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A mess by a good band. - 15%

ExNoctemNacimur, November 28th, 2012

Cruachan is, in my opinion, a great band. They don't show it here! This album, Pagan, is probably their weakest efforts. That's disappointing, especially compared to Tuatha Na Gael and The Middle Kingdom.

The problem is not in the music itself. A lot of the tracks, individually, are very good or interesting. Pagan, the title track, is phenomenal and one of the songs that got me into metal music in the first place. However, they songs do not gel together. You may think that having fiddles mixed with traditional heavy metal would sound interesting, which to a certain extent it is, but the band do not pull it off very well.

There's a lot of chugging and palm muting on the guitars with a vocalist trying to sounds aggressive (but failing miserably at it, the female vocals sound a lot better on other Cruachan albums) with pipes and fiddles - it may just be me not being used to such music, but it just sounds stupid. These folk elements are either really prominent, such as in 1014 AD, or really weak as in Ard Ri Na Heirann - you can barely even hear them. There's no middle ground at all. In addition to this, there are 2 pure folk songs, 2 folky black metal songs and a lament. They're just scattered throughout the album with no rhyme or reason involved. The album, as a result, is incoherent and makes very little sense. Cruachan, on this album, seemed to not have had their mind made up on what kind of music they wanted to produce and instead they did a bit of everything. Which really is a shame, because other bands such as Arkona or Eluveitie that were probably inspired by this band pull off the folk metal a lot better.

Is this album total rubbish? No, because there are a few standout tracks - Pagan, the title song, springs immediately to my mind. This is when the clouds part, dolphins leap out of the water, an angel gets its wings and a choir of young boys appear from the heavens. It's fantastic - it starts out with a Gregorian chant before breaking into a fantastic riff in 12/8 time which is unusual for a song in a pop/rock album. The female vocals are also spot on - it's enchanting, just as it should be. The band's rendition of the Lord's Prayer is great as well. For example, the first line of the prayer is: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be our name". It was replaced with "Our Father who art in heaven, corruption be your name". It's imaginative and provides a great break. The other track is The Fall of Gondolin, which is in many respects similar to Pagan, but not as interesting musically and if you've read Tolkien's Silmarillion you'll know the premise of the lyrics. It is, however, supported by great folk instrumentation from the fiddles and pipes. Unfortunately, these two tracks appear in the beginning and in the end. It's almost as if the band wanted you to listen to the pile of crap between the two good tracks. This is probably the only band that I know of that has managed to make me hate good tracks.

So I've managed to turn the only good point about the entire album into a bad one. My advice? Avoid this album. If someone gives it t you as a present, slap them. If you have to accept it, ask for the receipt and exchange it for anything else the band has produced. But photocopy the booklet, it's quite nice.

A bit rough, but some gems in here - 60%

kapitankraut, September 16th, 2008

Cruachan's "Pagan" is a very strange beast indeed. Where most folk metal albums consciously choose to combine folk music with one specific kind of metal, whether black (almost everybody), melodic death (Eluveitie) or power (Elvenking and others), this Irish outfit seems not to have decided what style of metal they like best, preferring instead to do everything they feel up to.

Thus, we have some impressive black metal vocals on tracks like "Michael Collins" and "Pagan" sharing the same CD with a track like "The Gael", which features female vocals sounding almost like a rather weak imitation of those female-fronted bands we all know and either love or hate. There's even a traditional-sounding instrumental or three and a metalised drinking song, both of which are tropes of viking metal.

With all of these diverse influences thrown in together, it's perhaps inevitable that some of the album at least will sound very half-baked, and this is the case here. Unfortunately, one of the half-baked sections is the opening track, which is a remarkably uninspired retelling of the political career of Irish nationalist Michael Collins. Most of the lyric sets him up as the heroic figure most Irish people revere him as, before the final lines feature the stunningly banal comments that "Many people did not agree with him" and "He gave his best, what more could he do?" These are hardly the final lines that a folk metal song extolling a hero should conclude on - particularly as Collins was killed by a fellow Irishman. These are, frankly, lyrics that any school-aged history student would be embarrassed to write.

