by Bartender EMERITUS
January 16th, 2005 | 18 replies

Release Date: 2002 | Tracklist

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="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, 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

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user ratings (22)

Comments:Add a Comment 
Per Ardua Ad Astra
December 31st 2004


Cruachan are just too funny to take seriously.

December 31st 2004


I thought you'd bring that up again. Have you heard more than that one song?

December 31st 2004


[QUOTE=Per Ardua Ad Astra]Cruachan are just too funny to take seriously.[/QUOTE]

Yea, some of their songs like the song Some Say The Devil Is Dead is just too funny and it would be absurd if you did not laugh heh. But they also have their fair share of good songs that aren't funny in that way.

Dancin' Man
December 31st 2004


Now that it sounds funny I want to hear it.

December 31st 2004


Where was it that you people all heard Some Say The Devil is Dead?

December 31st 2004


...All things Irish eh? Well I dont swing that way, sorry

December 31st 2004


[QUOTE=Bartender]Where was it that you people all heard Some Say The Devil is Dead?[/QUOTE]

It's on their newest album Pagan.

December 31st 2004


Yeah, I know. I just meant why is it the one you've both heard of.

December 31st 2004


[QUOTE=Bartender]Yeah, I know. I just meant why is it the one you've both heard of.[/QUOTE]

Oh no, I mean thats just a funny song. I have their whole discography and they are a pretty cool band.

December 31st 2004


Oh, okay. I wonder where Per Ardua heard about it, then.

Per Ardua Ad Astra
December 31st 2004


A friend of mine has Pagan, good riffage is few and far between throughout the whole album. I haven't heard this though.

/jumps off conclusions.

January 1st 2005


Well I haven't heard Pagan, but if it's like Folklore I'd imagine it follows in the 50/50, folk/metal vein I mentioned. Lots of folk/metal bands seem to be mainly metal with a minority folk influence, and these guys aren't. It's not an extreme metal album, to be sure.

January 5th 2005


Dam.n you're an E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T reviewer!
I havent purchased a Cruachan album but during last summer I was obsessed with a couple of their songs, catchy as hell!

The Ashtray Girl
January 6th 2005


Any strange breed of Irish folk is all good in my book, I share your obsession of all things Irish (and I actually am slightly Irish! hurray!) and so I shall check these people out.

As always, wonderfully reviewed.

February 18th 2007


Album Rating: 2.0

Rocky Road To Dublin is the greatest song ever. It's my trolling IRL theme song.

February 18th 2007


This band is awesome.

March 31st 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

This album deserves much more attention :/

May 10th 2015


Album Rating: 3.5


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