Blood on the Black Robe
posted on 5/2011 By:
Much like its semi-kindred spirit power metal, epic folk metal often walks a fine line between cheesy and bad-ass, where a few misplaced slips of the foot can land the outfit in question squarely on the cheesy side of the fence. Ireland’s Cruachan finds themselves mired in cheddar repeatedly throughout the duration of Blood on the Black Robe, and even when they maintain their balance, they still end up boring you.
Cruachan’s sound is rooted in the expected standards for its style. Heavy, simplistic backing riffs lay a framework for the folk melodies, while a clean/harsh vocal dynamic and occasional excursions into softer, moodier acoustic terrain rounds out the package. While the basic intent of these songs seems to be to conjure a war-torn battlefield atmosphere in the vein of Ensiferum or Turisas, most of the chugging riffs are too bland and repetitive to give the music the necessary sense of scope. This leaves most of the weight to fall on the vocals and folk components, both of which do little to push the music forward. The vocals are the primary culprit in terms of corniness; the weak screams that narrate the overly-historical lyrics are often hilarious and impossible to take seriously, and they tend to bring to mind Iced Earth’s lowest moments of textbook-esque lyricism. And the attempts at “battle-chants” that manifest in repetitive choruses, such as that which opens “The Column,” just make me want to reach for the "stop" button.
The weak metallic core of this album would be more forgivable if the folk melodies, which are often the primary driving force in these kinds of bands, were more engaging. But this crucial ingredient simply isn’t represented in a compelling enough manner on most of Blood on the Black Robe. The various wind instrument sounds that accompany the guitars are adequate at breaking up some of the monotony the riffs convey, but these are all melodies that anyone who has heard any folk metal has heard before, and they aren’t really properly integrated with the rhythm guitars in a seamless manner. And much like the more traditional riffs, these melodies are often repeated to the point of stagnation, while the quieter interludes that open some of the tracks are similarly tired sounding.
Cruachan’s newest effort does harbor moments of promise. The occasional usage of blastbeats and more energetic guitar work brings some needed fire to the proceedings when they surface (though they mostly doesn’t appear until later in the album), and despite its formulaic nature, a lot of the folk instrumentation is catchy and will appeal to fans of bands following a similar sound. But Blood on the Black Robe isn’t anywhere near interesting or emersive enough to warrant its lengthy running time, and the most memorable moments that occur are typically when the band does something that’s either corny or irritating. No thanks.
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