Cruachan // Blood on the Black Robe
Rating: 2.5/5.0 —An improvement, but missing something…
Websites: cruachanireland.com | myspace.com/cruachanfanpage
Release Dates: EU: 2011.04.18 | US: 04.19.2011
So, like them or not, Cruachan has been around since the early 1990s doing their Celtic folk metal bit with varying success. Their most widely well-regarded record is the album Folk-Lore from 2002, but there was at least a little love for the band’s blending of Gaelic folk music and metal. For me, the band has always had an air of ‘amateur’ about them. While bands like Primordial and Skyclad produced unique music at a high level, there’s always been a seed of a good idea with Cruachan, but an execution problem. So, how does Blood on the Black Robe live up to the legacy of the band?
Well, I can say with some confidence that the band appears to have taken it to another level on the recording front, producing what is easily their most professional record to date. And I would even say that the song-writing has improved over the years as well. Cruachan is basically one part black metal and one part folk metal, and often times (particularly on earlier records) they did a poor job of blending these two parts. Songs would then get a cut and paste feel, as opposed to seamless and incorporated folk metal like Otyg, Isengard or Finntroll. On the other hand, Blood on the Black Robe doesn’t quite conform to this. Particularly when the folk metal starts to seep in, the music works very well like on “The Voyage of Bran” and the follow-up “Brian Boru’s March” and are especially rich on the last track “The Nine Year War.” This is pleasant and fun to listen to.
The problem, is that Blood on the Black Robe, when compared to the band’s older records, seems to contain a lot less fluting and a lot more pretty repetitive black metal with pretty cliched themes. Now granted, these themes have been with the band and with black metal since the beginning, but they do feel a bit tired and there isn’t exactly a poetic essence that keeps things together here. Often times the tracks feel like rote descriptions like one could read in a history book, but read with an Irish accent. Another thing that there is a lot less is female vocals. Much of the record is much more stripped down black metal and I’m torn as to how well it works. On the old records some of the more embarrassing parts really were the female vocal parts that felt awkward and didn’t fit, but with the improved writing in Blood on the Black Robe they almost go missing and are a welcome addition when present.
So while there are some improvements on this record, and there are some definitely enjoyable parts, I think the second half of the album is way better than the first, this isn’t something that I’d be running out to buy. Fans may even be torn because of the downplayed folk parts and the lack of female vocalists, though they may also appeal to a larger group who didn’t like the previous approach. That said, the second half of the album is almost worth owning on its own as its filled with all the things you would expect from an Irish folk metal band with Cruachan‘s legacy. So I guess, what I’m trying to say is, check it out and see what you think. But I remain fairly unmoved despite the improvements.