Tuatha Na Gael (1995) is the debut full-length album by Irish Celtic folk metal Cruachan. Tuatha Na Gael is generally considered to be one of the earliest releases of the folk metal genre, especially of the Celtic variant. I don't claim a complete knowledge of every album that's ever been made but I do believe that Tuatha Na Gael may even be the first true Celtic metal full-length album, following on from Cruachan's prior demo Celtica (1994). This is quite the historic release in my mind and with the album twenty years old to the day of this review (April 30th) I decided to give my in depth thoughts on it. I've actually reviewed it before, but decided to revisit as I was no longer completely happy with the original text.
It's odd to think though that this very nearly may have been the only Cruachan album ever released. The band ended up breaking up in 1997. I often wonder if the folk metal genre would have developed differently if Cruachan hadn't reinvented themselves and made their comeback in 2000. In my view, Cruachan are one of if not the most important act to have played folk metal. I know most like to credit Skyclad for truly starting this fusion of folk and metal and maybe some others tried it before Cruachan came along, but they're certainly the earliest band I've discovered to take the style to the next level with quite the array of authentic folk instrumentation on display. We're talking mandolins, flutes, pipes, bodhrán and more on here. Real ones, not faked with synthesisers. Compare that to say Skyclad's The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1991) with its violin and piccolo. Cruachan have so much more going on. I don't doubt that what Skyclad did was important to folk metal's development as well but to me at least, Tuatha Na Gael was more important and genre defining.
In terms of Cruachan's whole discography though, Tuatha Na Gael is actually the oddball album, or at least it was until the release of Blood on the Black Robe (2011). You see Tuatha Na Gael is also a black metal album, and it's a very raw sounding black metal album at that which makes the album markedly different from all the more cherry types of folk metal groups doing the rounds today. It's atmospheric, melancholic stuff that is crafted pretty damn well in my book but the raw sound may ultimately be a turn off for anyone coming to this album later having experienced some of the following work, which feature a lead female singer, Karen Gilligan, and very few black metal elements until they started to reappear on Pagan (2004) with the sound coming full circle (albeit modernized with better production) on Blood on the Black Robe, released after the Gilligan's departure and Cruachan's decision to make Keith Fay the sole vocalist again, as is also the case on Tuatha Na Gael. Even so, that album and this one are still very different beasts.
The songs on the album tend to be reasonably long with a few shorter ones. The tracks The First Battle of Moytura, Fall of Gondolin, Cúchulainn, Táin Bó Cuailgne and To Moytura We Return are all between the seven - nine minute mark. This is another thing that sets Tuatha Na Gael apart from Cruachan's later work as apart from a few exceptions, most of them on their only other black metal album Blood on the Black Robe, their songs tend towards shorter marks. The band leave a lot of room for instrumental sections. I guess I have to be fair and point out that from a technical point of view the raw black metal production job doesn't always let the details stand out as well as they could, but the album certainly makes up for that in other ways. The folk instrumentation of Cruachan has always been a particular treat and that's no different on their debut than it is on later work.
I gather than Cruachan earned most of their fans during Karen Gilligan's era so sadly Tuatha Na Gael does seem to be one of the more underrated records in their discography. I personally prefer it to a lot of their other work with the exception of Folk-Lore (2002) and Blood for the Blood God (2014). The raw sound doesn't work for every artist and it wouldn't have worked for Cruachan on their less black metal based albums, but it does on Tuatha Na Gael. Music for me is normally just that, music, but this is the sort of special album that conjures its own atmosphere. I can imagine sitting around a campfire in the woods at night, listening to stories of Celtic mythology (a well of inspiration for Cruachan's themes) and Tuatha Na Gael is the soundtrack, the music an ominous companion against the dark. Or maybe I'm just spouting drivel, but the point is Tuatha Na Gael has something in my opinion that other folk metal records don't have, which goes a good way to explain my opinion that this is actually one of the best Cruachan releases. I do prefer those other two I mentioned, Folk-Lore and Blood for the Blood God, but in terms of overall important to the genre, the winner will always be Tuatha Na Gael. The most important records aren't always the best a group ever makes or their genre goes on to produce and there's no doubt in my mind either that Tuatha Na Gael has always been a high quality debut from Cruachan. I'm going to settle on 4.5 stars.