Single-song albums. The reason Holdeneye and Twelve no longer speak. The reason there’s still a bloodstain in the copy room after Diabolus went after El Cuervo for suggesting that Winter’s Gate “Isn’t really a single song, is it? I mean… not really…” Ya see, the very idea is divisive. But it’s also philosophically interesting. What makes a song? A unifying idea or theme? If parts of a song are so different as to be unrecognizable, have you not just chewing-gummed two different ones together? In this era of instant gratification, where listeners have goldfish-like attention spans, are these epic tracks justified? Or just a needlessly pretentious gimmick? I wondered about these while listening to The Crossing, the new album from Fuil Na Seanchoille (Blood of the Old Forrest), featuring just one song. A one-man black metal band from Ireland, this is his second album following 2011’s Hunger. Like some colleagues, I have reservations about single-song albums. Did The Crossing change my mind?
Fuil Na Seanchoille plays a form of lo-fi, raw, atmospheric black metal. Like Wolves in the Throne Room or Saor, mastermind Satyrign aims to create a dichotomy of beauty and fury by alternating passages of lovely Gaelic singing with furious, howling, atavistic metal. Unlike the aforementioned bands, Fuil Na Seanchoille wears its lo-fi credentials proudly on its sleeve, and you get the impression that at shows, cassette tapes will be the medium of choice for fans. Although ostensibly a single track, The Crossing can broadly be described as having three distinct phases: a calm opening, a furious middle passage, and a soothing denouement. While The Crossing has its moments and should please fans of Hunger, its biggest gimmick (the single-track structure) is also its downfall.
The three movements of The Crossing are vastly different, yet even on first listen, clearly thematically linked. It is very obviously a musical triptych, with a common strain that runs through each part. That such a clear identity is created is an impressive achievement; the listener immediately feels that this is indeed a single track and not three different ones soldered awkwardly together. But while identity is strong, the balance is not. The early opening passage has its lovely moments, with gorgeous singing and crashing waves, but at over 10 minutes, it simply goes on too long. Other than being pleasant and soothing, it’s not particularly compelling, and on repeated listens, I found myself skipping bits. The metal middle section is fairly repetitive but far more interesting, with dissonant chords and frightening yelps and barks. When the bass smashes in, it’s actually catchy and a broader picture emerges of the aesthetic the band is aiming for. With some tweaking, the contrast could have been impressive. Unfortunately, here it feels lopsided.
In addition, when the final chilling passage slowly winds down, you realize that there just aren’t enough ideas here to sustain an entire album. Imagine if Yob’s brilliant Clearing the Path to Ascend was just “Marrow” stretched out for a few more minutes. You would probably say, “Great track! But where’s the rest?” Now, The Crossing isn’t in that same league, but you get the sense that what needed to happen here was for the lone song to be cropped a bit, and some new ideas, perhaps in the form of additional tracks, added. The lo-fi production won’t be for everyone, but after a few spins, I appreciated the gritty texture it added.
The Crossing is a frustrating album because it succeeds in getting the hard part right: convincing the listener that 29 minutes of disparate musical parts can be considered part of the same track. But being thematically consistent is not the same as being musically compelling, and it’s here that the album falls short. The metal part is certainly the highlight, but somewhat lacking in variety. The slower sections, however, are just too long and not interesting enough to justify their length. We’re left with an effort that only really works in fits and starts, with too much downtime. I suspect there will be fans who will really love this, but the rest of us will be ruing a missed opportunity. In the meantime, no one has cleaned up that blood.