Mael Mórdha | ‘Damned When Dead’
There has been an inexorably steady rise in Mael Mórdha’s fortunes since forming in 1999.
A few early years lingering in Demo Hell, with frontman Roibéard Ó Bogail playing live gigs behind a keyboard, they initially seemed destined to be a band that produced great demos, but paled in the live setting.
This perception was rudely cast aside (along with the onstage keyboard) when debut album ‘Cluain Tarbh’ was released in 2005, and each successive album being better, stronger and more mature than the previous, with their gigs and record labels getting bigger in turn.
Currently on Candlelight Records, their latest album ‘Doomed When Dead’ needed to be a bold statement of confident intent. And, as the band are wont to do, they’ve thrown convention to the wind and went for the traditionally unpopular option of writing a concept album.
The doom metal genre being unfashionable enough, Gaelic doom metal even more so, a little trepidation towards the idea of a full concept album is more than understandable.
What immediately reassures the listener is the cover art and chosen saga of the album. The cover art by Vasileious Zicos is nothing short of astounding, revealing the end of the concept beautifully by portraying Manannán tearing Diarmuid’s tombstone in two and declaring him to be “Putrid when living, damned when dead.”
As always with a Mael Mórdha album, there’s a heavy historical lesson contained within the lyrics. ‘Doomed When Dead’ deals with the results of the Papal bull of Laudabiliter issued in 1155 by Pope Adrian IV, the only English Pope in Christendom.
Granting the island of Ireland to the English, with the intent to reform the barbaric feuding Irish warlords, the album explains the results of Pope Adrian’s subjugation of the Irish, leading to battles, sieges, treachery and the eventual death of so many.
Opening with a very Bathory-style intro, ‘Laudabiliter’ immediately displays a marked step up in Roibéard’s clean vocals – they’re rousing and very much in the Viking style a band like Tyr would employ.
The use of tin whistle here blends in perfectly too, rising steadily from the music rather than piercing into the song, an unusual enough technique in folk metal.
‘King Of The English’ starts off in the now traditional mournful style of the band, quite melancholy, until the crushing guitars, toned to perfection, come blasting in with a tightly backed bassline really thudding out behind it all.
‘Dawning Of The Grey’ just has heaviness hanging out of it and it’s quite remarkable to hear – the music could almost be mistaken for an Amon Amarth song, with a great riff and a well thought out musical structure. There’s a meandering guitar breakdown midway through the song in which again that tone has to be mentioned – it’s exquisite.
‘All Éire Will Quake’ is the most obvious choice for a single, and is available on iTunes at the time of this review. It’s the track that has the most hooks, and features an actual chorus, rare enough on the album – but one that will be easily screamed along to at live shows.
The highlight of the album though is the rather excellent title track and album closer ‘Damned When Dead,’ an 8-minute incredibly poetic imagining of the funeral of Diarmuid and the very soil rejecting his buried body. It’s so very well paced; sorrowful and regretful at the start, eventually leading to the eternity of the tomb, a peace which is violently shattered as he is torn from the earth.
It’s easily the most vivid tale Mael Mórdha have ever told, and the well-paced progression of emotions is complemented perfectly by the mournful music, which frankly explodes as the cross is torn in two, and everything just works so damn well.
The growled outro is nothing short of visceral, Rob’s voice guttural, hateful and full of spite. As the guitars draw out their notes in a soaring style, the pounding drums relentlessly hammer away. This fades out into a spoken Latin quote from Laudabiliter itself, and the concept is tied up nicely.
Considering the excellence of previous album ‘Manannán,’ ‘Damned When Dead’ is surprisingly brilliant, and the concept works to perfection – nothing seems tacked on or filler, and each track complements the whole.
Indeed, it’s one of the few albums that would actually work really well in its entirety at a gig, and perhaps the band might take this into consideration – it’s a step in an unusual direction, but that’s par for the course with Mael Mórdha. And long may they keep succeeding by doing the unexpected.
As an addendum, there’s a fantastic easter egg on the last page of the CD booklet – the cover art is only half of the actual painting, but you’ll have to buy the album to find out what it is…
4.4 / 5 – Dónal McBrien ::: 13/08/13