Blood on the Black Robe
5/13/2011 - Review by: Ravana
"Blood on the Black Robe" marks Cruachan's sixth full-length studio release; it also marks a new chapter for the band, as it is their first album in some time without female vocalist Karen Gilligan (you'll have to go back to their 1995 debut Tuatha Na Gael). Band leader/guitarist/vocalist Keith Fay handles the bulk of the vocals, with a session female vocalist popping up here and there; his harsh, blackened style combined with a slight shift in musical direction make "Robe" Cruachan's most extreme record since their debut. It's also their strongest release in quite some time.
Consistent with Gilligan's departure, Cruachan shy away from the softer folkier, sing-along segments that dominated portions of The Middle Kingdom, Folk-Lore, Pagan, and The Morrigan's Call. While the former albums successfully juxtaposed heavier, more black metal-oriented songs and segments with folk melodies and interludes, they rarely blended the two; they would, instead, stand side-by-side in a formula that was unconventional but for the most part worked. The latter two attempted a blend, and this approach did not always work for Cruachan. Now, with Gilligan gone and male harsh vocals dominating Cruachan's sound, they were pushed to write an album that can truly be called a folk/black hybrid, with violins, flutes, and pipes establishing a backing atmosphere to Fay's unrelenting riffing.
The album's strongest points come when, during songs such as "Thy Kingdom Gone," Fay and his rhythm section establish a solid extreme metal foundation which is then embellished by a folkier melody that comes in during the song's chorus courtesy of fiddle, flute, or traditional strings (such as a mandolin or bouzouki). "Primeval Odium" is another excellent example of this approach. Fay's powerful vocals are quite haunting here and are only upstaged by the eerie violin, which hangs around in the background before coming to the forefront for an outro. The reverse is also true: the first several minutes of "An Bean Sidhe" are soft and feature some truly beautiful female vocals. Then, around the two-and-a-half minute mark, Fay's voice and guitar come in and transform the track into an epic blackened folk anthem.
Overall, there is not a single bad or lacking track on this album. Cruachan fans who have perhaps been disappointed with the band's recent releases: do not let the memory of "The Morrigan's Call" and "Pagan" cloud your judgement and purchase "Blood on the Black Robe"! In fact, anyone who is remotely into folk or extreme metal should give it a shot; it is likely that there will be much here for you to enjoy.
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