You may have heard of Cruachan. The Irish Folk Metal band have been widely credited as one of the leading lights in the Folk Metal genre, with their style expanding to incorporate many other styles, including a blend of Black Metal which provides a different edge to their peers. Initially formed in 1992 as a result of founder member Keith Fay’s love of both Black Metal and the folk style of the likes of Skyclad, today sees the band very much still Fay’s vehicle, with the current line-up having been established in 2020.
Cruachan – The Living And The Dead (Despotz Records)
Release Date: 24 March 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
For Audrey Trainor (violin), guitarist David Quinn and drummer Tom Woodlock, this is their debut release under the Cruachan banner, whilst Joe Farrell, who played drums with the band from 1999 – 2007, makes his first appearance as the band’s bassist.
Spread over 12 tracks and fifty-plus minutes, The Living And The Dead provides a real demonstration of where Cruachan are in their musical journey as the band sail past the 30th anniversary. A combination of rasping Heavy Metal that draws deeply on influences from across the genres, it’s the Folk and Black Metal that are the biggest strands in a multifaceted kaleidoscope of Celtic heritage, history, and celebration.
The Living And The Dead is a real pleasing mixture. There are traditional songs such as The Harvest, which utilise Trainor’s violin to the full, whilst the riff-heavy drive of The Festival allows the band to really show their Metal teeth.
The songs are catchy, enjoyable, and spin along at a great pace. There may be a little bit of repetition here, but each song generally brings something new in style and substance. The Ghost is the most decisively Black Metal song here, in both shape and substance, with ferocious blast beats and snarling vocals thanks to Finntroll’s Mathias’ Vreth’ Lillmån and a driving riff that demands a head is banged.
There is, of course, the distinctive and unique Celtic feel to each song. The use of violin, bouzouki, and mandolin alongside the thick crunching guitar riffs and pulsating bass adds much. There’s darkness but also beauty.
The delicate intro to The Crow, with acoustic guitar working alongside the fiddle, and Fay’s storytelling vocals provide an essential dynamic to the band’s sound. The Crow may begin calmly enough, but the switch into a more dramatic feel soon comes, the riff heavy and the atmosphere suddenly changing.
And if you thought it would end in a calm manner, think again, for The Dead is as explosive as anything else on this album, despite its harmonious fiddle that bookends the song.
With several guest musicians spread across the release, there’s more to enchant and bewitch. Irish singer Nella takes the lead vocals on The Changeling, a haunting, lingering tale. The Witch sees Venom Guitarist Rage provide a storming solo, whilst elsewhere, former GWAR singer Kim Dylla adds backing vocals. Former member John Fay provides tin whistle on The Children, and producer Mike Richard’s daughter Sinead brings extra quality on Euphonium on The Reaper.
The Living And The Dead may well be Cruachan’s most masterful work to date. That’s for others to judge, of course, but few would argue that Fay and his colleagues have crafted the definitive Folk Metal release of 2023.