Frankly, half of Cruachan’s stuff is great while the other is risible. It’s a division that their albums have never really succeeded in overcoming. With each atmospheric pass or evocative phrase there’s an equal and opposite riff plundering some ham traditional motif.
Heavy metal and fiddle de dee – the twain were never really supposed to meet. Hence, it frequently sounds shit. But it seems that with greater success abroad than in their homeland, Cruachan have learned to play to their strengths.
With a legion of mysterious and rarely seen fans still clutching ‘Thuatha Na Gael’ close to their hearts and wishing the band would just return to the predominantly aggressive mode that characterised it, they’ve at last seen sense and done so. Because with a rejuvinated lineup and attitude, this is the most competent, interesting and ‘normal’ album Cruachan have done since the debut. And it’s all the better for it.
That is not to say that it is entirely good. It is, mostly. It’s just that they insist on ruining these brilliant advances with passages of such ineffable terribleness that at this stage in the game it’s getting really, really hard to forgive them for it.
Take the opening track. It’s something of a gem, and has an entry so riping that it makes you wonder whether the right cd came out of the packet. But it’s them alright, with a tearing pace and gnashing vocals. Eureka.
It couldn’t last though, and no sooner have they been reborn when a riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a circus makes its excerable presence felt. Though ruinous, thankfully these are in the minority, and ‘The Brown Bull Of Cooley’ follows as a swift corrective. With an attack that is sharp, incisive and crunching, it’s all the things that Cruachan probably resigned themselves to never being. Surprisingly, when they put their mind to it, as they quite clearly have, they’re pretty good at it.
None of it is helped by Karen Gilligan’s vocals though: there’s no delicacy or grace in them at all, and they contribute little. They’re sung too low for her range, and give her no opportunity at all to add sheen to the music.
Across the board however they’ve picked up the pace, increased the presence of the guitars, and it’s a vast improvement on alot of what they’ve done in the last five years. But the overbearing attempt to delineate the standard Irish cultural tales is strangling.
Their ‘Coffin Ships’ pales in comparison to Primordial’s interpretation of the same theme, and the desperate cloying to get a piece of the same kudos is as clear as day. Making your culture the unifying theme of your metallic output isnt a problem. Hearing ‘Star Of The County Down’ and ‘The Wild Rover’ with heavy metal guitars however, is.
‘Teir Abhaile Riu’ goes a long way to righting wrongs, opening with a crisp blast and culminating in a romp that justifies their often dubious continuing relevance to the folk metal scene. It’s a great track, and one that will go down a storm.
‘Cuchullainn’, ‘Wolfe Tone’, ‘Darmuid and Grainne’ though… what next? It’s questionable just how much more of this they can wring without a descent into complete self parody. Still, you can ponder that one over the album. Which is, mercifully, quite listenable.
3.2 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 04/02/07