Released 2002 on Hammerheart.
Karen Gilligan - vocals, percussion
Keith Fay - vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, bodhran, percussion
John O'Fathaigh - Irish flute, tin whistle, low whistle, recorder
John Clohessy - bass, backing vocals
Joe Farrell - drums, percussion
Shane MacGowan - vocals
Diane O'Keefe - cello
Liz Keller - fiddle/violin
Louise Fay - speaking (Ossian's Return)
I've got something of a running obsession with all things Irish, and I'm not entirely sure where it started. The accent was the first thing; for as long as I can remember I've really liked Irish accents. It may have something to do with my uncle. He's not Irish, but he is very big on folk music, which includes a lot of Irish folk, so I think I vaguely picked it up from Irish poetry and songs he'd tell me. When I got to about 11/12, I retained the love of the accent, but kinda drifted away from music in general for a few years. Then, a few years ago (when I was getting back into music in general anyway), I picked up The Pogues [url=http://www.musicianforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=169659]If I Should Fall From Grace With God[/url], and fell in love. With The Pogues, with Shane MacGowan, with Irish music in general, again. CD-wise such love was sparse, as I have little idea of who to look for in that regard, but I just dug around the internet (and my uncle's mind) for traditional stuff, and came out knowing at least somewhat more than I did going in. So imagine my delight when I found out about Cruachan, a band playing metal with a heavy Irish folk influence (I'm aware that there's undoubtedly more than one such band, but Cruachan are the one I know, so they're who I'll be lauding).
Cruachan started off in the early '90s with a desire to integrate the folk music of their homeland into the metal they enjoyed, and they did so by putting together folk with black metal, two genres that mix surprisingly well (see: Ensiferum, Enslaved, Einherjer, Finntroll, etc), and the few reviews of their first album, Tuath Na Gael, that I've read say that it's one of the better examples of folk/black metal around. They then took a break for a while. I'm not entirely sure why, but they spent a lot of the late '90s split-up. They returned in 2000 with The Middle Kingdom
, the only material of theirs I've heard other than this. It's pretty good..er, to be honest, I got them both at the same time, and all my attention has focused itself on Folklore
, and I haven't really given The Middle Kingdom
more than just a cursory listen. Maybe in time it'll grow to be my favourite of the two. However, at the moment, this is what I'm excited about, so this is what I'm going to write about.
The set-up of Cruachan interests me, in that it seems to be 50/50, folk/metal. All of the songs here, with the possible exception of Bloody Sunday
(which, despite having a lot of folk flair, sounds more like a metal song), are folk-structured, just played in a metal style. Two of them, The Rocky Road to Dublin
and Spancill Hill
, are just the band playing traditional folk songs, and all except the opening track follow time-honoured melodies, rhythms and lyrical themes.
Musically and vocally, they cover a lot of ground. The metal is good and solid, and the traditional Irish elements are more than adequately provided by Keith Fay and John O'Faithagh. The main vocalist, Karen, has a great folk singing voice (and she doesn't look too bad in the booklet either). Her voice is supported by Keith's (Keith, incidentally, also does the majority of the songwriting, doing both music and lyrics, or where the lyrics are traditional, arranging the song for the band, along with someone marked as "JF", which could be John or Joe). Presumably it's his voice that did most of the black metal vocals on earlier releases, as I'm fairly sure it's him that does so here, in the only place they appear, on the last track. On this album, the band are joined by the man himself, Shane MacGowan, on several tracks. The addition of his drunken, shambling, excellent vocals are an otherwordly boon to the album.
Lyrically, I love this album. Bloody Sunday
is the seemingly obligatory Irish rant about the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, in which 13 innocent people were shot dead by British troops, supposedly (I'm just trying not to take sides either way; I don't have enough knowledge of it either way to know what to think), and is an excellent opener. Death of a Gael
deals with Viking raids on Ireland in the 8th Century. The Rocky Road To Dublin
is an excellent rendition of a classic song, tearingly fast but handled brilliantly by MacGowan. The most powerful lyrics here, though, as in most Irish music, are not the aggressive or angry ones, but the sad ones. It's just what the style does best. Thankfully, Cruachan have picked some really excellent subject matter. The tale of Lir's children and that of the exile and death of the sons of Uisliu (dealt with in Exiles
) are two of the Three Sorrowful Tales of Ireland. The Children of Lir in particular is really heart-shaking stuff.
The best, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes in the form of a traditional song. Spancill Hill
is an amazing song, thought to be written in the 1800s when thousands of Irish people were forced to emigrate to America and such because of poverty and famine in Ireland. The lyrics take the form of a dream sequence of Johnny, an old Irish man; having left his home near Spancill hill so many years before, he returns there in his dream. It's so well-written, and here, it's given probably the best treatment I've heard, with Shane MacGowan on vocals, supported for the most part by only a flute, gentle pulsing drums and Karen's ethereal vocals echoing his words in the background, it's just heartbreaking, and indescribably good.
Rating this is difficult. I love it, but I don't know how well it would work for other people. Fans of Shane MacGowan/The Pogues/The Popes, and Irish folk in general, who can handle something a bit heavier, should check this out, no questions asked. For others, I just don't know.
A cautious 4.2/5