The Forty Five by Cnoc An Tursa

Release date: February 17, 2017
Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings

The term heritage black metal is forever connected to Winterfylleth, who’ve given the term meaning. That doesn’t mean others are not also following a similar approach and nor just south of the Hadrian wall say Cnoc An Tursa. The Falkirk band delivers their second album, titled The Forty Five, which refers to the Jacobite Uprising in 1745 by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Scotland seems to have a big amount of bands releasing great folk metal, like Saor, Fuath, Brón and many more. Now these gents even have the great artwork and band photos of the guys in kilts. The question is of course if they can offer the material that makes it worth it. Regarding the reception of their debut, The GIants of Auld, that should not be an issue. The album is not a concept album as such, but definitely sticks around the same theme, without pushing the topic too much.

Opening the album is the piece ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again’, which is traditionally a poem set to a folk tune, but here only the tune remains as a gentle intro to the turbulence that is to come. Then we burst into the album and I’m surprised at how little of the folk element is still there on ‘The Yellow Locks of Charlie’. Though this is a traditional song and the lyrics are intact, the music really relies on synths to create that epic atmosphere, but little else distinguishes the sound of Cnoc An Tursa here from the more mediocre bands that blend black metal and folk. Actually there’s some hooks in the song that sound incredibly Amon Amarth. The overuse of synths on the further record makes me think of Equilibirum even, which I don’t think is an excellent band, but with a more modern and pan-European sound one could say. This might be ill-fitting for a band steeped in regional history. Still, a bit of cheesy sounding synths never harmed most folk bands, though those usually have an overall more accessible sound. Cnoc An Tursa is a rather fierce bunch.

A redeeming feature, in my eyes, is the use of these traditional song texts. While the sound betrays little ‘Scottishness’, these traditional songs are great on their own and building bricks of the Scottish cultural identity. It would be easy for the band to write their own epic tales and set those to ferocious battle metal, but by doing this they give life to these poetic words anew. More conservative ears will find little value in this, but I think it makes them instantly relevant, even if their music is not as unique and distinguished. Sometimes the band even sounds surprisingly poppy, like on ‘Wha Wadna Fecht For Charlie’ with a static beat and clean guitar sound.

Soon enough they launch in their dense guitar barrage laced with synths. The brutal roar of vocalist Alan Buchan does give them a strong sound with the necessary set of balls. Overall the guitar work is dense and seems to do little more than create sonic weight in the overall composition, where the synths seem to do most of the work. When the guitars relent, the sound becomes very polished and lacks something.

Look, I really wanted this album to be good. There’s a lot of stuff in place for a great album if you can add a tune like ‘Flora Macdonald’ to your brutal metal album and pull it off. The thing is just that Cnoc An Tursa is not creating waves with this record, just a little splashing. The subtleties they try to weave into their sound are mostly drowning in the onslaught of the metal instrumentation, but here and there the brilliance and connection to their kindred of Winterfylleth shines through. ‘Sound The Pibroch’ is like a run of the mill track that drinking-horn-carrying Pagan Fest aficionado will love, with its epic, muscular opening and cinematic synths that occasionally are just a bit too fantastic and blissful, but after that we get the real Cnoc An Tursa on ‘Fuigheall’. As if shot from a sling, the song rushes to life, crafting a dense stream of sound with soaring guitars and a hyped rhythm session. It establishes an energetic stream where all the elements find balance. The break parts are still a bit phantasmagoria for my tastes, but here the band really feels like a unity.

This remains for the final tune of the record. Though I’m not convinced by the total of The Forty Five, I can’t argue that the parts make up a pretty interesting endeavour. There’s so much potential, but unfortunately most of the record is not getting that across. If you are massively into Scotland, Scottishness and black metal, then this is right up your street. If you’re the person that feels there’s already enough folk metal in the world, give The Forty Five a pass then.

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