Originally written by Erik Thomas
I just don’t know what to make out of Ireland’s Cruachan. With their gritty but promising 1995 debut album, Tuatha Na Gael, they seemed poised to open up a new breed of Celtic/Folk black metal that had more edge than Skyclad but didn’t come across as hokey and cheesy as say Finntroll or Bal-Sagoth. Instead, with an ever revolving line up and label issues, a follow-up didn’t come until 2000 (The Middle Kingdom), and saw the band test a more rock based commercial sound that was no longer rooted in black metal. The same could be said for 2002’s disappointing Folklore, which was even more commercial and saw the band almost untraceable to their early days. So when I heard this album would be more of a return to their roots, I was looking forward to a harsher sound. While partially true, Cruachan’s folk sound is intact and their harsher past raises its head for parts of this hodge-podge album, but the fact is Cruachan remain annoyingly inconsistent and directionless.
Karen Gilligan remains the primary vocalist with Keith Fay providing the occasional blackened rasp, but that only serves as a desperate hint at the band’s black roots, and lure back part of the fan base they lost with their second album and beyond. There’s still plenty of ethnic instruments contained in their sound such as violins, Irish flutes, tin whistles, mandolins and such, but they only serve as adding a forced Irish flair to some pretty lifeless metal that can’t decide what genre it is. Take for example opener “Michael Collins”; it has some promise of a blackened, folk rocker more akin to the material found on Tuatha Na Gael, as sees Fay with an extended vocal effort, and the title track opens with a decent black metal flourish, but from there, the album flip flops between extended folk interludes and a flat, pseudo rock/metal amalgamation that’s simply unfocussed.
Although “The Gael” includes a familiar (from the movie “Last of the Mohicans”) traditional violin piece, that should, for me make any album brilliant, it’s only a brief moment of brilliance on another wise futile comeback effort, and ends up being backed by some pretty sloppy metal musings, it doesn’t even compare to Thy Disease’s take on a classic piece of music. Also, the fact remains, the vocal combo of Gilligan and Fay is just truthfully, pretty dire, Gilligan just isn’t very personable and Fay, while his rasp is acceptable, simply cannot sing clean passages, as heard on the annoyingly bouncy rocker “Ard Rí Na Heireann.”
Now, I love folk interludes and ethnic instrumentation, but for some odd reason “The March to Cluain Tairbh” is grating rather than homage to bygone times-surely the Celts could play in key? “Viking Slayer” starts like a rudimentary, synth laced goth metal act, and tries to inject some black metal savagery, but due to a flat production and a strange desire to also mix a sort of twitchy Irish jig to the mix, ends up as a complete mess of a song that typifies Cruachan’s free fall from the brink of metal stardom.
I won’t even bother trying to dissimulate Cruachan’s Skyclad obsessive jaunts into violin laced rock/thrash (“1014 AD”), metal takes on traditional Irish pieces (“Some Say the Devil is Dead”), flat out outlandishly bad, pop folk metal (“Summoning of the Sídhe”) or even dirgey (and off key) folk hymnals (“Lament for the Wild Geese”). If only the band could consistently write songs as good as epic album closer “The Fall fo Gondolin”, they might warrant further interest, but as of this album, I’m officially giving up on Cruachan.
I really, really want to like Cruachan as they in theory, convey a style I should love, but when the end result is this poorly rendered (you’d think Cruachan would be able to have a decent production by now to at least bolster their sound somewhat), muddled and frankly badly played, I’m more than disappointed at a band that so badly want to supplant the waning Skyclad (and lets be honest since Walkyier left, Skyclad have slipped also), so the throne for folky thrash metal is readily available, but Cruachan seem mired in an infuriating impasse of creative lethargy that relies on a folk gimmick rather than decent actual songs.
A cryin’ shame boyo.