Somewhere around the 2:30 mark of “Blood,” the second track on Fuath debut I, time stops. The song completely opens up around a gorgeous tremolo melody while the drums do that perfect hi-hat heartbeat so treasured in black metal, and such a vastness and beauty is created that I become an overwhelmed Ricky Fitts, and the music is the trash bag flying in the wind. If this kind of beauty in musical form doesn’t affect you similarly, then you’re either dead inside or a unique person that finds joy in other forms of art and that’s just fine. Then again, if you aren’t affected this way by any music, refer back to the “dead inside” comment.
“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in one man’s expression of misanthropy, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”
To those fond of Andy Marshall’s previous work, such reactions should come as no surprise. His profile grew significantly with the release of Aura, the widely acclaimed 2014 release by his project Saor. The gorgeous, unabashedly Celtic black metal heard on the album was as sprawling in scope as it was intimate in delivery, offering as much in terms of icy riffage as it did strings, tin whistle, and stellar drumming from Panopticon’s Austin Lunn. It was, in a word, stunning.
As if the above reaction to “Blood” wasn’t already a hint, Marshall is very much still in the business of making stunning music with Fuath. However, more than just the name has changed, with this album offering a far more stripped down approach, removing nearly all trace of folk instrumentation in favor of drums, bass, guitars, echoing vocals, and the occasional keyboard touch for atmospheric effect. That atmosphere is key to these four songs, which often feel like Hvis lyset tar oss-era Burzum (but not quite so dark) or Forgotten Legends-era Drudkh (but not quite so compressed). The production, while not necessarily raw in the sense familiar to most black metal fans, is impeccable, providing fat to the rare moments when heftier riffs ground the music, while allowing the heights to be virtually limitless.
Despite the relative shift in style, Marshall can’t completely hide behind a band name change, and his knack for both dynamics and details comes through to give Fuath a bit of a separate identity from those top notch influences. All four tracks are rooted in hypnotic traits, slow 4/4 hi-hat pulses (among various other drum patterns), and heaps of soaring, repeated tremolo lines. But beyond the more conventional tools, you also get the occasional Opethian hook (“The Oracle”), shimmery riff (“Spirit of the North”), or slow build from lumbering drums to a maelstrom of blasts (basically every song at one point or another).
Such grandiose crescendos might feel uplifting to some ears, but Fuath is not so one-dimensional as to fail to properly support these swells. The range of emotions heard throughout the album runs the gamut from hatred and sorrow to empowerment and hope, crafting an overall melancholic aura that is smartly framed by Marshall’s keen sense of flow and songcraft. Never is a hypnotic passage stretched beyond its usefulness, nor are any truncated in order to rush to a climax. Each mood is given just the proper amount of time, resulting in a rather complex experience for those that choose to experience it that way. However, the shifts are subtle enough for a purely “zone out” experience, should the listener prefer to merely let the hypnosis take hold.
Between Saor and now Fuath, Andy Marshall has solidified his status as one of the bright young voices in black metal’s less violent, more expansive side. Beyond just that, this album proves that he’ll probably nail anything to which he sets his musical mind. This is metal focused on delivering a time-honored style, to be sure, but it’s among the best of this particular style in recent memory, fully deserving of the comparisons made above, and offering enough unique character to stand strongly on its own. Well done, Mr. Marshall, now pick another alias and do something else that rules.