Given that it’s only been recently that the British black metal scene has properly got its act together after years of creative stagnation and indifference, it’s unsurprising that it’s taken Scottish quartet Cnoc An Tursa this long to release their debut album after forming in 2006. They’re not mere bandwagon jumpers either. “The Giants of Auld” comes with a not so subtle synth bombast underpinning the visceral black metal riffs, and this gives their tales of homeland and heritage a sense of majestic grandeur that firmly establishes the band’s identity.
Beginning with the melancholic acoustic strains of ‘The Piper O’ Dundee’, little time is wasted before the rousing call-to-arms that is ‘The Lion of Scotland’ roars in defiance and takes to the battlefield armed with some truly stirring melodies that the likes of Ensiferum would give their eye teeth for. Twinkling keys merge perfectly with finely honed, folk-tinged guitar lines and the sense of triumph is absolute.
After such a strong start, the feeling that this is going to be a record to remember and cherish becomes all the more apparent as the frosty black metal of ‘Bannockburn’ demonstrates that Cnoc An Tursa can still come across as just as impressive while demonstrating a more traditional sound. Underrated UK folk metal pioneers Forefather are a clear influence here and throughout “The Giants of Auld” as the well maintained sense of melody and desire to bang your head remain constant.
The poetry of Robert Burns provides a deep well of lyrical inspiration and this gives the likes of ‘Hail Land of my Fathers’ a sense of passion that has far more impact than your standard hack n’ slash folk metal clichés. Vocalist Andrew Buchan favours a gruffer approach more akin to melodic death metal acts than the standard high-pitched shrieks that are to be expected and it’s little touches like this that makes Cnoc An Tursa stand out from the crowd.
The clattering percussion and Iron Maiden-esque dual guitar lines of ‘The Spellbound Knight’ call to mind the aforementioned bands’ forays into Scottish themes such as ‘The Clansman’ while the latter-day Bathory-isms of ‘In Shadowland’ doff their cap to the giants of extreme metal, and it’s this appreciation of their forbears, both musical and cultural, whilst looking forward to victory that make Cnoc An Tursa such an enjoyable and engaging band. There is enough variation between songs to ensure that the attention never wavers, especially during the more folk-influenced sections, and at 41 minutes, “The Giants of Auld” is a full-blooded battle when it could have so easily been a skirmish.