I’ve gone on record before about how I like death metal, both in print and on the Audio Thing™, and I will, until the end of time, stand by my assertion that death metal is best when it beats you senseless about the face and head. Black metal to me is a different story. I think black metal is best when it is at its most elegant and refined. I like black metal that uses old-school influences to inform and build on contemporary pieces to elevate the whole affair to a new level. It’s why I like bands like Saor, Panopticon, Deafheaven, Aara and Falls of Rauros so much. Enter Ruadh and their sophomore release The Rock of the Clyde, which emphasizes the old school in both black metal and cultural influence, while still retaining a sophisticated sound.
Tom Perrett, aka Ruadh, hails from Glasgow, which is cool in and of itself but it is important to know because it informs almost every aspect of what Ruadh (pronounced ROO-ah, meaning “red”) stands for. Perrett grew up in a part of Scotland that was rich in history, and the culture, people and mythology of Scotland profoundly influence both the lyrical and musical themes of The Rock of the Clyde and 2019’s Sovereign. Another huge influence on Perrett’s music are his old-school black metal favorites like Bathory and Windir, which also heavily influence the music of Ruadh. Put them together and what you get is an honest love letter to the distinct cultures that influenced Perrett, more than just a “what if we mashed them together” situation that could feel like capitalizing off of a trend. It’s a pleasantly balanced affair, an album full of contrasts and layers that makes for an interesting listen. There’s something for everyone to appreciate here between the atmosphere, the folk leanings and the heavy aggression. It’s a nice blend of everything that makes each individual component good.
The Rock of the Clyde wastes no time getting down to business with the lead single and album opener “Ember,” which begins with a furious blast beat assault under thick guitars that quickly gives way into soaring clean vocals, ambient guitars and eventually traditional pipes and whistles and twin-guitar harmonies reminiscent of bagpipe melodies. It seems like a lot of sharp turns, but it all happens over the course of ten minutes even, so it’s more of a journey with stops along the way than a race to cram as much into a song as can be crammed. If anything, I would like to see more in the way of the traditional folk instruments. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel a tiny bit like something is missing in terms of the instrumentation and melodicism, but that can be saved for the next one. The Rock of the Clyde features more old-school flair than Perrett’s contemporaries display, and that’s what helps set the project apart. Those influences are very prominently displayed in the closer, “Only Distant Echoes Reign, Part 2.” It’s a thrashy, headbangable jam that’s sandwiched in the middle of a gentle string motif and ambient synth washes to close the album out. For those into the more melodic side of things, “Fields of Heather” features an almost power-metal opening riff and lots of Scottish influence in the melodies. It’s probably my favorite cut off the album because of just how much emotion went into every bit and piece here. It’s a very meditative song, one that I feel really captures the feel of Scottish culture and history.
The Rock of the Clyde is an album that exudes Scottish folk influence in a way that doesn’t feel cheap, but it also doesn’t dilute the harsh black metal influence too much to say it isn’t there. Despite the fact that Perrett set out to make The Rock of the Clyde more melodic and atmospheric than Sovereign, there’s still plenty of moments of aggression that will leave purists feeling satisfied. I like that this seems to be the future of black metal. Genre is a meaningless concept anyway, so why not mix it up as much as possible? It’s an honest expression of the influences that shaped a person and them giving back to their home and their heroes. What’s not to like?