Àrsaidh - Roots (Darker Than Black Records)

Atmospheric Celtic Black Metal from Scotland, Àrsaidh's debut offering is a flood of sound tempered by the lilt of traditional Celtic melodies set over blackened guitars.

Àrsaidh’s debut album Roots arrives in distortion, filtering through the grey thickness of a rainswept day. The blackened guitar progressions layer slowly with anticipation into a torrent of sound, heavy but fluid. Rolling drums evoke the battle tested Scottish highlands beyond Hadrian’s wall. Uplifting and immersive, Àrsaidh blends traditional Celtic instruments seamlessly into the cascade of sound without wading in towards Enya or folk metal. The guttural screams declare themselves like warriors on the crest, and whispers float back over the highland breeze.

The clustered description of Scottish atmospheric Celtic black metal captured my interest immediately when I was offered this album, and gave me high expectations. Àrsaidh managed to exceed them. A one man project from Scotland, this debut release explores the breadth of the Scottish highlands, sinking into the strong link of ancestors, land and blood split upon the thistles. Laid out over 50 minutes, Roots uses the landscape as a base upon which the proud and sorrowful music is built.

The title song, Roots, opens the album and within the first minute you have been drawn deep within the encompassing storm clouds of sound, cut through by mournful Celtic lilts. Àrsaidh builds his songs to slowly trap you within them in a way that doesn’t need to be played loud, but wants to. Roots rises and falls against the storm, with violins sweeping through, sinking into a brief lull before they are met by the warlike vocals which entwine around the eye of the storm.

Carved in Stone announces itself more gently, with a strummed acoustic guitar laid over the gentle trickle of a highland stream. A single marching snare drums steps in, before the wall of guitars rises up to sweep you back over the rising hills. Fading back in a longing pause against the resonant floor tom, Carved in Stone lulls you before charging back in to assault you with heavy blackened guitars against the fierce war-cry of the vocals.

With a highland wind so thick you can tickle it with your fingers; the bagpipes of the interlude of Saorsa are a brief haunting tribute in the night. A Highland Lament captures the wide ceilings of the monasteries, the drone of the medieval monks and the ancient worship of the land. “We are the mountains of heather / And the desolate moorland below” echoes the cry over the melancholy tin whistle. Melancholy, but capturing the pride of heritage and battles fought within the roll of the drums.

Àrsaidh has successfully embraced the extended length song, which only finishes once the story is told and never feels like it should end sooner, or that it lost its way in a fog of noise. Roots is triumphant in war, sorrowful in memory and longing for the land. In this way, it is traditionally Scottish. The windswept highlands of the Scots, the haunting drone of their songs and the proud bearing of their ancestors has been faithfully translated into the immersive Atmospheric Black of Àrsaidh.

Due out May/June 2013 from Darker Than Black Records