Cruachan - The Morrigan's Call
AFM Records
Celtic-Folk style Metal
12 songs (37:25)
Release year: 2006
Cruachan, AFM Records
Reviewed by Ross
Major event
Cruachan have really nailed the mixing of ‘Traditional’ Celtic with Metal music this time. Their previous albums Folk-Lore and Pagan had a good mix of the traditional and Metal style songs, but the two differing styles didn’t quite mesh when combined into one song, you could definitely hear the joins. In The Morrigan’s Call, Cruachan seamlessly combines traditional with 21st Century Metal, not only separately in songs throughout the album but also when present in the one song. The Great Hunger is a very good example of this. A traditional themed song about the Irish potato famine, starting with a melancholic fiddle and acoustic guitar intro merging into heavy electric guitar and drumming taking you to the first, slow, morose verse sung by Karen Gilligan . A classic Celtic fiddle bridge takes you on to the cranked up second verse where, at the end of the verse, electric guitar plays rhythm to the fiddle lead. Verse three takes a turn for the heavier with an electric guitar intro, screaming vocals from Keith Fay and some pretty ferocious drumming. Karen joins in half way through the verse and the rough Metal/clear Celtic vocals compliment each other in an ‘opposites attract’ kinda way, before closing with the melancholic fiddle and acoustic guitar that the song started with.

Listening to The Great Hunger helps you understand the formula Cruachan have came up with to blend Celtic and Metal music so well in The Morrigan’s Call. Whereas before it was like they took a classically Celtic style and tried to have Metal take the leading role. The Morrigan’s Call is a classically Celtic sounding album but the Metal stays pretty much in the background, taking over more of the backing rhythm task. This seems to have given many of the songs a strong Metal base; so you now have Metal songs with a classically Celtic style, using classical Celtic instruments, taking the leading role, turning the whole shebang on its head. This works on so many levels. It puts a rocket up the ass of songs that are quite stirring to start with.

Kicking off with powerfully Metal start, Shelob melds into classic Celtic and back again seamlessly. The Brown Bull Of Cooley tells a centuries old tale in an impressionably Metal fashion yet is unmistakeably Celtic in style. The Coffin Ships is a hauntingly melodic tin whistle and flute instrumental with a background of waves lapping on a sea-shore, which is very effective in conveying the emotions of song’s subject. As mentioned, The Great Hunger should be when you figure out where Cruachan have attained the right balance of Metal and Celtic musical styling. Their arrangement of The Old Woman In the Woods, a traditional Celtic Folk Song, is a fine example of putting a rocket up the ass of an already stirring song, they did the same with The Very Wild Rover further on. Ungoliant is perhaps the least Celtic sounding track on the album yet still combines traditional and modern instruments (harpsichord and fiddle with electric guitar and double bass drumming). The Morrigan’s Call has acoustic guitars playing a melodic riff in the style of the ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ we all learn in primary/elementary school where half the class start off and the other half chime in a couple of bars later, kinda like an echo; only this is more interesting, especially with the bass guitar providing a great harmony. When the bodhran starts up toward the end, I defy anyone of Celtic descent to be moved in one way or another. If it doesn’t get you stirred, then Teir Abhaile Riu, a song sung in Gaelic most definitely will. If it doesn’t – Check your family heritage! Intro-ing with acoustic guitar, bodhran and haunting female vocals, Wolfe Tone breaks into chunky Metal overdriven electric guitaring that I have no doubt will have an audience whirling and jigging to start then turning into moshing loons if they play this in their live set. The Very Wild Rover is the, probably, best known traditional Celtic song, lead by traditional instruments, cranked up a couple of notches by electric guitaring and Metal drumming; this is continued into Cuchulainn though electric guitar takes more of a lead but played in the Celtic style. Finishing off the album is Diarmuid And Grainne that starts of with unaccompanied bodhran and distorted guitar kicking in with the same beat. Like The Brown Bull Of Cooley and The Great Hunger you have alternating screaming Metal male vocals, clean classically Celtic female vocals and clean male vocals throughout the song, sung along with a kick-ass mix of classically Celtic and Metal instrumental accompaniment.

What is also interesting, and important in the delivery of the songs, is the differing styles of vocals used by Karen Gilligan and Keith Fay. Karen, in the more traditional Celtic parts, uses a style of singing that can only be described as ‘Classically Irish’, a sound that you only hear sung in traditional Celtic songs such as The Old Woman In The Woods, Teir Abhaile Riu parts of Wolfe Tone and Diarmuid And Grainne. Yet she also has a more rough edged Rock/Metal style that she uses to great effect in The Brown Bull Of Cooley and The Great Hunger. The changes are slight but make all the difference to the delivery of the varying styles of songs. The same can be said for Keith Fey, his Sean MacGowan like rough Irish brogue coming over on The Very Wild Rover, a more cleaner Irish lilt in Teir Abhaile Riu and The Morrigan’s Call to his screaming Metal vocals in Shelob and parts of The Brown Bull Of Cooley. This extensive array of both female and male lead vocals, keep everything interesting for the listener with not a hint of ‘Sameness’ anywhere on the entire album.

It’s not only the vocals that show incredible versatility, the musicianship and instrumental accomplishments of the band are pretty extensive. Karen Gilligan also plays various percussion instruments; Keith Fay plays electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, Irish bouzouki, banjo, mandolin, bodhran and other percussion; John Ryan Will, who replaces John O’Fathaigh, plays tin whistle, banjo and fiddle; John Clohessy on bass guitar and providing backing vocals and Joe Farrell on drums and other percussion instruments. Throughout the album, everything that everybody plays comes in at just the right place and at just the right time making The Morrigan’s Call a real attention-grabber from the first spin. As you play it more and more, you pick up on other pieces in the background that accentuate, harmonize and compliment the leading instruments and vocals.

Being Scottish, I was brought up with Celtic music. My first memory of live music is of my Grandfather on fiddle, an uncle each on accordion, mandolin and tin whistle, my Dad on harmonica and a plethora of other uncles and aunts, and my Mum, singing. I’ve also been to many barn dances, held in real barns where the cows have just been moved to one end to make room for singing and dancing. During my time in the Army as part of a Scottish Regiment, I was entertained many times by our own Pipes and Drums, spent many ‘social’ occasions with Scottish and Irish Expatriates in many foreign lands, been to some awesome parties in both sides of the religious divide in Northern Ireland where the poteen almost blinded me and have seen Cruachan play live somewhere in Ireland in 1999 or 2000. Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember where about in Ireland or why I was there; I think I was doing guitar tech for a band at the time and had drunk too much dinner. In amongst all that Celtic music I have been exposed to I have heard some outstanding bands and musicians and had some terrific times. The Morrigan’s Call, for me, has revitalised my interest in traditional Celtic music and has stirred my Celtic roots. That it also has Metal undertones driving it along is just the icing on the cake. In The Morrigan’s Call, Cruachan have achieved a perfect blend of the ancient and the new, the traditional and the modern and the Celtic Folk and Metal style that has raised the bar in this genre of music to a new and exciting level.
Killing Songs :
Ross quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Cruachan that we have reviewed:
Cruachan - Blood on the Black Robe reviewed by Charles and quoted 80 / 100
Cruachan - Pagan reviewed by Jay and quoted 72 / 100
Cruachan - The Middle Kingdom reviewed by Chris and quoted 70 / 100
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