CeltachorCeltachor have returned in fine form with their rough and raw brand of pagan metal and a mission to educate us all in a bit of Irish folklore. The good news upfront is that, this time round, the Irish whistle is spending more time in frontman Stephen Roche’s back pocket (like strong ale, you gotta love those folky instruments but people also need to know when we’ve all had too much of a good thing). The other good news is that the composition of the tracks feels a lot tighter on Nuada Of The Silver Arm and the ‘demo’ production quality of Nine Waves From The Shore has been polished up too now they’ve found themselves on a fitting label. But the tumbling, slightly chaotic take on pagan metal with a blackened edge is all still here providing a fitting backdrop for the tales of heroes, kings and tribal wars. Let’s be clear, Celtachor does not belong to the plastic-sword-waving hordes. Its blade is made of metal even if it is wrought so coarsely it will crush your bones and barge you from its path rather than run you through in an instant. As subtle as a boulder in the face, then, with its galloping percussion (one of the highlights as laid down by female drummer Anaïs Chareyre) and dirty, roughly hewn and chugging riffs which help conjure up images of silent warriors on horseback and windswept Irish moors as well as any band can.

Celtachor belongs to an honest pagan metal heritage that relies on mournful folk melodies, grainy atmosphere and heartfelt longing for times past or dreamt up in tales woven long ago. Roche has moved away from the almost wanton injections of his tin whistle which nagged their way through last album constantly seeking to hog the limelight. Now, like other self respecting, premium pagan metal bands, he has moved towards a more sympathetic and subtle use of the folkish influence and traditional instruments are introduced with more of a steady hand – as part of the armoury rather than as a calling card for anyone who thinks it might be amusing to mock up as a viking/pirate/celt on a Saturday night in Dublin. Metal is definitely the master here and after the initial romp across the first two or three tracks an admirable skill for scene-setting and atmosphere begins to shine through. By the fourth track Bres, the album, while still chugging along at a, by now, familiar pace, has taken on a new darker urgency and into the mists of Dark Age legend with barely a pause for breath.

The dreamy atmospherics occasionally creep in to create a nice balance but for the most part this is pagan metal of the steely-eyed and weather-beaten variety rather than chants, fist pumping and cartoonish album covers. This is for fans of bands like fellow countrymen (and labelmates) Cruachan and French bands Bran Barr and Heol Telwen and may even appeal to anyone who has found themselves distracted by the hypnotic dirges and cleaner vocals of Primordial or Mael Mordha even though the Roche’s vocals are more solidly in the rasping black metal camp than the latter two. There are some loosely used keyboard sounds echoing in the distance and some nicely atmospheric acoustic guitar strumming to add a bit of light and shade to the onward trajectory which begins to find its peak at the title track before taking a darker and more varied shade in the second half of the album.
For me, Celtachor falls on the more interesting side of pagan metal and all its rough edges merely serve to make this a darker experience – as if you’ve just wandered through the mists of time and blundered on a full-scale mythological event. Celtachor what they promise from the outset and they do it well – without the addition of too many frills and with a steady hand on the folkish faux-pas. Just solid heavy metal with an evermore consistent style and production providing something of a neat benchmark in a scene so often guilty of shooting itself in its fur and leather clad foot in an effort to garner attention from willing fans.

(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)