Review Summary: A clear lack of originality does not stop Blood on the Black Robe from being Cruachan's best and most focused effort to date.
In a genre that is as narrow-minded as folk metal, it's pretty difficult to stand out these days without being too experimental or genre-breaking. The fundaments of the genre have been treaded so many times that one may consider any new 'classic' folk metal records to be, at best, a rehash of what has already been done before. However, a few bands like Moonsorrow and Primordial have proven to be capable of creating something that may not be completely original but still manages to stand out from the crowd. The Irish celtic metal band Cruachan's newest effort, Blood on the Black Robe
bears quite a resemblance with the aforementioned bands, especially Moonsorrow. Both bands have been searching for a way to expand their sound where possible without stepping on genre boundaries. The only way for them to keep their sound fresh was to expand their songwriting. However, Moonsorrow's latest offering has shown that their formula indeed does have its limitations and with Blood on the Black Robe
, Cruachan also find themselves struggling not to tread the same boundaries that kept the genre from truly expanding its core sound for so long.
The fact that the album is clearly lacking in the originality department does not mean that there's not some great songwriting to be found on here. The intro on the fifth track, 'A Bean Sidhe' shows that Cruachan know very well how to build up a song without using too much fancy instumentation. A simple flute tone, an accoustic guitar or a soft violin playing in the background are simple but effective ways of setting the tone and creating a smooth atmosphere. Through the scarce use of folk elements the music gains a slightly lighter tone and becomes more enjoyable overall. Of course, Cruachan still draws a lot of their sound from the black metal scene, which is very apparent in tracks such as 'Primeval Odium' and the title track which turn out to be quite aggressive, thanks to Keith Fay's relentless vocal performance. His raw, raspy vocals add an welcome extra layer to the songs. The title track is also a good example of Cruachan's ability to create a few soothing transitions in their songs, which serve as a resting point in between Fay's vocal assaults. In 'Primeval Odium', the drums take on the leading role with amazing speed and efficiency, creating a rather pressing atmosphere. Strangely, this works very well in conjunction with the addition of some melodic violin playing, even when the focus of the song shifts back to the haunting guitars. Sonically, Blood on the Black Robe
could be considered a return to their past sound on Folklore
, but with some vast improvements along the line, mainly in the songwriting department.
When talking about songwriting you can't get around the lyrics, which are one of the key parts of Cruachan's image as a celtic metal band. Consequently, their lyrics are filled with a sense of pride towards the Irish culture, such as the anthemic 'I Am Warrior' and of their struggle to combat the rise of Christianity, such as in the furious 'Thy Kingdom Come'. Although they are meant to describe events that happened long ago, their anti-Christian lyrics turn out to be quite accurate when applied to the state of the Christian religion today. 'The Voyage of Bran' is a more typical folk metal song, not only lyrically, but also from a pure songwriting perspective. As a tale about the brave man Bran, it speaks about wondrous journeys into the wild, beautiful landscapes and heroic deeds, accompanied by some very well implemented female vocals. It is a shame these are used so scarcely because main vocalist Keith Fay's vocals can get a bit tiring sometimes.
At any rate, Blood on the Black Robe
is yet another solid release from this Irish collective which is sure to stir some ground in the celtic metal subgenre. It may not be that original, but the overall improvements in the songwriting department are great enough to cover up that minor flaw. If you enjoy folk metal that packs a punch, then you will surely enjoy this.
Holy man take a look at the world
See the terror that we live with every day
How can you quote from your filthy bible
You're a waste of flesh and bone I say!
I laugh when I see your waning flock
Foolish people led by foolish lies
Constantine did not believe
Now he smiles as your religion dies