At this point in time, it’s rather hard to fathom what the metal underground would be like if it were suddenly void of Heathen and Pagan imagery. For those whom are entrenched in underground music, especially black metal, they should be no stranger to the mindsets that are found within these musicians. Black metal, despite its rather nihilistic and at times Satanic vision, seems to naturally procure a spot for Paganism to find its strongest home a music scene. With there being so many bands and projects to choose from, it truly seems that the majority of the world’s Pagan population is in some way affiliated with European metal projects.
Scandinavian Asatru/Northern Traditions, Germanic Heathenism, and Celtic themes vastly overshadow the many other cultural backgrounds found in Europe. At a certain point, it becomes overwhelming and almost cliché. I understand that it is such an integral part of so many acts, and being a Heathen myself, I can find plentiful respect and praise for its usage. However, when so many other projects are doing the same thing, it’s easy to quickly get bored with it. Folkish music, though in an orthodox sense, can only go so far, and so many seem to hit road blocks in creativity.
Not many projects, though, tackle a more pro-Scottish Highland stance. This is because of either lack of interest or just not enough bands in the locality where these cultures reside. There are a handful of Scottish folk projects that have surfaced in the past few years, but they always seem to have a hard time being recognized in a more Germanic genre. Celtic, Gaelic, and Scottish folk bands seem to sound different than their Norse/Germanic cousins, yet still fall into the pool of unoriginality.
Upon first listen, the debut album Roots by Àrsaidh is nothing terribly original. It’s a very folky release that seems to do a lot extremely well while having a severe identity crisis. The mind behind Àrsaidh is indeed strongly tied to his roots and a lot of love towards the land of Scotland is very prevalent. He boasts of his cultural upbringing and the blood coursing through his very veins. The Highlands is his home, and its glory resonates through each song found etched into the album. My main problem here is that this album is just as good as it is extremely boring. For every moment I found myself getting into a song, something predictable surfaced when I didn’t want it to, bringing down my enjoyment.
I find that every time I find something to praise about this album, be it the rather well thought out folky atmosphere and the lengthier nature of the songs, for some reason something pops up that I find myself bored with. The actual metal-driven sections of the songs just seem oh so familiar. In fact, this entire album seems very reminiscent to the album Eternity by another Celtic themed band, Askival. For fans of that particular album, they will find much to like about this one as well, and I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, however, it’s nearly verbatim. There are many folky acoustic passages that are in conjunction with whispered spoken sections that just bring me back to Askival’s album, however it does have its own merit to stand on.
It took a few listens to truly digest and absorb all of the material there was to be had. As I finally listened to enough of it, I felt that I could find an appreciation for Àrsaidh. With the right amount of somber and moody folk melodies accented throughout, a sense of longing for times of a simpler past and reverence for nature as well as our Heathen forefathers surfaces within the emotional sphere. After all, this is what this type of music is all about, harkening back to when man was one with nature and a warrior’s steel was as good as his word. Sadly, the Heathen days of old are long gone and we are now in a modern technological age. Oddly, the technological age has given many underground Heathen warriors the means to spread a message of such times.
The production is competent enough. When speaking of atmospheric black metal, it’s no awe-inducing truth that the production side of things is the last thing on the minds of these musicians. All the instruments for the most part are fairly audible, and each section fits well within themselves. The guitar sections are comprised of super moody folk melodies that are typically played within the mid-range spectrum with faster blast beats to accompany them. Personally, I feel the blast beats do not always work in conjunction with the rhythms and melodies as well as they should though, they just seem forced or slapped on. The vocals, though, are on the deeper end compared to other black metal acts and seem to borderline more of a Pagan/death metal hybrid than black metal. What truly is the epitome of this album, or the highlight, is the acoustic passages. They stand out compared to the actual metal sections, which seem to act more as distractions. This seems like an exaggeration since it’s usually the other way around, but what other bands have done in regards to “filler” is amazing here.
Àrsaidh probably won’t wow too many of its listeners, but many Heathens and fans of Pagan black metal will find much enjoyment here. Personally, I found the album rather boring, and it doesn’t capture the atmosphere as well as many other projects creating atmospheric black metal. This doesn’t mean this album is bad — it really is not. Roots is a solid effort with some amazing moments and melodies, but it does nothing new or refreshing either. For what it is, it’s a great start for this young project, but to stand out, Àrsaidh are going to need to try harder.
02) Carved in Stone
04) A Highland Lament