Tuatha Na Gael is the debut album from Irish folk metal act Cruachan. Until very recently (2011) it was something of the oddball album in the band’s discography, being of more of Folk/Black Metal style, complete with a raw, yet atmospheric, production. After this album Cruachan actually split up and didn’t release another album until 2000, and they came back lacking the black metal tendencies of Tuatha Na Gael, although they gradually brought them back in more recent years from the album Pagan (2004) onwards. As such Cruachan gained most of their popularity from their other albums, and so in all fairness based on that Tuatha Na Gael may not sit so well with many of the band’s fans.
That’s kind of ironic really in the current metal scene where claims of ‘selling out’ are all too common, since if Cruachan did any selling out (I don’t really subscribe to such things for the record), it was after this album, yet this is the one that seems to be criminally underrated within the Cruachan discography. Oh well, I guess I’ll never understand metalheads. A shame really, because Tuatha Na Gael is arguably a very important release for the folk metal genre, specifically for so called celtic metal, of which Cruachan are an important entity (if not the most important artist of the entire style).
The fact is though that Tuatha Na Gael is actually a very strong record, but it suffers from a few things that make it difficult to get into, although once I did get into this album I actually found those things to be to the album’s credit. The core of the band’s metal side is raw black metal, which is created mostly through the lo-fi production values and tortured rasps from band frontman Keith Fay rather the instrumentation. Most of the music is layer with traditional Irish folk music as well, although there are parts where Cruachan cuts in back to allow the metal to come to the foreground. You can hear them doing this extremely well in an early track, The First Battle of Moytura, which is actually the first proper song after the instrumental folk introduction piece I Am Tuan. Instrumental work crops up a lot in the album, both as instrumental pieces and as drawn out sections in the vocal pieces, which are generally long tracks of around seven to eight minutes in length.
Another interesting folksy instrumental is Maeves March, though unlike I Am Tuan is includes some distorted guitars in the background. I suppose on a technical standard the production is pretty bad on the release, and Maeves March is a good showcase of that since the folk stuff is really loud whilst the guitars seem to be played as if in the distance. Somehow however the album manages to work, and not just in a passable fashion either, but I actually wouldn’t want this album in any other way. The raw sound gives Tuatha Na Gael a genuine feeling of authenticity in a sort of natural, raw, Pagan and primal way. The music is heavy, atmospheric, melancholic, and underneath that raw production is actually crafted pretty masterfully. The folk instrumentation is a particular treat, as it is on all of Cruachan’s releases. Many of the more popular folk metal acts would do well to take a few leaves out of Cruachan’s book.
If the whole lo-fi thing does nothing for you than I have to admit that you’re most likely to not find anything on Tuatha Na Gael to be worth your time. But that’s your loss, since what we have here is actually a gem of folk/black metal that is sadly overshadowed way too much by Cruachan’s more successful mid-career albums such as Folk-Lore and The Morrigan's Call. Ironically despite the tone this review has taken I’m just a big a fan of these albums and I actually consider Folk-Lore in particular to be the superior of Tuatha Na Gael (I actually think it’s one of, if not the best folk metal album of all time), however it’s about time the band’s fans started waking up to this overlooked and underappreciated release.
With the still recent release of their sixth album Blood on the Black Robe that returns the band to their black metal roots (albeit in a much more polished and modern way), the timing to rediscover Tuatha Na Gael couldn’t be better. It may take a little bit of getting into, especially if you, like me, found the band through their more commercial releases, but given proper care and attention to explore this release properly, you find something that is no less than a masterpiece. The highest of accolades is definitely well deserved for this album, and I hope that metalheads will soon wake up to it. Since this was released back in 1995, it would not be before time. Also if you buy it now you’ll get the ’97 promo as a bonus, which provides some interesting additional listening material from the bridge between the band’s first two albums and shifting style.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scored at 9.5/10)