Review Summary: Despite its shortcomings, Tuatha Na Gael is still one of the vital albums to introduce you to the folk metal genre. Whether you like this album or not, nobody can really deny its influence.
Despite having a long-running history which dates back to 1991, Cruachan are probably more underrated than they are respected in the folk metal sub-genre. Many now cite the Irish “Celtic metal” group as a direct influence on today's burgeoning folk metal scene, alongside Skyclad and Falkenbach, but it seems that the band itself has been surpassed both in terms of quality and consistency. It's probably because within twenty years of existence Cruachan have managed to produce a mere total of six albums, and the majority of those turned out to be a mixed bag as opposed to truly brilliant works.
That said, you have to look far and wide to find the remnants of the band's very first work, entitled Tuatha Na Gael
. The debut album is surprisingly well-written and completely devoid of filler material, yet sometimes is flawed in the wrong places. Founder Keith Fay, a man who openly admits to having had a life-changing moment when listening to Skyclad's debut album, decided on fusing traditional Scandinavian black metal with heartfelt Celtic folk melodies, and the result unsurprisingly is for the most part grandiose and well refined. This is largely because of how ambitious Tuatha Na Gael
comes across every single time you listen to it. The longer epics such as “The fall of Gondolin” and “Tain Bo Cuailgne” are well integrated in between the shorter, more harmonic likes of the beautiful “Brian Boru” and high-spirited opener “I am Tuan”.
However, Tuatha Na Gael
's main flaw is where black metal collides unnecessarily with Cruachan's well respected brand of Celtic folk melodies. In songs such as the hit-and-miss “The first battle of Moytura” and “Cuchulainn”, the arrangements are overambitious and all over the place, giving the impression that their entire plot occurs all at once. Yet the band gets it right on several occasions. Songs such as "To Invoke the Horned God" would be a perfect fit in a Disney Irish mythology movie score. Its harmonic Celtic melodies are closely intertwined with a hard-hitting (albeit not too heavy) rhythm section, and although Fay's vocals leave a little more to be desired, they never take away from the fact that what Cruachan have done here is nothing short of impressive.
Another interesting aspect of Tuatha Na Gael
is the way in which the album as a whole is structured. The consistency here could have been worked on a little better to improve final results, but the fact that shorter, more harmonic songs are well integrated before or after the epic, more black metal-inspired tracks makes for a comprehensible finish. Although their wealth of details may be too much for the listener to digest, the flamboyant, epic song triplet “The fall of Gondolin”, “Cuchulainn” and “Tain Bo Cuailgne” lies on the same level of quality with the Lord of the Rings movie scores.
Whatever you think of the folk metal sub-genre, Tuatha Na Gael
is surely as deserving a starting point as the likes of Wayward sons of Mother Earth
. It may not be your thing, but Cruachan's underrated debut should be respected as one of the inspirations for the burgeoning folk metal scene we know of today.