Blood on the Black Robe

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Irish pagan warriors Cruachan went back to basics, in a sense, with their long-awaited sixth album, Blood on the Black Robe, by forgoing some of the endless cross-pollinating musical accouterments that had infiltrated recent efforts (everything from the expected traditional folk instruments, to abundant female voices, to generalized unwelcome happy sounds), in order to bang their heads more thoroughly. Not with black metal, mind you, although that too is present in tracks like "Primeval Odium" and "Pagan Hate" (though nowhere near as dominantly as on Cruachan's debut album), but with every persuasion of the form: be it galloping headlong toward the enemy lines ("Thy Kingdom Gone"), marching resolutely into the jaws of almost certain death ("Brian Boru's March"), or scratching and clawing for every inch on the front lines (the title track). The departure from the group of singer Karen Gilligan also left a void filled only rarely by guest vocalists (see "An Bean Sidhe," "The Voyage of Bran"), yet band chieftain Keith Fay's gruff tones (hear him spit his lyrics like Martin Walkyier on the Skyclad-worshiping "The Nine-Year War") seamlessly complement the overall heavier, tougher, errr…furrier attack throughout. Yes, Cruachan sacrificed some eclecticism by going this route, and serious history buffs may suffer the absence of a single, all-binding conceptual thread, but it's not like the Dublin quintet members have put down their swords and fiddles, nor turned their backs on Cú Chulainn. As if! No, like every Cruachan album, Blood on the Black Robe traces its own peculiar course, as per its creators' temporal whims, and the fact that it may not be as headstrong in its extremes as some efforts past may actually broaden its appeal, even as it polarizes fans depending on which facet of the band they like best.

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