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Album Of The Month November 2005
Mael Mordha (ROI) | ‘Cluain Tarbh’

So. Long heralded, and finally with us courtesy of one of this country’s precious few fully fledged label deals, the debut album from Dublin’s blue painted stalwarts has at last arrived.

The production, it must be said, gleams, and parts of this are just huge, in the chugging, crunching and thumping way that very few bands even strive for lately, let alone achieve.

In spite of this though, pertinent questions remain. Is this style of music even valid anymore, for starters?

Although sometimes appreciative, audiences across the world have largely looked down their nose at the Celticised metal format, and sometimes with good reason: while Waylander’s debut is often highly saught after, for example, their follow up sank without trace.

Cruachan, though not really a metal band anymore, may be big in Russia, but are still the object of some considerable derision elsewhere.

One is therefore forced to wonder how far the use of overt Celtic melodies within a metal format can actually work, and whether the entreprise really does more harm than good.

Our three most successful bands, remember, are unmistakably and inherently Irish, but never once adopt the jig or reel modes.

A pride of place therefore need not demand a musical mix that can all too quickly (and often rightly) be written off.

The reason Mael Mordha succeed within this fraught area is because of the quality of their metal.

Assured, confident and even strident, there are riffs in this album that simply lay waste.

Honed by a well tested live show that has consistently moved crowds to frenzy over the years (and recently moreso than ever), this material is not guesswork.

They know it works, and you can hear the ease, almost the swagger, with which they deliver it.

In spite of this, one large element still causes bafflement.

Rob’s vocals enter this cd in surprisingly poor fashion, using the first song as what appears to be a warm up for the rest of the album rather than a real vocal contribution per se.

One cannot shake this suspicion, if only because when he has sufficiently whetted his larynx, his bellowing work on every other song is stirring and evocative, redolent of the warlike bardic narrative that he is striving for here.

Metal is a great vehicle for story telling – see Bal Sagoth and any amount of others – and Rob has herein stamped his own distinct identity on the job.

Most of it is uncannily rousing. But why that awful first track? I still shudder to hear it, if only because his remainder is so comepletely cool.

That gripe aside, the music is at times scarily good.

‘The Man All Love To Hate’ is an assured display of dynamic and pace, culminating in a masterful sequence of runs, guitar duelling with keys and drums in fighting fashion.

‘I Am The Wench’s Bane’ shows sensible use of layered vocals, with its classically Bristish Doom sound giving something of a nice irony to its Celtic subject matter.

The irony ceases to matter however when listening to this feast of decade old soundings that were once the standards for all of us, replete with violins and hulking guitars in the style of you know who.

Excellent stuff. Classify it however you want, but the doom vibe running through each song on this cd is palpable.

It strikes me that many a lesser band across Europe at this moment in time is being feted more while achieving less, and it is to be hoped that a decent contribution from the label’s side can ensure that as many people as possible on the continent realise that this is the case.

If ever there was a case to be made for traditionally augmented Irish metal this is it: ballsy, mature, heavy and evocative, it avoids many of the genre’s pitfalls will capitalising on its (few) possibilities.

Not an easy task by any stretch of the immagination. Buy it.

4.4 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 21/11/05

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