Friday, April 12, 2013

Cnoc An Tursa - The Giants Of Auld (2013)

Irish. Italian. Polish. English. We are as diverse as the bands we review. And thus, it pains us when people identify themselves or their most miniscule traits by the heritage of their family. Eating pasta has nothing to do with being Italian. Drinking is not a singular Irish trait. Our cultural heritage is being diluted, rather than celebrated. For their part, Scottish metal four piece Cnoc An Tursa are doing the right thing, and bringing back an awareness of Scottish culture and heritage through the use of hard edged blackened metal. Much like their brethren in Falloch, this isn't a cookie cutter act claiming to be something they are not; you can find the national pride of Scotland engrained into every riff, every spoken word, and every synthesized instrument. With the ten eclectic tracks on their debut album, "The Giants Of Auld," the band not only proclaim that they are proud to be Scottish, but give outsiders both near and far a glimpse into the history of the nation known by Americans as the land of bagpipes and kilts.

With the majestic, almost hypnotic acoustic opening "The Piper O'Dundee," the band set a familiar stage for the album to come. But it is with a signature explosiveness that they launch the arc into motion, a grating scream signalling the start of "The Lion of Scotland." The driving force behind it all is the drums, played with speed and precision by Bryan Hamilton. His massive kick snare patterns and thundering fills do wonders for the mix. But even more than that, it creates a wide base for a plethora of sounds and instruments to stand upon. From the dueling guitar lines, which range from destructive to dance-worthy, to the more widespread use of keyboards, there is a much needed structure to how things rise and fall. With vocalist Alan Buchan unleashing the wrath of his raspy screams, you have a completed mix and a bulging piece of metal strength. And while he shares the guitar spotlight with fellow founding member Rene McDonald Hill, the heavy lifting he does in both roles on "Bannockburn" is extraordinary. The heavy distortion on the guitars somehow still leaves room for them to be atmospheric at times, bolstered by the airy synthesizer notes that ring out behind them. Moving at a breakneck speed, it seems to go by in a flash. throwing you head first into "Hail Land of My Fathers" with no more than a seconds notice. This may stand out from the rest of the album, but for reasons of higher quality; instead, it is the interesting merger of styles that may raise an eyebrow, as they walk the gap between melodic death and blackened folk with grace and gusto. The melodic leads become the neat little bow on an increasingly impressive gift.

And while the previous might be the most intriguing when all is said and done, it may very well be "Ettrick Forest in November" that occupies the role as most complete. Hitting on every ossible genre variation, you have a taste of all things heavy and melodic. The duo of Hill and Buchan on guitar does an incredible job of being both larger than life and perfectly subtle. If there is any downside to this display of melodic mastery, it is that it simply goes by too fast. It feels more like an appetizer than a main course, despite the four minute run time. But if it is indeed a mere bite, then "The Spellbound Knight" is the full meal. It embodies everything the band has to offer, and displays their keen grasp of all things melodic and pounding. Whether it is the guitar work, the keyboards, or the way the drums are pieced together, everything has a place and occupies it to perfection. "In Shadowland," however, steps away from that blooming subtlety and takes on a more ferocious approach. There is a stomping effect to the drums that is sure to start a mosh frenzy at any live event, despite tempo changes throughout. Buchan's vocal lines are devastating in their tone and delivery, adding a tremendous depth to the overall mix. It is also here that bassist David Anderson truly emerges for the first time, adding a sizable low end to the track.

By the time you've reached the final trio of tracks, beginning with "Winter - A Dirge," you have a band firing on all cylinders, both literally and figuratively. All of the pieces are working in perfect balance with one another. It is worth mentioning that while the keyboard element doesn't play a lead role often, if ever, it's role is far more important than you may assume. It becomes the glue in tracks like this one, holding together all of the pieces that may have otherwise drifted apart. The melody at the midway point serves as the perfect example. It also helps to make the track feel like the four and a half minute piece that it is, rather than a flash. It would be safe to say, then, that as much as the keyboards hold things together there, Buchan's screams do the same for "Culloden Moor." He undoubtedly takes center stage here, with his growling voice leading the charge in a wave of double kicks and distorted guitar riffs. Each resounding thud of the kick drum hits like a punch to your ribs; a punch that you welcome with no resistance. The synthesized flutes that bring the track to an end are enchanting on their own. So much so, in fact, that they close the album on a simply beautiful note. While you've been tossed and thrown about for half an hour, it is "Blar na h-Eaglaise Brice" that coddles you in the final moments. Serene and calming, it becomes the lullaby you may have been waiting for.

We, as modern people, love to talk (brag) about an ancestry. We identify ourselves by where our ancestors came from, regardless of how diluted it may be for our generation. It makes sense for bands of all races, religions, ethnicity and creed to do exactly the same, and celebrate their heritage through song. That is what Cnoc An Tursa do frighteningly well here, sharing their Scottish history with their listeners in each and every track. It isn't just music that SOUNDS Scottish in origin; it actually represents Scotland's rich heritage in lyric as well. the way they capture the modern and the ancient is what will make this album stand out from many others that will claim to be Celtic or the like. And it is this kind of album that could change or influence the way we view folk metal as a whole, bringing it away from concocted tales of armor and swords from those who represent it poorly, and back to a revival of cultures of yesteryear. And even though the name implies size and strength, you have no idea how big "The Giants Of Auld" really is. Until you listen.


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