Cruachan - The morrigan's call 3/5
2. The brown bull of cooley
3. Coffin ships
4. The great hunger
5. The old woman in the woods
7. The morrigan's call
8. Teir abhaile riu
9. Wolfe tone
10. The very wild rover
12. Diarmuid and grainne
I'll have to confess before writing this review that Cruachan are an almost completely unknown entity to me. Having never heard a note of music by the band until this CD, 'The morrigan's call', I have no basis for comparison with any of the band's previous work, be it either in their earlier black metal-inspired days or the more melodic offerings of recent years, so the CD will be looked at entirely on its own merits.
Hailing from Ireland and basing most of their lyrics on folk stories and mythology, it seems logical to expect melancholy to be the prime focus of the music and lyrics. And while this is the case some of the time, most notably in 2 of the CDs standout tracks "The great hunger" and the gloomy "Ungoliant", more upbeat themes are to be found as well, and unfortunately aren't an entirely welcome addition. Most of the vocals are now handled by Karen Gilligan, (with founder member and multi-instrumentalist Keith Fay occasionally chipping in with his black metal shriek and more sombre clean vocals), and while she is a competent singer, her sweet voice is a little bit samey to be the main focus on a metal CD.
The unexpected manoeuvre of forgoing Celtic sounds on occasion for full-blown Renaissance-faire music ends with something I've simply never heard the likes of before on a metal CD and it has to be said that it generally doesn't work. Opening track "Shelob" has the CD stumbling out of the traps as it varies with breakneck suddenness from a competent black metal song to a piece completely ridiculous in its over the top jauntiness. The best way to describe it as if Blackmore's Night had suddenly crashed the party in the middle of the song, and while there is a time and a place for Ritchie Blackmore and his troubadours, the middle of a primitive black metal song about a giant spider is neither.
However, the biggest problem with Cruchan's approach to the genre is their inability to fully mesh the 2 inherently disparate aspects of their sound together. Rather than folk and metal being blended, it often sounds as though the 2 have merely been thrown together, with many of the jauntier songs sounding more like the band had simply written a folk song and then thrown in a heavy riff to keep it 'metal enough'. The best folk metal bands use a variety of means to cross the 2 styles; using a mixture of keyboards, traditional instruments and simply lead guitar to recreate the folk melodies to go over an already in place heavy metal foundation. Cruachan manage this on certain songs on 'The morrigan's call', but on others the heavier aspect of their songs sound like a mere afterthought.
Similarly, the entirely-folk songs and interludes such as "Coffin ships", "The old woman in the woods" and the title track generally serve as distractions at best and at worst as annoyances. But all criticism aside, it has to be said that when Cruachan simply get down to writing straightforward Celtic folk metal, they can do a damn fine job of it.
"The brown bull of cooley" is the only song to feature a proper back-and-forth between the harsh and female vocals, and it stands as easily one of the best on the CD, showing that a little variety can go a long way. Their rendition of the traditional Irish song "The wild rover" is also great fun, even if it is inferior to version recorded by Tyr a few years ago. It shows Cruachan can in fact do lively and upbeat songs well enough, and it complements the moodier tracks very well. As already mentioned, these darker tracks are the real highlights, with atmosphere being the prime focus.
The CD on the whole is a decent listen, but with such a scattershot approach taken to the songwriting it is difficult to fully immerse oneself in it. When it is good it can be very good indeed, but when things go downhill they tend to nosedive. Fans of more upbeat folk metal may love this, but even as a fan of Korpiklaani's ridiculous party music I find it hard to take 'The morrigan's call' entirely seriously.
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