Irish Folk Metal veterans CRUACHAN returned during 2011 with their sixth full-length album “Blood On The Black Robe”. Karen Gilligan, providing female vocals to the band for nine years, has left since the excellent “The Morrigan’s Call”. Due to that, the band decided not to replace her and instead went for a return to a more Black/Extreme Metal oriented sound. Gilligan does some guest vocals on the album, but more now circles around Keith Fay’s raspy growls. I am a little sorry to notice that there are no clean vocals from Keith on this album, as they were really adding another dimension on “The Morrigan’s Call”. The lyrical concepts are the same as always: Irish history, Celtic myths and criticism of religion. As mentioned, the music is also darker and rawer than it has been for several albums, as some of the Traditional Metal influences have been peeled off and laid bare the Black Metal foundation. A lot of Irish folk instrumentation of course remains and that sounds roughly the same, but has also taken on more of an early melancholy sound, rather than the jolly melodies of songs like “Shelob” on “The Morrigan’s Call”.
The production is very well done. The dirtiness in the Extreme Metal is brought forth well, but this is still a very professional production, clearly separated from old efforts like “Tuatha Na Gael”, which has such a harsh production that the band has decided to redo all songs from that album, one for each new record. Here it is “The Voyage of Bran” that has been remade, with impressive result. Another thing that I like about the production is that the drumming has contained much of its warm and mighty sound, instead of being reduced to Black Metal clanking. Colin Purcell’s drumming also retains more variation and draws influences from more genres than Black Metal. Sure, there are blastbeats, but there is much more than that to be found in this rhythm section. The riffing is simple and distorted, yet effective. There is tremolo picking in some places, but also more traditional guitar-work. Most of the responsibility for melody is left to the various folk instruments, but the guitars are never pushed aside in the way that plagues much Folk Metal of today.
The aforementioned “The Voyage Of Bran” and the closer “The Nine-Years War” are closest to the style from their last albums and that still works very well. I also enjoy some of the aggressive songs like “I Am Warrior”, “The Column” and “Pagan Hate”. In the middle of the album there are a few songs that drag on a bit as they are a bit long while lacking variation, but the overall concept works well. Another thing that is different this time around is that the album requires a few listens to sink in. For me, most CRUACHAN albums have been fairly straightforward. I have known what I have liked and disliked immediately, but with this one, many of the more aggressive parts have been growing on me. All in all, despite a slightly new (or actually old) style, this is the same stable CRUACHAN as always.
(Online February 6, 2012)