The Hang of Music: Voice of the Morrigan

Ah, here we are again. Onto another Thursday, and review number twice-seven.

It’s a new morning, and how better to start the day than with some celtic metal from Dublin. So, today I am reviewing Cruachan’s second album, “The Middle Kingdom”, as recommended to me by Alejandro. Top of the morning to you all, to be sure!

I have to say, I think that it’s brave to start your album with 4 minutes of just bagpipes* and horns**. There are a lot of people out there, myself not included, who don’t like bagpipes. And then to follow it up with metal guitar and panpipes is just plain crazy. Luckily, that’s precisely what they did.

They have so many instruments on this album already. The wiki page lists a few of them, but it is far from a comprehensive list. It doesn’t list bagpipes, or panpipes, or anything even vaguely pipe related. Yet they are very, very clearly there. That said, every member of the band also plays some sort of percussion at some point as well, on top of  the drums. Maybe there just wasn’t room on the internet for all of them…

"No, no more panpipes! We're already having enough trouble clearing all the tubas you put here last time!"

Regardless, I decided to listen to this album because, as I was listening to my mp3 player on random, “Is Fudir an Chroi”*** came up, and that bass was just captivating. And yet it was hardly used for more than a minute, before it had been dropped, and replaced with other, similarly awesome riffs.

One of the more obvious features of the album is wide range in the tone of the songs. It segues easily from big loud metal songs and slower, more introspective and more typically “folk” songs. And sometimes, as happened whilst I was writing this sentence, it even makes the change mid-song.

The Fianna: like this, but in reverse.

That was a surprise. But, more importantly, it was done nearly seamlessly. There are a number of good, quiet songs on here, and some very good loud ones. Being able to successfully play both, and merge between them, is a mark of good musicianship.

As is the ever present piping and flute. I always love to hear odd instruments being used in surprising ways. The panpipes here (and I swear, soon I’m going to stop talking about the pipes!) play the role of the second guitar, for example. And that’s one of the reasons why I love folk metal, actually; all of the oddness and rural charm of folk music, combined with all of the heavy instrumentation and… grunting vocals, I guess… of metal. I sometimes wonder if metal’s greatest advantage is its capacity to marry itself well with pretty much any other genre: folk, jazz, opera, pop, punk, etc, etc, etc. I’m pretty sure that for any genre, I can think of a band who’ve merged it with metal.

All of this culminates (or at least denouements, it being a track away from the end) into… Well, into a pretty good fusion of all of the genres I’ve mentioned previoulsy, and ska.

Yes, ska. Spunge-y, Goldfinger-esque, Smiling Ivy-a-like ska. The chorus in “Unstabled (Steeds of Macha)” is pure ska rhythm, with a walking bassline and offbeat guitar an everything. The four notes as the chorus starts even sound like “Baggy Trousers”. If you don’t believe me, listen for yourself.

There’s no sax or trumpet, but that’s all that the song is missing. Otherwise, it is purest of the pure ska. Pure as the driven snow.

And the last track, in true cyclical style, mirrors the first, with an instrumental, pipe-heavy tune; “The Butterfly”. And it is, I must say, a rather nice one. With a smart end like that, how can I be anything less than impressed with this album?

I am. And now I can stop talking about those fucking pipes!

* Or what I can only assume are bagpipes.

** Again, unless those aren’t horns, and are in fact just more bagpipes.

*** Spelled like that. There seems to be no consensus on which is the correct spelling. This is a pain. Also, for anyone reading this who understands gaelic, what does it mean?

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Posted on September 15, 2011, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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