album to album.  By this I mean that there have been significant enough differences from album to album to really highlight the direction Cormorant is heading inMetazoa was more or less melodic death metal with some folk and black metal influences, Dwellings was progressive blackened folk metal, and Earth Diver is progressive black metal with fewer folk influences.  Sure, Arthur Von Nagel's departure is noticeable, as everyone expected it to be, but Marcus's harsh vocals are just as strong if not stronger and they accompany Cormorant's blackened sound just fine.  There are fewer folk elements on Earth Diver than on Metazoa and Dwellings, which makes the music all the more aggressive and progressive and exhausting.  Earth Diver is a little darker than Cormorant's previous albums

Most good bands, at least the bands we'll remember decades from now, have discographies with traceable directions, and each album can be associated with a progression, a difference, while still being unmistakeably recognizable as an album by that band [insert memorable band].  Cormorant has all the traits of such a band.  But the general feeling I get when listening to Earth Diver is that of, as I've already mentioned, complete exhaustion.  The music tires me out.  It's somehow, despite its intricacy and technicality, still repetitive and vapid.  Their changes in direction have not remedied the issues they face as songsmiths.    

With all that said, I'm positive there are a lot of people out there that would love Earth Diver if they unearthed it.  The music is so technical.  And there are so many avid tech death fans out there.  Cormorant's music could be a bridge gap between fans of a number of different genres.  Cormorant has as much potential as any metal band I've heard.  Their talent and passion is absolutely undeniable and they have enough creative juice to fuel about ten bands, and if they would simply take lass material and do more with it, the sky could be their limit.

Most bands have the opposite problem - not enough creative juice and not enough passion. Most bands struggle to pump out more than a couple memorable melodies per album.  Advice to Cormorant: keep some of that music in your minds pent-up.  Let it flow from you and don't do it by numbers.  Don't let ambition become self-destructive.

Ambition has a way of devouring the once mighty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

ARAKK's Self & Distance (demo)

There seems to be some confusion about the release date of this recording.  It was recorded in the summer and fall of 2013, and released in June 2014.  I noticed Metal Archives has it documented as a 2013 release.  That's incorrect.  It's a 2014 release.  It's also documented as a demo.  That may be correct, but it's unclear.  It's not a full-length, given the recording is just one 24-minute track, but it might be an EP.  It doesn't have the poor quality most demos do.  Either way, it's a recording that needs to be brought out into the open.  It has the potential to make some serious noise in the metal community.  This band has the potential to be the next big thing in funeral doom metal.

ARAKK hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, and consists of:

Jesper Christoffersen - Guitars/vocals
Kasper Ralsted Jensen - Guitars/vocals
Nicholas R. Tesla - Bass
Johan Trærup - Drums

Aske Øland Kjærgaard - Synth/programming

And on this recording we're fortunate enough to hear guest vocals by Ayo Krohn Mikkelsen.  Maybe she'll decide to join the band (and/or appear on future releases).  We can hope so at least.  

Self & Distance is a doom track to behold.  It has the painfully mournful and funereal riffs, calm, brooding atmospheric landscapes, hauntingly dreamy vocals (not dissimilar to the vocals of Sara Timms on Black Math Horseman's one and only record), crushing passages and building climaxes.  

From the 11:05 mark to 17:15 the pace really slows down and we hear a slow drum beat, an occasional guitar strum and the marvelously effective, almost chanted, whispering vocals of Ayo Krohn Mikkelsen.  The whispering at times sounds like its layered together as it builds.  The vocals come to a sudden halt and a soft, slow guitar melody follows before things get real heavy again.

Recommended to anyone who likes funeral doom and has the patience to sit through a 24-minute song that, despite its length, remains interesting and captivating throughout.  I'm already looking forward to ARAKK's first full length. 


Monday, June 16, 2014

Profetus' As All Seasons Die

...To Open The Passages in Dusk, for some reason or another, never grabbed my attention. I've got a copy of it on vinyl but I've never taken it out of the sleeve to put on the table. My listening time is valuable, and I don't like to spin records that don't affect me emotionally/psychologically, and that one just never did.  

It's a bummer because there's, in my opinion, not enough funeral doom to be heard, and when a band records funeral doom of Profetus' variety, with high production value, it's really a shame when it's monotonous (and no, not all funeral doom is monotonous, believe it or not).  Thankfully we have Mournful Congregation, Skepticism and Ahab to turn to when pickings get slim.  But it's still nice to get a different artist in the mix every once in a while.  Like Loss in 2011. And like Profetus in 2014.   

As All Seasons Die is an improvement over ...To Open the Passages in Dusk. It's the third full length from the funeral doom outfit from Tampere, Finland, where the snow lasts from late November to early April.  It's not nearly as lengthy.  It's thirty-six minutes instead of fifty-eight, so it doesn't drag on as long, and it feels like it's more crafted.  

