Release DetailsLABEL Candlelight
RELEASED ON 3/26/2013
This isn't the music of a grim loner in darkness; this is the music of a grand hero slaughtering his foes while the sun shines down upon him.
Cnoc An Tursa
The Giants of Auld
What do you call black metal without the blackness? How do you describe folk metal without the folkiness? I suppose you could just call it "pagan," if the band sings about ye olden times with longing in their hearts, and be done with it, but I feel that Cnoc An Tursa deserves more attention than just using a vague genre tag as easy out, because they are black metal, and they are folk metal. Just... not in the normal way.
Hailing from Scotland, the four members of Cnoc An Tursa will, more than likely, be most often compared to that famous name in Celtic black/folk, Primordial. And they do share some similarities. But Cnoc An Tursa's influences seems to come more from Scandinavia, owing much to "melodic black metal" bands like Sweden's Naglfar and Norway's I, and an especially heavy debt to the recent work from Amorphis (who are Finnish, if you didn't know).
On the one hand, Cnoc An Tursa plays well-delivered black metal. The dual-guitar attack of Rene McDonald Hill and Alan Buchan is elegantly tremolo picked, and David Anderson beats the skins with admirable passion, switching effortlessly between full-ahead double-bass and blast beats. I found his cymbal work in particular to be not only expertly played, but well-recorded and mixed, as well. The Giants of Auld features a modern and clean production with little reverb — something like a slicker Immortal.
But on the other hand, while they share many techniques with the Scandinavian black metal bands, these Scots have none of the grimness or coldness that makes black metal... well, black. Instead, The Giants of Auld is stuffed full of triumphal melodies and get-up-and-move beats. This isn't the music of a grim loner in darkness; this is the music of a grand hero slaughtering his foes while the sun shines down upon him. From the opening lead guitar melody of "The Lion of Scotland" throught the album highlight "The Spellbound Knight" to the closing flutes of "Culloden Moor," this album makes you feel good; not in a sugar-syrup rainbows and ponies way (like, say, Stratovarius), but in a dragons-blood, triumph-over-my-foes way.
The folk strain in Cnoc An Tursa's music doesn't run very deep, particularly when compared to bands like Moonsorrow and the aforementioned Primordial, or even labelmates Winterfylleth. The band's only concession to folk elements seems to be the intro/outro tracks (which, while pleasant, seem out of place on the album) and keyboards that alternate between a choir of "oooohs," a flute sound, and some strings. The strings are by far the weakest of these three sounds, as they sound painfully electronic, particularly in "Ettrick Forest In November" where they give off an overwhelming Castlevania vibe. The choir sound blends well with the rest of the instruments, though, and the flute is effective at bringing melodies to special attention. Keyboardist Rene McDonald Hill is also one of the band's two guitarists, and while he is clearly talented at the keys (the very black metal piano run in "Culloden Moor" proves that), he is limited by the nature of his insturment, and I think his contributions on the strings are more powerful. The band would be well served by a live fiddler and flutist.
The other slightly weak point in Cnoc An Tursa's assault is Alan Buchan's vocals, which are a fairly monotonous yell that, while fairly black, reminds me on occasion of some sort of metalcore band in their delivery, particularly at the end of the intro track "The Piper o' Dundee," where I always expect some kind of weedly breakdown instead of the actual soaring melody that follows. It seems that music as melodic as that which is presented here deserves more dynamic vocals. This is just a matter of developing a voice, however, and since Cnoc An Tursa already knows how to write a compelling song, I expect that they will only improve their skills as they continue to play together.
When it comes down to it, the question of "black," "folk," "pagan," or "celtic" is basically irrelevant. The Giants of Auld is a great debut from a promising new band. I'll certainly be keeping my ears open.