Ironically, there's also a retelling of the legend of Brian Boru, who is given the full epic-heroic treatment and ends up sounding a lot more interesting.

Another track which seems to suffer from a shortage of inspiration is "A Thousand Years", which is largely an instrumental disguised as a song with female vocals. The female vocals are sung over backing which veers from riffing guitars to tinkling keyboards with little or no warning. This seems to be a result of a lack of ideas, rather than anything else.

There's also an over-reliance on instrumentals. Admittedly, the band performs these very well and on traditional instruments, but sticking two of them one after the other near the end of the album feels like a mistake.

When we look beyond the somewhat ungainly combination of influences, and the rather odd combination of vocals presented (they do fit together after a fashion, just not obviously so), what are we left with? As with a great many folk-metal albums, the melodies remain the key, and these are incessantly catchy. Indeed, in between the first time I listened to this album (and didn't much like it) and the second, it was my memory of the melodies that made me curious enough to see if I'd misjudged the album.

Overall, this is a remarkably uneven effort from a band that could very easily achieve a lot more with the skills that it has to play with. Personally, I rather enjoy it, but I'm not sure that listeners just getting into folk metal, for example, would be as keen.

Erin (almost) rules! - 78%

Sean16, April 14th, 2007

Most of you fellow-metalheads must be familiar with the following scene. Talking to your buddy about random metal bands, suddenly you happen to evoke the name of Skyclad, and hear a comment like “Skyclad? They ain’t bad... but you know, Cruachan are way better!”. Now ashamed of your ignorance you seek for an album from the aforementioned band... only to find it has little to do with Skyclad, apart from the fact both acts mix metal with Celtic elements; a characteristic they’re only sharing with a good hundred of other bands. Otherwise while the British band leans toward traditional metal, being the emanation of a former NWOBHM act, the Irish one in its heaviest moments shows several black metal elements, including screaming vocals and blastbeats. Not to say Pagan is a bad album. Who cares if it doesn’t sound like Skyclad: given Skyclad already exists we don’t need another one.

So be it. Cruachan is an Irish band, and proud to be so, what may constitute their main charm and strength. While there’s still room for improvement, Pagan undoubtedly exhibits a strong personality. Lyrics exclusively deal with Irish history (“genuine” history as well as legendary), with the exception of the closing track, apparently an older Cruachan song with Tolkien-inspired lyrics. Irish folklore is one of the richest in Europe, so why bothering with sub-par Tolkien themes?

Folk melodies which are abundantly scattered over the whole record sound very Irish as well, almost too Irish to be true... Indeed, not less than four instrumental tracks, three of them being devoid of any metal element, serve to strengthen the ambiance with their flourish of bagpipes, flutes and fiddles. Let’s especially mention Summoning of the Sidhe and its three minutes of haunting flute: genuine beauty!

People familiar with other folk metal acts may point out similarities with Subway to Sally’s Irish-sounding debut as far as the folk parts are concerned (the metal parts showing nothing in common though). The fiddle part in 1014 AD for instance is identical to the violin solo of Barleycorn, not a single note is missing, suggesting the same traditional source. For a far more unexpected comparison though, Pagan also reminds me of Galadriel’s Empire of Emptiness. A doom band, what the fuck? The sound, of course. Singers from both bands sound nearly identical, be it the growling male vocalist or the chanting female singer. The guitar sound is also very similar (If you’re familiar with Empire of Emptiness, listen here to A Thousand Years: isn’t the beginning furiously Galadriel-sounding?) Most important, the production is equally poor on both albums. Drums are so muffled down they seem to come from some remote shore, vocals often sound awkward and the bass is forever lost. Actually, what strikes first is the huge difference in the recording treatment of the “folk” and “metal” instruments. Pipes, flutes and the likes are recorded loud and clear while the guitars, drums and vocals sound misty and iffy. Thus as soon as the traditional instruments enter the rest is relegated in the background, what is a tad frustrating as you’re usually listening to folk metal to hear the “folk” and the “metal” altogether!

