Label: Neuropa Records
As the new band of Saor mastermind Andy Marshall, the debut album from Fuath, I, arrives with a certain weight of expectation. However, whereas Soar focus on the more folk music side of epic black metal, Fuath take a much darker, more hypnotic path. Recalling early 90’s atmospheric black metal (think of the likes of Burzum) as well as more recent artists such as Paysage d’Hiver, I is a blast of wintery black metal that is sure to put the listener in a trance, captivated by melancholic, repetitive riffs. Atmospheric black metal of this sort may no longer be the most novel of creative endeavours, but it is rarely done with such skill and grace, nor with such soul-searing power and conviction.
The record wastes no time in casting you under its icy spell, with the most brief of drum-roll introductions heralding opener “In The Halls Of The Hunter”, before the relentless, frost-bitten riffs take the lead. If you’ve ever wondered just how black metal can sound like a blizzard, this is a perfect example – there is something about the nature of the riffs that recalls the howling wind, an effect enhanced by the way that Fuath are unafraid to take their time repeating riffs and patterns. For sure, I is the kind of black metal album built upon long, repeated passages of riffs, but they are written and handled with sufficient skill to ensure that they achieve the trance-like state that they aim for, rather than simply dragging on.
Yet for all the repetition built in to I, it never feels bloated or longer than it needs to be. The restrained, subtle use of synths to add extra textures help to ensure that the tracks never get bogged down in their repetitions, as do slight shifts in the drum patterns that are often underpinned by relentless double-bass drumming. Vocals are used sparingly, and their relative absence makes them all the more effective when they do appear. Buried in the mix, they come across as voices half-heard from within the winter night, leading you onwards but without their intentions ever becoming clear. It’s also commendable that each of these four tracks, despite being built upon similar structures, possess unique character yet also work as part of a whole; different enough to stand apart, but similar enough to come together as a single body of work.
As far as highlights go, to identify them is to somewhat sell the album short – a record like I is best understood and enjoyed when listened to as a whole, isolated from all other external influences, simply letting its icy grasp take hold of you as you gaze upon the stars. With that being said, closer “Spirit Of The North” is the stand-out track for me, with its soaring guitars around the two minute mark conveying an epic sense of grandeur and sadness that is soul-crushing; whilst the clean guitar section later in the song provides a moment of respite, in which to reflect upon all that has gone before. By the time I is over you will emerge, blinking in the winter light, feeling somehow unburdened and lighter of spirit. This is an album as much for the soul as it is the more physical senses, possessed as it is of the spirit of winter – removed from the pressures and demands of modern life, celebrating isolation, tapping in to that most ageless of cycles, with death giving way to the rebirth of spring.
It may be tempting to compare I and Fuath to a whole host of other bands and albums, from the more obvious cornerstone of Burzum right through to Eastern European black metal such as Drudkh, or even Winterfylleth at points. Yet not one of these comparisons feels entirely right, and to sum Fuath up as a sum of influences and contemporaries is to sell the band short. I is an album of rare majesty and power, and announces the arrival of a new heavy-hitter on the atmospheric black metal scene, with all expectations not only met but surpassed.