If you turn on any news channel, on pretty much any day, you will see stories about religion inspired war, whether it be Israel, Syria or the frighteningly frequent terror attacks across the globe to name but a few.
Sadly, this is not new to our generation, and this sophomore album from Cnoc An Tursa is based around a religious civil war which was raging in Britain during the 18th century, focussing on Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and the Jacobite uprising of 1745, culminating in the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Enough history (for now!)……As someone who had been mightily impressed with Cnoc An Tursa’s debut four years ago, I jumped at the chance to give the follow up ‘The Forty Five’ a listen, keen to see how they might have developed their sound over their hiatus.
‘Will Ye No Come Back Again’ opens with clanging metal and howling wind giving way to haunting melody, military style drumming, keyboards and a male choir all conjuring the image of windswept highlands, evoking the spirits of fallen ancestors and appropriately setting the scene for what is to follow.
Bagpipes are added to the powerful mix for the opening of ‘The Yellow Locks of Charlie’ which soon builds into an epic folk black metal maelstrom, interspersing aggressive mayhem with melodic interludes and hypnotic rhythms. The intensity is fittingly raised further with ‘The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar’, matching the ferocity and brutality of the Jacobite uprisings which I interpret this track to be about. At under 5 minutes long this is a short blast (by the rest of the album’s standards anyway – Discounting the instrumentals) and really blows away the cobwebs in readiness for ‘Wha Wanda Fecht For Charlie’ which is a roller coaster ride centred around mesmerising melodies.
A haunting instrumental piece entitled ‘Flora MacDonald’ follows, nicely breaking up the album, and its melancholy simply serves to reinforce the aggression and harmonies which form the backbone of the rest of the album. If interested, Flora is considered to be a Jacobite heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape capture after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden.
‘Sound the Pibroch’ assaults the senses, seeming particularly imposing after the calm of ‘Flora Macdonald’. As the track progresses, the pace slows and some clean vocal chants work well developing a brooding atmosphere in preparation for ‘Fuigheall’. This 9 minute epic begins with galloping rhythms and pulsating guitar work. Melodic interludes come into play yet again ensuring that each track has its own personality, which is no mean feat for an extreme metal album. Throughout the album the gruff vocals sit well atop the complex musical compositions, holding them together and providing a worthwhile focal point. It is easy to get lost in the layers of melody and complex musicianship on display with each new listen stripping away a layer, unveiling something new.
The album is ably brought to a close by ‘The Last of the Stuarts’, which if my history is correct refers to Queen Anne who was the first monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of both England and Scotland as a single state following the Act of Union in 1707. This is a fitting, powerful closing track, and had me reaching for the play button to give it another spin.
This album is more complex than ‘The Giants of Auld’, incorporating different instrumentation, and allowing tracks to build into more epic pieces, with more use of atmosphere to portray and trigger emotions. The introduction of clean vocals also adds a new dimension, and throughout the album, comparisons could be made to fellow Celts Saor and Falloch, or perhaps even Winterfylleth.
This album sees Cnoc An Tursa step up a league, and should feature in a lot of top 10 lists at the end of the year. In summary, ’The Forty Five’ effortlessly flits between black metal aggression, folk metal melody and pagan metal rhythm resulting in a masterpiece of Scottish extreme metal.
(9/10 Andy Pountney)