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Want me to use my CLAMPS BOSS? This album is good. - 90%

Symphony_Of_Terror, December 20th, 2004

With a metal scene plagued with bands taking their style from a popularized standard of music that was introduced ten years ago we have Cruachan to thank for making something Different. Cruachan are a band on the rise from Ireland in the folk metal scene. They are not your typical folk metal band in the sense of Finntroll or In Extremo, Cruachan create their own style of unique folk metal with a wide array of instruments. The band separates themselves from the rest of the folk metal acts by focusing more on the folk elements of their songs and having a heavily themed/styled traditional Irish/Celtic sound.

The Middle Kingdom doesn’t have much that is left out. A Celtic Mourning features traditional bagpipes being played as an intro that range from slow and flowing like those in Braveheart, to a down right Irish/Celtic jig that will make you want to dance. Celtica (Voice Of The Morrigan) features what most metal fans will be looking for in this album, the fusion of metal and folk music seamlessly. The sliding keyboards in the song don’t represent the traditional Celtic style of instruments, but they accent the crunchy In Extremo style guitars perfectly. The vocals are that of a soft spoken female singing/talking in short choppy bursts that match a background flute. Celtica also features soft female hymns over atmospheric keyboards that lead perfectly into the fast paced ending (which is power metal inspired) consisting of a guitar playing in harmony with a flute that provide assistance to the chanted/sung soft female vocals via Karen Gilligan. While Celtica (Voice Of The Morrigan) is one of the more metal oriented songs on the album, other songs have much more to offer. Ballads like The Fianna offer a great fusion of metal style music combined with folk instruments like the flute and mandolin that come together seamlessly. Another unique song is The Butterfly, a purely instrumental song that focuses on the flow and placement of the instruments. Mainly being carried by a mandolin, the flute adds back up harmony while the drums and crunchy style guitar add texture, a novelty track but still enjoyable.

There are not many short comings on The Middle Kingdom. At times certain songs like Cattle A Druids Passing became a bit boring because they only play one or two instruments at a time making them slow moving songs that take to long to progress. Cattle Raid Of Cooley (Táin Bó Cuailgne) has a very boring drum segment that breaks the flow and intensity of the song. In the beginning of Is Fuair An Chroí Karen Gilligan’s vocals are done in a boring Jim Morrison rock style that are depressed and down, not to much musicianship like the rest of her vocals on the album. The song is saved though with Cruachan’s perfect fusion of folk and metal. What would have made Unstabled (Steeds Of Macha) and the bonus track To Hell Or To
Connaught perfect would be the absence of male vocals, or male vocals that were more heavily accented (they end up sounding like the boring male vocals on Nightwish‘s album Angels Fall First). Other than these few and minor moments that are sub par but usually followed by good folk metal to redeem the songs, the album is top notch.

The Middle Kingdom delivers its own style Irish/Celtic folk metal. Not playing to the likes of Folk Metal acts like In Extremo and Finntroll, nor cramming flowery keyboards into their music like Crapsody, The Middle Kingdom is unique and very well balanced. There are not to many bands out their doing this particular style of folk metal, which makes Cruachan the ever more rewarding discovered Gem. This album will not appeal to metal fans who can not tolerate softer moments in their music. Purchase or listen to The Middle Kingdom for an unique and rewarding folk metal experience.