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When the Celts Arise - 60%

Sean16, December 26th, 2009

Cruachan is an odd case. Almost gimmicky with its constant insistence on its Celtic/Irish origins – see the lengthy explanations about the historical background of the songs in the Pagan album for instance, or the cover of the album we’re dealing with now, overcharged with Celtic motives – while musically a fully serious, sober band. Odd is its reputation as well, as while it’s far from being unknown I've overall found few truly enthusiastic view on the matter; instead it’s usually described as a merely honest, when it’s not mediocre, folk metal act. This is debatable, as the guys happened to pull out a couple of more-than-solid releases, however listening to their debut one can’t help agreeing.

The sound is perhaps what’s the most embarrassing here. I mean, while Cruachan’s later efforts may be described as folk metal with black metal elements, Tuatha Na Gael is more in the lines of black metal with folk elements, somehow justifying a pretty crude production. Still crude shouldn’t necessarily imply it’s poor, weak. Every instrument, including the vocals, is buried into the same indifferent mud, making the whole album sound rather linear, even if a closer look at the songs would reveal them as different. Further, and that’s a flaw of every Cruachan release I’ve been aware of so far, the folk instruments (here mostly flutes) are mixed far higher and clearer than anything else, stealing over the forefront as soon as they appear. This isn’t much of an issue in the three purely instrumental interludes (I Am Tuan, Maeves March, Brian Boru), this is much more when they’re supposedly duetting with the guitars – the latter ending completely undistinguishable.

This being set aside the songs aren’t bad... but let’s admit the guys will do better. Granted, Cruachan has never been, and will probably never be a leading folk metal band, however with their aforementioned original Irish twist they found a small niche they at least have no real equivalent in. This very album, though, doesn’t sound extremely different from any of its black/folk metal counterparts. Getting rid of the folk melodies, which once again aren’t a majority here, the remaining riffs don’t sound particularly imaginative. Blasbeats are to be found where you expect them to be. At that time Keith O’Fathaigh was the band’s sole vocalist, and though I wouldn’t say female vocals are indispensable to Cruachan, on the later albums they’ll nonetheless add an extra variety which is severely lacking here. Not that Mr O’Fataigh is a bad vocalist, but his harsh voice sounds, like all the rest, a tad too bland, all the more the production is far from helping. If there’s a scarce amount of clean vocals on a couple of tracks, those sound more ridicule than anything else. And, c’mon, lyrics about Tolkien on an album proudly dedicated to the first masters of Europe, the Celts?

Of course Tuatha Na Gael has its moments. If To Invoke the Horned God may sound goofy to some with its frantic flute leitmotiv, it still has to be acknowledged as probably the most original track – and a fun one, no doubt. In a more melancholic vein the heavily folk-influenced middle part of the preceding Táin Bó Cuailgne is of genuine beauty as well. Or, more generally, the folk parts all look far more accomplished, thoughtful, emotional than the metal ones, which are overall pretty lacklustre (Cuchulainn, perhaps the most black metal-oriented track, is also the least interesting). That’s always been Cruachan’s first weakness, might add some. Perhaps, but this has never been as obvious as on their debut album.

Highlights: Táin Bó Cuailgne, To Invoke the Horned God