When CRUACHAN release a CD, it is always something special, because the three albums so far without exception had been absolutely great. Two years after the brilliant “Folk-Lore” album the Irish are back with “Pagan” (a very fitting title, if you ask me) and there are some differences, partly even pretty big ones!
What strikes first is the cover by none other than John Howe, the “Lord Of The Rings” illustrator, which realises the album title very well and seamlessly continues the line of great and moody cover artworks. Even before putting the CD in something special. What also strikes is that the production is not as clear and powerful anymore as on the two previous albums and stands somewhere between the rather adventurously produced debut “Tuatha Na Gael” and the two following releases, not bad, but still rougher than before.
But it doesn’t take long until CRUACHAN’s magic works on me for the fourth time now, because opener “Michael Collins” sets out with bodhran and violin, before an e-guitar sets in, to follow the same folky melody. After that we get the CRUACHAN typical Irish Folk Metal with violin, flute and the expressive vocals of Karen Gilligan, before Keith Fay speaks up, with a rough, relatively unmelodic voice, which reminds me a bit of an early Martin Walkyier (ex SABBAT and SKYCLAD). The title track has a surprise to offer, a certain Black Metal list in the Folk Metal, which is a bit a bridge to the almost legendary debut “Tuatha Na Gael“. Introduced by a Gregorian choir this song combines the “new” and “old” CRUACHAN in one composition, with the guitars and the harsh vocals as well as the violins, flutes and cembalo. Interesting contrast!
„Ard Rí Na Heireann“ sets out surprisingly driving, with strong guitars and Karen Gilligan’s equally strong vocals, enriched by the CRUACHAN typical flutes and clear male vocals, pure Folk Metal, as strong as ever! After the pure drum and bagpipe instrumental “The March To Cluain Tairbh“ “Viking Slayer” brings us back to the here and now with some Black Metal vocals. “Some Say The Devil Is Dead“ then is another absolute highlight, which should get every venue (or pub) and party going, an old Irish drinking song, super catchy and in Folk Metal unbeatable! “The Fall Of Gondolin“ at the end is a new version of one song off “Tuatha Na Gael“, just a bit less harsh.
What is a specialty with CRUACHAN are the lyrics, because the Irish are storytellers. Not only they tell us about Irish folklore and history, but also more serious topics of the difficult Irish situation, which gives them a very special touch as many bands do not even dare to address these things. The production, as already mentioned, is quite a bit rougher than before, but still fitting the songs.
The main difference within the songs for sure is the fact that they have brought back some Black Metal influences from their early times, still the Folk Metal of the Irish school definitely still is in the foreground and there is just nothing better than CRUACHAN at the moment, an unusual band that absolutely goes its own way and should definitely be supported! “Pagan” cannot fully reach the two previous efforts, but still is a damn strong album, which, though, won’t be suited for everyone. (Online April 28, 2004)