This weak production doesn’t deserve the band, as it may turn away several listeners although the songwriting would deserve some attention. There might be no overwhelming masterpiece here but there is no weak song either, and while every track is made from the same wood it doesn’t hinder the band from a certain variety. The title track for instance is altogether highly black-metal coloured, majestic and melodic, and shows a sumptuous flute-driven middle part; on the other hand Viking Slayer, where the emphasis is put on guitar riffs, leans more towards traditional metal. The Gael begins like an eerie ballad, driven by acoustic guitars and female vocals, before speeding up a bit when the fiddle enters, while Erinsong is a light mid-tempo march, equally devoid of male vocals. Further pointing out the particularities of each of the thirteen songs would be pointless, those quick examples only serving to show the creative richness of this release. A release whose worst track isn’t certainly this exhilarating pub song:

Some say the devil is dead, the devil is dead, the devil is dead
Some say the devil is dead, and buried in Killarney
More say he rose again, more say he rose again
More say he rose again and joined the British Army!

...To serve cold and enjoy with a pint of Guinness, of course.

Highlights: Pagan, The Gael, Viking Slayer, Some Say the Devil Is Dead...

"Nothing can outrun a grrrrreased up scotsmen" - 60%

Symphony_Of_Terror, February 13th, 2005

Cruachan is one of the few Irish/Celtic folk metal bands today with good production that can actually produce good folk must fused with metal elements. They are one of the few good Irish/Celtic folk metal bands that exist at all as a matter of fact. One of the previous efforts from the band The Middle Kingdom is filled with great metal moments that at times (more often than not) overshadowed the folk moments. By the time Pagan was ready to be listened to, the band seemed to have weakened their metal, but strengthened their folk. While heavy metal fans may find no problem with the cliché metal rhythm’s and the generic riffs, fans of more complex or black/folk metal may find the metal moments way to simple and boring on this release. One thing can not be denied, and that is that with this release Cruachan can deliver some memorable and at times amazing folk music. Another actuality that is undeniable is that Cruachan can deliver some forgettable and at times horrible metal.

What this album has to offer is great music generated by more “classical” folk instruments. About once per song a folk “solo” of sorts ranges from a sense of rhythm and spirit to some that take on a serious melancholy tone. That is to say on songs like Michael Collins there is a very catchy pipe solo that caries on for over a minute using various repetitions to create a structure while also changing every few cycles of repeated melodies to keep the pipe segment interesting. 1000 Years uses the same pipe instrument and continues what was presented in Michael Collins to a less enjoyable extent mainly because the pipe segment is not as fast and the variations are not as well done. Ard Ri Na Heirann comes off as more traditional sounding folk towards the latter half of the song, using a choppy repetitious flute, it almost sounds like a flute version of Iron Maiden’s Mother Russian to make a quasi decent comparison. Lament For The Wild Geese begins with a nice isolated Bagpipe solo that is reminiscent of music from Braveheart (or for Star Trek Fans something Scotty would play in TOS). It is very pretty and softly played. The Gael uses two instruments, a violin and pipe, playing together to create one of the most memorable moments on the album, a catchy tempo changing folk melody which does nicely to work with the metal instruments being played as an undertone. What really makes a folk metal album great is not the ability to play folk instruments in a way that renders them enjoyable, that would make this album a great folk album. What would make it a great folk metal album is the ability to lace guitars with folk melodies, or vice versa lace folk melodies with metal instruments (if that’s possible).

