Review: NA CRUITHNE – “Gairm An Fhiántais”… Posted: 05/07/2017 by Philip Morrissey
Folk metal has always had a marmite effect on a lot of people. When done properly it allows those involved to invoke the heritage and traditions of national cultures. Ancient sounds and authentic instruments incorporated into a modern sound, that manages to be both fresh and vital. From MOONSORROW and ENSLAVED in Scandinavia to OEPHANED LAND in Israel to SLOUGH FEG in America, many have been able to produce adventurous music that gives credence to both musical styles. Passionate, intense and highly emotive stuff at times. On the other side, you have the characteristics which tend to be noticed by casual fans. Band members dressed up like trolls and playing polka music while under the pretense of a metal band. Wacky and zany just for the sake of it. I am looking at you KORPIKLAANI and TURISAS.
Of course, we have had a huge influence on the genre through the outputs of bands such as PRIMORDIAL, CRUACHAN, WAYLANDER, GEASA, MAEL MÓRDHA and CELTACHOR. The level of quality and influence that these bands have produced means that new Irish/Celtic Folk Metal bands have a level of expectation to live up to. This is true of NA CRUITHNE. Particularly given the backgrounds of some of their members. Guitarist Ronán O’ H’Arrachtáin piles his trade generally as vocalist with sludge crew TEN TON SLUG, whilst vocalist Maitiú O’Héanu is formally of hardcore/punk outfit PSYCHOPIGS. The most well known member can perhaps point towards their desired destination. Lisa Howe provided the back-beat to DARKEST ERA for most of their existence prior to her departure. They were/are primarily a heavy metal band that incorporated a lot of traditional concepts and writing. A lot of these philosophies has been carried through here. Thematically, the focus is less on mythology and fantasy, and more on natural elements.
Opener ‘Bultar Maru’ sets out their stall well. It sees a gentle and mellow intro involving instruments such as fiddles, acoustic guitar and bouzouki. It brings to mind bands from Ireland’s past music traditions such as PLANXTY, MOVING HEARTS, HORSLIPS and CLANNAD. It provides an insight into their traditional leanings. Too many bands associated with this genre have been metal bands trying to incorporate the traditional aspect afterwards. It can then come across as somewhat of a split dessert. Here there is clear evidence of a band coming from the opposite direction. The mellow acoustic feel all comes to an abrupt halt when the more metallic side rears its head. The sound becomes infinitely harder with the drumming of Howe and the bass-lines of Thomas Doherty. But there is a real sense of the two aspects fusing together as opposed to being just melded on. The traditional instruments are not straining to be heard above the melee for instance. The vocals however, for me, don’t work here. It seems to lack the required power to do it justice. The pace slows to allow for a beautiful violin piece complemented with the occasional drum kick before storming out again. Definitely a piece of promise. ‘Sionnach Damnu’ commences with the bouzouki/feadog again but with more of tougher guitar sound. The drumming is solid and energetic throughout and seems like it is custom made for a lively performance on stage. The vocals seem to operate better at the lower levels but struggle again when events speed up. Ana Carolina’s fiddle work dances its way in and out to create a beautiful weave pattern whilst Howe throws in a few drum fills. The bouzouki of Ciaran De Burca has its moment to shine again amidst the storm outside before a sweep from O’ h’Arrachtáin leads to an uplift in tempo. The vocals around the end change tack to more of a death metal growl.
‘Fhoinnuise’ features an atmospheric opening with a swell of feedback and a slowly plucked bouzouki. A soaring guitar piece quickens the pace yet again. It’s slow, persistent structure brings to mind the better moments of KATATONIA, AMORPHIS and ANATHEMA. There is almost a sense of a dramatic chase at times. All players are at the top of their game. And the vocals actually work better here. Moments of calm are permitted to allow for the melodic instruments to have their moment in the sun. The pace quietens to the point of almost stillness. A gentle breeze to the generally raging storm. The traditional players come to the fore yet again. It quickly switches pace to a full blown attack. All players are to be commended for their ability to keep up with it. ‘Reithe Toghla’ changes somewhat with its bass driven opening being accompanied by a fiddle. It takes a sudden about turn to a tin whistle led section. In the wrong hands, this would sound hammy and corny. Thankfully, it is handled with the requisite skill and balance here. The guitars and drums take centre stage before the vocals make their presence felt. There is a change here also as a harsher tone is employed along with the previous one. The tin whistle re-appears as the vocals become even more loose and frenetic. A dependable back-beat stays strong and focused.
‘On the Ground’ sees a quiet and meditative opening featuring just the bouzouki. The entrance of the drums leads to a soaring and epic segment. Definitely reminiscent of previous works of DARKEST ERA and also SIROCCO. Drums, violin and bass all combine wonderfully. The vocals may be slightly ragged and loose at times but retain an air of passion and integrity. There is a real indication of the musical relationship built up between the individual members. Certainly the live dates have brought them together. There are some lovely guitar lines which is credit to O h’Arrachtain. ‘An Seabhac’ sets off with more of a powerful statement. Especially with some tougher guitar lines and thumping drums. It probably has more of the blackened side of folk metal. It is the one track that has possibly the most direct connection with PRIMORDIAL. If one had to seek out how to combine the best of traditional with modern, they could do a lot worse than listen to this. It blends the old and new seamlessly. The album comes to a conclusion with a slightly curious version of ‘The Parting Glass’. Its general beautiful refrain is spoiled somewhat by the inclusion of the tougher vocals. It takes away from what is a gorgeous melody and immaculate female vocals at the beginning. It strikes as an experiment that perhaps should have stayed in the studio and unfortunately ends the album on a bit of a negative point.
Overall, a very enjoyable album. There are issues that can be worked upon and tweaked for future releases. The contrast between darkness and light is done well and clearly there is a great amount of love for the music. The players are highly accomplished in both genres and this allows them to fuse together admirably. More established bands could certainly sit up and take notes. The vocals are going to be a talking point for many. At times, they work, especially when set against a different tone. At others, they can sound too loose and ragged to work effectively. Perhaps they would sound better when an extra take is employed, to give O’Héanú an opportunity to nail it more effectively. It would be a shame for this to be a sticking point for the band. They certainly are intent on moving upwards. Not long after playing the Siege of Limerick, they premiered this album up at Sally Long’s in Galway. They are due to play at Bad Reputation’s Ten Year Party in Dolan’s, as support to LIONIZE in Fibbers, as well as just landing a slot at this years Bloodstock Festival in the UK and the small matter of a main-stage spot at the Metal Days Festival in Slovenia. They go all out in terms of spectacle employing face paint, tartan kilts and topless/barefoot playing. This along with their music should make them essential viewing.