Release: 27 April 2018
Cruachan is a band that has been around since the founding years of folk metal. They themselves arguably defined the genre of Celtic Metal. Nine Years of Blood is a concept album about the eponymous war of independence released for the 25th anniversary of the band. So the question everyone is no doubt asking is; does the music on this album strike true enough to do justice Cruachan’s 25th anniversary.
The opening instrumental is a remastered version of “I am Tuan” with a heavy and powerful guitar riffs that somewhat overshadows the folk instruments in comparison to the original song. Listening to this song will give you a good idea of the ballsy pride that just oozes in the rest of this album, which is fitting since Nine Years of Blood cannot truly be bloody enough without a call to arms. If the rest of the album is about the war, this song is about the Gaelic spirit that refuses to kneel to the English.
After such an epic sounding opening the drums immediately kick off into a machine gun drum beat on “Hugh O’Neill” with a guitar rhythm that follows what sounds like a reel. The black metal rasp done here borders on growls, and is truly vicious. The lyrics, the harsh vocals, and the celtic influences all show an authentic sense of patriotic fury that accurately evokes the sense of Gaelic rebellion.
Next up is the mid-paced “Blood and Victory” which opens with heavy riffing and the same ferocity but with a darker sound. There is once again a Celtic dance feel to it, and before the solo there’s an acoustic section with the same grandiose guitars as “I am Tuan”. The solo picks up the sombre feel again with a catchy yet melancholy tune on the fiddle repeated according to what once again seems like a traditional dance pattern.
“Queen of War” would have been better if done by a female vocalist, that being said the song still isn’t bad. It is a song about the Morrigan and has a morbid tone to it, being an absolute testament to warfare as the motivator, monarch, and destroyer of men. This is a highly energetic solo with the same “epic” sound as mentioned on some of tracks.
“Battle of Yellow Ford” opens with a chant and another traditional Celtic rhythm to the riffs. The vocals sound a bit worn out but it still passes for an effective medieval chant. Violins and guitars blend well into a symphony of Irish musical pathos. There is once again a subtle reel pattern to it.
The next song continues blending the violins with the guitars on “Cath no Brioscal”. Same subtle reel pattern, but with a breakdown that bursts forth like a regiment of furious galloping gaels. There is a renaissance-y feel to it before going into the solo, giving it a period legitimacy that further the sense enhances the prideful glee in the face of an impossible war that the Irish must have felt at the time.
Next is “The Harp, the Lion, the Dragon, and the Sword”. The song opens with a chant not unlike a round, and goes into some heavy riffing with the savage rasping growls that are present throughout this album. The song then transitions into a folksy acoustic section, and then a really catchy – raw solo. There are once again sections of the song that have a strong medaeval feel to it, that would not be out of place at a particularly macho war-themed renaissance faire.
“The ale before the battle” is exactly what it says on the tin. A “cinematic” piece that could be taken as a drinking break before the album winds down into the final stages of the war. This booze break is followed by the eponymous “Nine Years of Blood”, which follows the same formula as the rest of the album yet with enough variation to make another unique sounding tribute to the anger and pride of the struggling Irish warriors still refusing to kneel before the English.
The album reaches its climax with “the siege of kinsale” another song that follows a subtle reel pattern. It has a strong medieval feel to it, and its vocals has Keith Fey chanting again, however this time being much more successful, with a chant that is halfway between sounding angry and a growl, “a death chant” in other words if such a thing is even possible. The song deals with the crushing defeat of the Irish after their Spanish allies surrendered against overwhelming British numerical advantage. Though the song ends with a raspy shout that fires like a defiant shotgun of spite at the English victors in defiance with the intent of going for two more tracks.
“Flight of the yellow Earls” deals with Hugh O’Neills exile in what starts off sounding like a traditional Irish folk song, and then continues with the machine gunning drums dripping with prideful defiance in the face of the seeming British victory, with the violins taking prominence again near the ending.
The final track is “Back home in Derry”; a hell of a drinking song, feeling like a “Wild Rover” pub song. Once again the Gaelic pride is here, in the form of good old homesick nostalgia, with the heavy folk influences and the mandatory “whoas” and “heys” that all good crowd participation folk songs should have. “Back home in Derry” is a fitting display of solidarity for the restless spirit of the rebellion from the nine years war and finishes Nine Years of Blood on a high note.
Going back to the original question, not only does Nine Years of Blood do justice to Cruachan’s 25th anniversary, but it is masterpiece in itself. Knowing well that some might challenge this statement until they have actually experienced this album for themselves I will nonetheless say that this is my favorite new favorite Cruachan album. Give Nine Years of Blood a listen, it exemplifies an authentic rebellious anger that I personally think honors those who died for their country in the Nine Years War incarnate.
If you want a taste of the original sound evident on some tracks take a listen to “The Harp, the Lion, the Dragon, and the Sword”.
- I am Tuan
- Hugh O’Neill – Earl of Tyrone
- Blood and Victory
- Queen of War
- The Battle of the Yellow Ford
- Cath na Brioscai
- The Harp, the Lion, the Dragon and the Sword
- An Ale before Battle
- Nine Years of Blood
- The Siege of Kinsale
- Flight of the Earls
- Back Home in Derry