For a decade now, Mael Mordha have been earning their way onto bigger and better bills. They’re recognised and respected throughout Europe. As such they could be our next brightest hope after Primordial at a band who’ll gain the ear of the underground whole.
The last five or six years in particular have seen them getting vastly more mature in their music writing, and there’s no doubt about it – Manannán is easily the best record of their career.
There are several reasons for that. Their touring and guitarist Gerry’s subbing experience has reaped massive rewards, which you can hear right from the start of the album. Another reason though is the sound. The quality and togetherness of the band’s tone on this album is incredible, and it’s about more than whatever equipment they’re using. It’s about the way they’re playing.
Part of the reason it’s such a good album is because of the sticking power of the songs. They benefit from being knowable without being predictable – an important, satisfying distinction. You know where the songs are going, and they do it. It’s the quality of the execution that’s important, and they deliver.
The first three tracks are brilliant examples of all the above. They’re long, in some cases sprawling. It’s so hard not to hark to Primordial, because all the key elements are there: the deep glug of the toms, the soily guitar tone… and much of the musical approach.
There are several innovations that lift this album and show the band are moving on. The horns on the opening track sound almost Tolkien-esque. The vocal layering and build during ‘Our Ancestors Dwell Here’ is superb. ‘The Doom Of The Races Of Eire’ has the kind of rhythm that would send a festival tent into undulations.
One major factor however just prevents this album from being classed as essential. There’s still a lot of work to be done on Rob’s vocals – they’re sharp almost by default, which coupled with the equally sharp whistle just sounds disappointing. The Kerrang! review noted that the vocals were “tossing somewhat disparately afloat the instrumental might”. Which is basically polite and somewhat flowery code for ‘need a bit more work’.
Rob’s bellowing is fantastic. The bottom line is that the clean sung parts need more attention to tuning.
This factor is far from a passion killer, as the music easily supports them. Further, their rawness will be seen by many as a mark of authenticity. It’s folk metal, and our ancestors never went to singing school. They were busy slaughtering animals to make valuable winter pelts, and that’s what’s the point here.
It’s a great album, mature in its approach. It’s on absolutely the right and dignified side of the Celticised metal line – a thin one, fraught with difficultly. Mael Mordha, like their elders, do it with some considerable refinement and gravitas. The thickness, heaviness and intensity of the tone here make it clear that it’s a serious contender for a top folk/pagan metal album within it’s genre.
Mael Mordha are maturing brilliantly. I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t in some of the best of lists at the year’s end. It’s right up there.
4.1 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 20/06/10