Where Pagan finds itself doing this best is Some Say The Devil Is Dead. The song is Keith Fay singing like a traditional Irish man. Fast and abrupt in a heavily accented voice. The lyrics are delivered in fast repetitions vocal style that increases in intensity and tone as the line of lyric progresses. The vocals are so well done that they take on the feel of an actual folk instrument. Being sung with such volume and power (often compounded upon each other to generate a chorus effect) allows these vocals to make the need for other folk instruments unnecessary while they are sung. They work very well with the drum beat and main guitar riff and do not overshadow them or get overpowered by them, which doesn’t occur often as I would like it to in other songs.

Pagan is plagued with a problem which occurs often, almost to the point of once per song. The band seems to have trouble working guitars into folk instruments. What is the case most of the time is either a very boring or generic guitar riff and some weak (weak in the sense that it does not have the same volume or presence in the song as the guitar, not weak as in bad sounding) folk music that can’t compete with the over present guitar. Although these moments occur almost once per song and can last for minutes (a few times, not to often, usually under a minute) they are not present through out the entire song. A fine example of this would be on Erinsong. The song starts out and ends with boring ballad style guitar work and riffs. In the middle of the song some very beautiful and memorable piano playing is inserted (not really folk music, but classical none the less, something folk can be) which sounds a bit like the piano music in Chrono Cross, that part where you infiltrate the royal manor. Regardless if you got that comparison the piano segment being showcased works well with the guitar and drums, but that is the only part of the song which the non metal music works with the song. Such is the case on many songs of Pagan.

Another small and not to bad problem for Cruachan doesn’t do this as badly as other folk metal acts is play metal, then folk, then metal, not all at once as it should. Pagan features equally moments of folk metal that works well and moments where the song is metal then folk then metal again (repeat as many time as you would like so that each song is matched descriptively). This is not such a huge problem on Pagan for it doesn’t happen as much as I have heard it happen on other folk metal albums from other bands, but that is using a precept to verify this statement. It really shouldn’t happen at all.

Other small problems which were a hindrance to this albums path to greatness were the female vocals, songs which tried to be black or death metal but failed, and certain pointless songs. The female vocals were more often than not boring and almost monotonous. Karan Gilligan made many quality metal riffs (also many horrible metal riffs) almost sounds like alt rock riffs with her monotonous voice and slower style of singing. Kind of how Doro is hard rock/metal. The vocals did this, not the guitar work and other instruments. Some songs try to play blackened death metal like the title track. It starts off with a somewhat decent riff but fails to deliver anything memorable, the vocals are to high pitched making them almost sound like Gothenburg vocals. Annoyingly the female vocals feel the need to repeat what all the harsh vocals say, making the song longer and more repetitious than it needs to be, thankfully the song ends well with good folk music. Towards the end of the album a pointless song on the album breaks the flow Pagan was going for, that is the song Summoning Of The Sidhe. Summoning Of The Sidhe is a slow moving and forgettable song using various folk instruments (no metal ones). Fortunately it comes at the end of the album and doesn’t break the flow thanks to its track placing. Fun Fact, Summoning Of The Sidhe sounds like it was stolen from that PS2 rpg Shadow Hearts.

Pagan would be a great folk metal album if it were not for these shortcomings. It certainly features great folk moments, it also features some good metal moments. But with the series of small to large problems it is very hard to play this album all the way through. In fact I had to skip tracks every time I listened to it. Knowing what I know now I would still buy this album for what great moments it has. Michael Collins and Some Say The Devil Is Dead are some of my favorite songs now. This underappreciated band may have released an album with Pagan that alienated some fans who have a similar mindset to this review. But it may also create many new fans despite its flaws because it does play some good folk, metal, and folk metal at times that can last long enough to make a song good, if not great. Heavy metal and power metal fans I believe will eat this up, death and black metal fans may be turned off because of the bad black/death metal attempts on this album. With all said, Pagan becomes an album whose memorable moments will keep you putting it back in your player every few months or so, then shelving it again once you hear the forgettable moments again. The balance of good to bad moments is not entirely equal, more enjoyable moments find themselves present more often generating an above average album but below good album (not overall though, as in everything is above average and below good, just moments which are bad or good).