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CRUACHAN - Nine Years Of Blood

Released April 27/18 (Trollzorn Records)

Folk metal can be a tricky sub-genre to tackle for a band. In some cases, units spend too much time on the folk side, forgetting the metal side of the equation (refer to Korpiklaani's recent Kulkija release). Luckily for us, Cruachan make no such mistake here on their eighth full length, delivering a distinctly heavy metal album with Celtic folk flourishes embedded seamlessly within each track. Cue tin whistles, mandolin, banjo and jigs within the guitar-based maelstrom. The traditional metal riffage and folk elements provide an accessible base, however, the intermittent cackle vocals lend it extra weight, creating a sound that will be welcomed by extreme and non-extreme metalheads alike.

The Irish unit was one of the originators of folk metal, so it's impressive hearing the band still going strong some 26 years later. And not just musically. Nine Years Of Blood is the last part of their "Trilogy Of Blood" album cycle that focuses on the war pitting England against Ireland between 1594 and 1603. An epic conceptual album that names names and revisits the battles, it succeeds in adding to the folklore that surrounds the war.

While the subject matter is indeed impressive, enlightening and entertaining, Cruachan's music succeeds in rising up to the expectations of such expansive lyrical matter. For example, 'Queen Of War' builds up to an immaculate conclusion with a "TO WAR !!!" battle cry that still sends shivers down my spine after multiple listens. Other examples of top notch tracks include the joyful, yet also somehow sorrowful, jig-inspired 'Cath Na Brioscai', the military sounding 'The Harp, The Lion, The Dragon and The Sword' and the medieval acoustic title track respite straight out of the Blackmore's Night playbook.

I can't say enough good things about this album. Track after track of memorable riffage, story-telling and melodies come at you in waves from beginning to end of this superb release. Amazing - this may just grow into being one of my favorite folk metal albums of all time. It's certainly one of the best albums of any genre this year.

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