Cruachan – Blood on the Black Robe

Posted on March 20, 2011

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Candlelight

4/19/11

 

If heavy metal existed in Cú Chulainn’s time, Cruachan would be the band blaring triumphantly during the mythical hero’s last battle. Mortally wounded by the third of Lugaid’s magical spears, the mighty warrior lashed himself to a massive stone with his own intestines so that he could die on his feet. It wasn’t until a raven (the goddess of fate, called the Morrigan) landed on his lifeless body that his slayer decided it was safe to approach the fallen legend.

I know this story because I happened to take a course on Celtic folklore in my last year at college, but Cruachan’s albums are so replete with references to the mythology of its homeland of Ireland that you could listen to a few choice cuts and essentially glean the same information. A record that can make you simultaneously bang your head and learn something is special indeed, and this quintet’s sixth album of odes to the tales of centuries past will appeal to those who prefer their folk metal to score epic battles as opposed to raucous beer halls. Alright, so “The Voyage of Bran” opens with a jaunty flute jig, but as its title suggests Blood on the Black Robe is a pretty damn sincere affair. As a direct contrast to the party anthems of a few other countries’ submissions into the genre (*ahem*, Finland), indigenous instruments are tastefully incorporated, exhibiting balance between the band’s two disparate identities.

In less capable hands, the transition from martial percussion and strings to thrash riffing on first song proper “I Am Warrior” would be jarring instead of triumphant, but Cruachan pour on the gravitas by mirroring the distorted riffs with the violin’s dramatic melody. The same goes for the cinematic first half of “An Bean Sidhe,” during which former vocalist Karen Gilligan reprises her role as the band’s female lead, her voice soaring over mournful strings and woodwind before an army of double bass stampedes across the misty battlefield while frontman Keith O’Fathaigh’s razor sharp tremolo and gleaming shriek leave the moors strewn with the blood and limbs of fallen adversaries. If those battle hymns don’t have you reaching for something pointy and shiny (paperclips, kitchen knives, letter openers), the war chants echoing across straightforward thrasher “The Column” will. “To arms, to arms / Fight the foreign threat” shouts O’Fathaigh over open-chord chugging. “Blood, blood / Spill our Irish blood / Honor, honor / For freedom we fight,” he continues as Colin Purcell hammers out unspeakable Gaelic violence on his kit. “Pagan Hate”’s gnashing black metal lays a bloodthirsty veneer over the band and may turn away all but the most hearty folk metal warriors, so just remember that everyone’s Irish when they listen to Cruachan.

 

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