Throughout my tenure of reviewing there has always been the occasion when I'll listen to something great and then listen to something not as great in the same genre in the same day. Most of the time, this depends on my MP3 Player (since it selects albums in whatever order it chooses, no matter how I set them up via the computer - I'm beginning to think it's been possessed by the metal gods in all honesty.) but other times, it's my decision. This time it was the debut album from Dubliners Celtachor, entitled Nine Waves From The Shore followed by the latest release from Scotsmen Cnoc An Tursa, entitled The Giants Of Auld.
Listening to Celtachor's debut reminded me only of the best Ireland has to offer. Bands like Waylander, Primordial, Cruachan, Gaesa... and the list goes on. After finishing the epic opener "The Landing: Amergin's Conquest 10:11" I was already well under the assumption that the spirit of great Celtic blackened folk metal was indeed strong with this one. The production wasn't very high, nor would I have wanted it to be. I've always preferred my Irish metal to be a little raw and that's exactly what I got here. You could also hear that the band incorporated many real world folk instruments on this one, not a bunch of funny keys that merely emulate the Celtic spirit of folk music. At times the album was crushing with drumwork that sounded like thunder crashing down on the Irish plains as the riffs followed the same style as the band's obvious influences in Primordial, Waylander, Gaesa, exc. The album also had it's acoustic moments (and some awesome solos) which felt necessary to the music, not as if they were something merely thrown in for means of structure. Everything flowed together as a cohesive whole and illustrated these Celtic myths beautifully. Of course, the real topping on the cake for me was the completely unconventional and unexpected "Tar Eis An Sidhe 6:05" which blew me away completely as one of the most soft and soothing instrumental pieces that I've ever heard from the genre. It makes me think of the Celtic afterworld and the beauty found within it's lush valleys and calming rivers filled with ancient spirits. There is a real spirit to this analog sense of music, as you can hear the whistler taking a breath because he's actually playing the instrument with his own mouth. I also feel that the sense of doom from "Sorrow Of The Dagda 10:26" is immensely carried well as the song bashes with an intense sorrow and fury that is unlike anything else on this disc, topping off with a breathtaking solo. This debut makes me think that these guys are more than just worth keeping my eye on. They're one of my favorite new folk metal acts right now and it's been a while since I've heard a new one worth giving a shit about, save for the genre staples.
That brings us to the competition in the form of Cnoc An Tursa a band from Scotland who's had more time to congeal than Celtachor, but doesn't seem to be breaking any ground. I also believe that they have a certain degree of popularity and a need to (cough) sell out (cough) to the core kids. My genre tag exclaims "folk/black metal" but I just listened to that in Celtachor and am now hearing something that reminds me of Suidakra's middle of the road period where thrash and core predominated much of their music. Yes, there are a handful of black metal riffs on the album; but also enhanced production value. You couldn't hear everything on Celtachor's disc, but at least you knew it wasn't processed. Yes, there are keyboards abound with Suidakra's middle road/I like In Flames and want to mix that with thrash and core vocals approach which rub me eight hundred and fifty wrong ways. And that's a lot of fucking wrong ways. All the folk on this disc is synthesized and despite the melodies being halfway decent and the fact that they do borrow at times from some of the same influences that inspired Celtachor, it almost sounds like they took a shit directly on those influences and played an Eluveitie. Sure, this is a way to sell records and sound like "core/folk band but we're black metal but actually not black metal hehe" but in the end, there's little originality. If I wanted to hear core labeled as black metal, I would go live on planet Saturn. Because on planet Saturn, they listen to core as black metal. But here on planet Earth, I want to listen to core labeled as core and black metal labeled as black metal. Again, there are some decent stabs at black metal and worthwhile tracks on "The Spellbound Knight 6:46" and "Culloden Moor 4:03" and I would say that the latter might just make you think that they are black metal... but only if you heard that song. Now I don't mind when you get core in my peanut butter and peanut butter in my core, but I don't want to buy a jar of core that says peanut butter on it and I feel that this is how it is being sold. To finish it all up, they throw on a synth influenced whistler called "Blar Na H-Eaglaise Brice 3:11" that doesn't leave me with the same authenticity as Celtachor's instrumental ode to the Sidhe.
To say that Cnoc An Tursa lost this battle to Celtachor is an understatement. They got completely eviscerated, butchered, slaughtered and left unrecognizable. It's literally the sound of corporate process vs. the sound of handmade originality. I might have a devil of a time finding the Celtachor record, but I know it would be worth it - instead of the Cnoc An Tursa which I can probably find at FYE or Amazon. I still to this day don't know how core sells as well as it does these days, but I remember the early core bands like Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Lamb Of God, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Between The Buried And Me, God Forbid and As I Lay Dying before anyone knew who they were. Some of these bands might be up to deliberation, but for the most part - these were the meat of that genre. Do I still like them? Yes. Of course. I fully embraced the core movement and most of these bands, still liking their new releases every now and again. But now there are eighty million bands springing from those bands that are mixing other genres with core and in a sense, watering down metal. Not every band is guilty of this, but between core and metal I'll take metal. I knew it was only a matter of time before core and folk metal would become bedfellows and it wasn't much longer before Suidakra pulled that 180 after releasing two of the best albums of their career (The Arcanum and Emprise To Avalon) and released Signs For The Fallen and Command To Charge. These albums, while not terrible changed the band from blackened folk metal to thrashcore/folk due to the retro-thrash movement (bands like Trivium) and the ongoing tenure of core. You might not need the history lesson, but I feel that it's important to know what's becoming marketable and what's still art.
Celtachor proves that genuine folk metal from the heart and soul of Ireland defeats processed Scottish Celt-core like Cnoc An Tursa any day of the week, month or year.
Celtachor - Nine Waves From The Shore (2012)
Highlights: All (7 Tracks, 49:00)
Cnoc An Tursa - The Giants Of Auld (2013)
Highlights: The Spellbound Knight, Culloden Moor (10 Tracks, 40:00)