If there’s one thing Cruachan cannot be accused of, it’s lack of originality. The band was one of the very first to merge Folk music with Metal and I have yet to hear another band that sounds even similar. Cruachan was formed back in 1992 in Dublin, Ireland, and has since released 5 albums. On the 16th of April the band releases their 6th full-length, which will be called: “Blood on the Black Robe”. On this occasion I asked co-founding member and multi-instrumentalist Keith Fay to bring me up to speed on the band.
“Blood on the Black Robe” reveals a notable change in Cruachan’s music. How would you describe the album in a few sentences?
Keith: I don’t know haha, from the outset of the writing process we wanted to do something different and make a return to our more extreme roots. The whole band is going through a rebirth and Blood on the Black Robe represents our intentions!!
Karen Gilligan is not a full member of the band anymore and in fact Cruachan have by and large done away with female vocals. Did the band’s song writing process change as a result?
Keith: Karen decided to leave the band to concentrate on family life etc. We were already playing with the idea of changing our direction so her leaving was the catalyst that enabled this. We were already heading this way as you can hear on The Morrigans call – there is a lot more extremity on there than on previous Cruachan albums but with a full time female vocalist it was difficult to realise exactly where we want to be going, when she left – we decided not to replace her and continue with our plans.
Who is the woman depicted within the main artwork of “BOTBR”?
Keith: She is not defined according to my brother John. She represents an old Celtic Christian priest; they had female priests back in those days – way ahead of their time haha.
When Cruachan was formed – about 19 years ago – had the band faced any difficulties in integrating the acoustic instruments into the more Metal parts of the songs?
Keith: None at all, it came very natural to us. We have grown up immersed in Folk Music (unlike most Folk Metal bands) so we know the music inside and out.
What does Paganism mean to you?
Keith: Paganism is and always had been a very personal thing to me. In recent years I have stopped practising but am still a pagan. Ask any Pagan what it means and you will get many different answers. I can’t really define it but if you are one of us and really believe in it, you see the world in a much different light, it is a very positive religion.
Ireland’s relationship with religion hasn’t always been a happy one. How has this influenced your own attitude towards religion?
Keith: Well, I grew up as a very good and well behaved Catholic boy. Catholicism in Ireland is usually based on blind faith, as in “my mother was Catholic, therefore I am too”. When I was growing up we were forced to go to church but did not really know why. Now a lot of my generation have completely lost interest and I see fewer children today being forced to go to Church yet we are still classed as a Catholic country. I have never experienced the sectarian troubles that the North of Ireland suffer so this has never influenced my attitude, if anything, I think protestants have a better religion that Catholics.
A couple of questions on a selection of Cruachan’s repertoire.....“The Middle Kingdom” album of 2000 might be considered a paean to Irish folklore. What was the inspiration/s behind this concept and how much of the events and characters mentioned are fruit of Cruachan’s own imagination?
Keith: From the outset we always sang about Irish mythology and the song “The Middle Kingdom” tells of the many different types of Faerie that exist in Irish culture. Depending on your views they are all existing Faeries’s, I did not create them!
The song ‘Bloody Sunday’ (from “Folk-Lore” of 2004) contains the lyric “Many wounded lay crying in agony / The knights of Malta attended them”. Who are these ‘Knights of Malta’?
Keith: The Knights of Malta are a volunteer first aid group that were on the scene during the violence on Bloody Sunday. The administered first aid and tended to the wounded.
Do Cruachan band members view themselves as storytellers or are the moral inferences within the band’s songs an important aspect of the band’s raison d’être?
Keith: Yes, I have always considered us as story tellers – lie the ancient bards. I have written a lot of verse about Irish history and mythology and summed the events up in only a few lines. One thing though, we always include notes on every song in our booklets to make sure the story and its meaning are represented clearly in our songs.
What makes Cruachan’s music unique?
Keith: Well, when we first began there was not one single band like us so simply playing Folk Metal was unique in itself. I think our uniqueness comes from living in Ireland, a country where Folk music has never died out but has always been popular in our culture and as a result we know our medium very well.
Cruachan have performed at several festivals beyond the UK and Europe. Amongst these, where had the band found the most favourable reaction?
We have always had great responses in Eastern Europe and regularly tour in Russia. We also know we have huge support in South and Central America so are hoping to get over there this year for a tour.
What is it like when performing to a crowd of prevalently ‘non-Metal’ punters especially in comparison with Metal crowds?
Keith: In recent years we don’t do this so much anymore but the odd show will always pop up. We have a very diverse repertoire of songs so we can always adapt very well to the type of audience. Either way, a regular guy that does not like metal will probably not like is, even if we play our softer songs.
Since Cruachan started out, more bands have fused folkloristic elements with Metal – such bands that come to mind include Korpiklaani, Battlelore, Finntroll and Elvenking. Has the proliferation of Folk Metal promoted a better appreciation of Cruachan’s music?
Keith: I don’t think so, we have been somewhat left behind as Folk Metal grew so big but we are hoping with the new album the kids that like these bands will take note of the creators of the genre!!!!
I have the impression that Irish Metal bands are still under-acknowledged by the wider Metal community. What are your views on this and how has the Irish scene changed since Cruachan started out?
Keith: I would agree with that, we do have a lively scene with lots of very professional acts but very few that really stand out. A problem could be due to our Island status, bands based on mainland Europe always do a lot better.
What have you been listening to recently (apart from Cruachan releases)?
Keith: I listen to a diverse range of music, to the point of embarrassment haha. I have been listening to a lot of Rotting Christ, Bathory and old school trash bands. On the other hand I have also been listening to the new Michael Jackson album haha.
© Interviewed by Chris Galea