Set for release on March 24th, [via Dezpots Records] ‘The Living and The Dead’ boasts twelve tracks that capture the essence of the bands deeply-rooted connection to Irish Folk as well as a contemporary lean towards Blackened and Classic Heavy Metal.
Let us take you through the album, track-by-track…
1: ‘The Living‘
Springing from the traps like a bat out of hell is Celtic metal pioneers Cruachan’s 9th studio album, ‘The Living and The Dead‘. The opening track, ‘The Living‘, sets the tone for the rest of the record. Instrumental in its delivery, the pace and upbeat demeanour makes one feel an irresistible urge to get up and dance in a traditionally Celtic metal fashion. This is easily one of the best tracks on the album and Cruachan’s blend of guitar, violin, and brutality-at-its-finest drum sections is a delight for the ears of fans of heavy metal, and folklore-infused storytelling.
2: ‘The Queen‘
The Irish mythology-drawn inspiration for this track comes from Grace O’Malley, a pirate queen from Irish folklore. According to legend, she was a fierce warrior, and met Queen Elizabeth at the time of her reign.
Owing to the nature of this muse, this song would easily sit alongside the shanties and rousing calls to arms of Vikings and pirates; a fitting anthem to hear with a tankard of ale in your hand. Multi-talented vocalist Keith Fay lets rip with a blackened-metal voice that pierces the sharpest of ears. He’s been at the helm for over 30 years at Cruachan, and building on their previous release ‘Nine Years of Blood‘, the storytelling, and musical originality is still going strong.
3: ‘The Hawthorn‘
After the assault of the opening two tracks, it’s time to slow it down a bit with ‘The Hawthorn‘. There is an unmistakable nod to the old trad greats of Irish music, such as Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew, and The Wolfe Tones in the poignant delivery of Fay’s lyrics. The eloquent flow of low-tone, quiet and somber singing, nestled sweetly behind the acoustic guitar gradually builds into a crescendo of double-bass drums and a loud declaration of aggression that is hard to ignore. It’s then and only then that you realize you’ve been headbanging to it for quite a bit. It’s sneaky, but it works a treat.
4: ‘The Harvest‘
Another embodiment of the originality of Irish melodies, ‘The Harvest‘ kicks in the door with no apologies. Right from the get-go, this song has you by the throat. At 5 minutes 21 seconds, the pace of change, crunchy, chunky distorted guitars, and breakneck drumming barely give you time to breathe before the axe is swung again. The outro lets you down gently after a high-octane session, and this would be a fitting outro to a live show for the audience to sing along to, as they recover their heart rate.
5: ‘The Festival‘
This song is just dangerous. From the very beginning, the pace, low tuning, and timing shape this track into one that needs to be played loud. Personally, this is the standout track of the entire record. This is something that would really get you fired up for a gym session, a run, or a Cruachan gig – take your pick. Although instrumental, it gives the band the freedom for an all-out declaration of war against anyone stating that Celtic and folk-metal isn’t fit to rub shoulders with the best in the game. Yeah; that gauntlet is well and truly thrown down.
6: ‘The Ghost’
Following on from The Festival’s festivities is a hauntingly eerie ‘The Ghost‘… the lyrics are strenuously ominous, as are Joe Farrell’s bass lines that lie under Woodlock’s relentless assault on the skins. Fay isn’t shy from expressing his guttural vocality at the breakdowns with the help of Finntroll’s Mathias ‘Vreth’ Lillmån, and Farrell supports this by hanging the atmosphere by a thread at around 4 minutes in, right before the final blow of the sword 20 seconds later.
7: ‘The Crow‘
Time-honoured harbinger of clairvoyance, prophecy, and solidarity, ‘The Crow‘ starts off in an almost campfire-atmosphere acoustic melody with accompanying bodhran beating tamely in the background. Trainor’s violin guides us through a smooth delivery for the first few minutes, but this doesn’t last long, as once the first verse is out of the way, the guitars begin to shine and the drums begin to pound. Fay carries on with the same pace, but the core of the music has grown from something sung in a sitting room full of elderly relatives to a monster that would make the hair stand on end.
The constant return to the old myth of the symbolism of crows is remarkable, and proves that Cruachan is not just a damn good metal band, but also a highly-educated one, and the traditional viewpoint of our heritage is flexible enough to be translated respectfully into a format as aggressive, and brash as Death Metal.
8: ‘The Reaper’
Chilling and cold, ‘The Reaper‘ forces you into a self-searching state of mind with the simple chord progressions, and sharp harmonies between guitar and violin. However, the verse breakdown and dirty bass-riff launches the listener back into reality, with screeching vocals, and chunky guitar fills. Fay recalls this being written at around the time of his Father’s passing, and the vocals reflect this in their delivery.
9: ‘The Children’
Another rip-roaringly upbeat and rousing melody-fest! Tom Woodlock’s machine-gun drumming sets up the breakdowns to accompany Fay’s, and David Quinn’s guitars who throw in perfect harmonies with Audrey Trainor’s violin backed-up by a beast of a chunky tone.
The vocals are supported by a backing of Fay’s Death Metal screech that can just about be heard above the vocals of the rest of the band, especially about their sisters being married to the Devil. It’s powerful stuff, and as the song starts in a merry little jig, it soon gives way to a behemoth of down-tuned guitars, thundering bass, and pounding drums that would leave most venues’ walls crumbling.
10: ‘The Changeling’
Into the final quarter of the new album, Cork-born up-and-coming singer Nella lends her voice to the lead channel for creepily-effective ‘The Changeling‘. The intro leads into a deep and efficaciously thought-provoking trail of old stories, where fairies would take children from their parents in the woods. and replace them with an imposter. It’s reminiscent of the scolding stories from grandparents advising good behaviour, or the fairies ‘would take you away‘. Cruachan has the ability to dig up the old stories and turn them into brand new versions of themselves, and infuse them with a hearty dose of metal (which I’m a massive fan of). The haunting lyrics and well-poised changes in pace, and speed echo an artistic form that is somewhat rare in metal at this level but nonetheless, it is incredibly powerful stuff.
11: ‘The Witch’
This one brings the listener back to earth with a bang. A fiesty and sharp infusion of metal guitars, violin riffs, and Venom’s own Stu ‘La Rage’ Dixon shredding keeps the fist in the air non-stop. The chunky guitar riffs backed-up with the awesome drum timing are a simple and masterful dose of compatibility to this feel-good tune as we approach the end game of his outstanding album. A metalhead would be foolish not to appreciate this track for its hardened metal spine, yet underneath it lies a softer easygoing string, and cowbell backline. So throw in a few mighty licks from Fay, Dixon, and Quinn, and you’re left with a polished article worthy of some serious airplay.
12: ‘The Dead’
This is black metal through and through. Starting off with a growing acoustic buildup, ‘The Dead‘ is a fitting end to this outstanding album. The initial creeping pace steadily gives way to an explosion of sound that is not altogether overwhelming, but fits in perfectly with the vast array of flexibility shown with the material on display in this album.
Fay lets loose in the embers of the verses, and despite only being two and a half minutes long, the deep growls, hardened guitar, and blast beats provide ample material for this to be a feather in the cap for the band. The pace, however, is relentless once it kicks in. ‘The Dead‘ is a highly appropriate way to finalise this record, and to find another suitable way would be a hard find indeed, as a band like Cruahan reserves the right to leave it all on the field of battle.
The Living and The Dead is due for worldwide release via Dezpots Records on March 24th. Pre-orders are available via this link.