Profetus' music is heavy, plodding and burdensome, but it's not of the impenetrable wall of sound variety like Evoken or The Call of the Wretched Sea/The Divinity of Oceans-era Ahab.  Profetus' music, while certainly heavy, has a rather serene aspect to it that isn't found in most doom metal.  It's mesmeric and immersive.  The listener is swept away in it and carried off to some far away place that isn't exactly inviting, nor uninviting, but arcane.  Most funeral doom is just doleful and depressing.  Profetus' is not.  It's more mysterious and introspective.  Forlorn, perhaps, and somber, but not 'I want to go kill myself' depressing.     

"The Rebirth of Sorrow," "Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn" and the last five minutes of "The Dire Womb of Winter" are particularly mysterious and at times damn near spellbinding.  The solo in "Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn" is very Mournful Congregation-esque (it reminds me a lot of the solo in "The Waterless Streams").  The spoken word chants add to the mystique.  I must say, I like the sparseness of death growls.  They're fine where they are, but the spoken vocals better compliment the album's atmosphere. 

This isn't an immaculate album, but parts of it are definitely worth listening to.  There is a chance it could win Best Funeral Doom Album of 2014, but it will have to beat out Concrescence of the Sophia and Skepticism's and Aldebaran's upcoming albums.  It's so rare for a funeral doom album to remain captivating throughout its entirety.  We have to select the parts we like and return to them over and over.  And I'm completely content doing this because the parts worth returning to are so, so good.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thantifaxath's Sacred White Noise

In the court of Thantifaxath.

And a dark, chilling, ominous court it is.  Fringed with candles and animal skeletons, a stone floor, deep recesses cut into the stone and blood stains abound, there have been many incantations spoken in this court.  A wooden door clad in metal hinges leading to a staircase winding down into a chamber is the only exit.  No shafts of sunlight grace this court.

Every so often three figures in black hoods, whose faces we cannot see and whose identities remain anonymous, enter the court through the great wooden door clad in iron, light the candles on the fringe, and play beautiful, foul, dissonant, claustrophobic black metal.  But not before they take a light hit of psychedelic drugs.  

Sweeping anthems and mesmerizing chords engulf the court and resonate throughout the halls as the three men in hoods play purposeful, calculated, piercingly ornate music that summons dark spirits and then entrances them.

The music is thematic and blistering, atmospheric, shrill, harmonically disconcerting.  It's black metal with the weight of doom.  There's a great weight to this music.  The three mysterious musicians surely feel the weight of the music they play, and they must feel anguish.  Tremelo picked harmonies drone on and on.  Sometimes the light is bright in the darkness.  Sometimes darkness and light blend together. 


When the anthems end and the chords echoing off the walls die down, and fade away, the spirits sober and retreat back into the crevices in stone from whence they came.  For a while there is a gasping in the darkness.  And then even the sound of the gasping disappears. 

And once again the court is silent and still.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Saor's Aura

It seems like there are more and more one-man bands cropping up all the time, especially in the extremities of the underground.  Panopticon, Borgne, Woods of Desolation, The Fall of Every Season, Saor.  It's amazing how these artists are producing such impressive, well-rounded compositions.

So many atmospheric black metal bands have exhausted the themes of cold winters in the northern lands, dark forests in the night, and silent lakes at the coming of dawn.  Not that there's anything at all wrong with those themes (they're very appropriate for this style of music and oftentimes very moving), but it never hurts to hear something different once in a while.  This album brings something different, but something not unfamiliar.  We've heard these sounds before, but they're a little less cold, and a little less dark.  This album brings the wind to your hair.  

Also, despite its Celtic, folky leanings, there is nothing in the sound reminiscent of war.  We don't feel like we're being led into battle.  This is a good thing.  War metal is almost as bad as weightlifting metal.  Instead, parts of this album are reminiscent of Écailles de Lune - era Alcest, which is never a bad thing.  The intro to "Aura" sounds like "Sur l'océan couleur de fer" with the chanting and soft guitar melodies.

The sounds are layered together nicely.  None of the instruments, be they keyboards, piano, acoustic guitars, replicated strings, whistles, feel out of place.  Everything flows.     

This is beautifully crafted black/folk metal.  The melodies whisk you away to the hillsides of Scotland.  It's sorrowful, yet triumphant.  Rarely are black metal albums so bright, but this one is.  And the future of this band is bright.  

Northern Silence Productions has, so far, brought us three of the best albums of the year: Woods of Desolation's As The Stars, Cross Vault's Spectres of Revocable Loss (even though it's on Eyes Like Snow, Northern Silence Productions is its parent label), and now Saor's Aura.  

Keep up the good work!