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Renaissance Faire Metal! - 91%

JoeCapricorn, August 29th, 2006

I mean that title in a good way too!

What we have here is a sweet concoction of Celtic folk mixed with a little thrash metal, a little black metal, and a dash of heart! I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d expect when I found this at my friend’s shop at the flea market.

The album starts off with a solemn introduction courtesy of the uilleann pipes, before increasing the tempo to a faster, happier tune that reminds me of the Renaissance Faire. Then the power kicks in with Voice of the Morrigan’s catchy riffs, energetic flutes, and the sweet voice of Karen Gilligan. The Fianna is a slower tune, but still provokes a head bang before it fades out and allows A Druid’s Passing to take over my speakers. This song is another soft tune, but a beautiful song that wouldn’t be out of place sitting among my Celtic collection.

Is Fuair An Chroí is a weakspot of this album, and the first bump on the road. It’s okay for an indie-rock song, but at first it seems a bit out of place in a Celtic metal album. Midway through the song it gets a little better with the flutes and more of a heavier sound mixed with more folk instruments such as the bones. Cattle Raid Of Cooley (Táin Bó Cuailgne) is a track that makes up for the minor pitfall of the previous song. It’s an instrumental, and the guitars, bass and drums that form the body of heavy metal does not sound out of place at all with the folk instruments used.

The Middle Kingdom is a combination of folk music and black metal, with the light and gentle flutes dancing among the heavy guitars and the growls of John Clohessy. This track in particular reminds me of another band called Therion that combines a genre over a century old with heavy metal and does an excellent job doing it. Óró Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile is a faster thrashier song with a melodic sweet center that starts a steady build up of energy as it ends the song with Clohessy chanting the title.

Unstabled was another minor weakspot, with parts of the song with a seemingly reggae/ska style with folk metal mixed in like an out of place bonus track. Butterfly is the instrumental ending the album proper, and for such a great album the ending could’ve been better. It wasn’t bad at all, I just think it could’ve used some uilleann pipes to end it off. The bonus track To Hell Or To Connaught is a bit heavier, but it still retains some of the folk metal elements. I liked it, although it wasn’t anything memorable.

Highs: Celtica (Voice of the Morrigan), The Fianna.

Lows: Is Fuair An Chroí and Unstabled.

Overall, this album is excellent in terms of originality, complexity, and catchiness. It is not an album for those who just want to bang their head to death metal with brutal growls, so one must appreciate the genre of music outside of the metal realm that went into this album. Despite a rather noticeable lack of guitar solos, that is made up for the complexity and style of all the folk instruments that went into this creation.

Next time I go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, I can bring this disc along and play it on the way.

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.

This album is great! - 90%

Shadow0fDeath, July 8th, 2004

I heard mp3's from Cruachan recently and got hooked, so i checked out this album. The middle kingdom features celtic/folk type metal which is a great combination, especially when done as well as they had done on this release! I heard previously Cruachan had done black metal. Mainly noted on their first release. Though i could be wrong. I have not heard that release. If you're a fan of that album this will be a very huge twist for you.

In a very well done way Cruachan display the traditional celtic folk sound with the very often use of flute. I've heard some celtic folk and that flute sound reminds me of such. also the really cool acoustic sound, both this and the flute seem to dominate the sound of this cruachan vocals. Another thing that stands out is the female vocals, very powerful, remind me a lot of what i've heard from seraphim. Sometimes these are interrupted by the male vocalist who i do not like as much from this record and takes points from this album.

A lot of the songs are instrumentals, and usually it sounds pretty different so you won't have to expect and generic bullshit, especially this album.

Also this album has it's more heavy parts and more growled vocals so don't pass it off as soft bullshit. It does have it's more metal moments. Much like i'd hear from elvenking, especially the song "To Hell or to connaught" from Cruachan, a song where i find the male vocals to be more tollerable than on the other songs where they can be heard. Luckily they are smart enough to keep the male vocals to a minimum.

Overall the album is a very well put together album and another great band which combines celtic folk and metal elements together, which i've always seen as a fucking great mix together, and very creative. I really recommend people to check out this cruachan album.