Let me preface this by saying I’m a long-time fan of Andy Marshall’s better-known creative outlet, the folk-driven project Saor. His Guardians (2016) record in particular was a wake-up call to me and how Celtic and Caledonian heritage could skillfully and effectively be woven into a metal narrative. Being a bagpiper myself, it’s a blending of worlds I’ve always looked for with varying degrees of success, from Cnoc An Tursa, to Skiltron, to Suidakra, and beyond. Despite this favourable impression, I’ve always felt like Saor occupied a halfway space – never fully taking ownership of either a folksy nature-inspiration or a horns-in-the-air metal pedigree… but with Fuath, Andy Marshall negates this argument, happily accepting the mantle (yes, that was an Agalloch pun) of a leading light in atmospheric and pagan black metal.
Merely examining the face-value nomenclature of both bands reveals their different characters – the word Saor can be interpreted as ‘free,’ while Fuath is Gaelic for ‘hatred,’ and it really shines through in the music. Before this becomes a comparison piece, suffice to say that Saor represents the gentler side while Fuath undeniably becomes the Hyde to Mr. Marshall’s Dr Jekkyl. From the off, II (Fuath’s cleverly-named second full-length) is a brassy, violent piece of work, but it still captures moments of clarity – breaths of fresh atmospheric air amidst the choking miasma of densely-packed black metal tropes. But it’s well worth being smothered by these: dynamic riffs, authentic screams and evocative moods.
While the Caledonian side is left in the dust, the riveting assault of Fuath that remains is breathtaking – simultaneously an up-to-the-minute celebration of winter performed and produced with passion and skill, yet also a raw and bleeding throwback to the ‘glory’ days of Scandinavia’s second wave. Fuath channel history and technology alike on II, almost as if Darkthrone were to have recorded Transilvanian Hunger (1994) in Peter Tägtgren’s Abyss Studios instead of Fenriz’s bedroom. Yes, this may imply an abandonment of the guiding principles of that movement, but black metal has grown since, in ways those pioneering members could never have imagined; a dedication to lo-fi is hardly a polestar in today’s day and age.
The highlight on II is, for me, “The Pyre.” The conversational tone of the ringing, open phrases begs attention and inspires meaningful engagement, a feat missing from almost all contemporary music, where the prevailing messages run to either ‘get laid,’ ‘get rich,’ or ‘get high,’ or any combination thereof, just so long as you keep subscribing to their channels. Fuath reminds us that there’s more to music, that there’s a connection to something greater than ourselves and not all the social media metrics in the world will ever change how small and fragile we are in the face of nature’s frozen majesty.
II Track Listing:
2. The Pyre
3. Into the Forest of Shadows
5. Endless Winter
Run Time: 41:31
Record Label: Season of Mist Underground Activists
Release Date: March 19, 2021