I enjoyed Cruachan’s 2014 “Blood for the Blood God” album so it was a pleasure to receive the Celtic folk metal band’s ninth album release “Nine Years of Blood”.

Stormy conditions greet us. Straightaway we are taken into epic heathen lands. The traditional instruments always add a melancholic mistiness to the scene. That’s just the prelude to “Hugh O’Neill – Earl of Tyrone”, which whips up the pace and presents us with a furious rousing black metal assault, split up by a haunting tin whistle section before battle recommences and we hear the rousing chorus. To place it in context, it was Hugh O’Neill who led the Irish resistance against the English in the Nine Years War around 1600. The theme of the album, as its title suggests, is the Nine Years War. So whilst Cruachan’s music has the loftiness of Moonsorrow and the range of instruments used by Eluveitie, the scene is firmly set in Ireland and its history. Cruachan’s atmospheres are cleverly constructed. From the dark intensity and despair even of “Blood and Victory”, there are moments of reflection as the bloody tale unfolds. The opening of “Queen of War” is sung heartily and played out in a defiant, epic folk style. It is as if we are being taken directly to these hard-bitten mediaeval times. The pungent, driving metal is the atmospheric accompaniment. “To war!” is the cry, and the music sets off solidly in a forward and exciting direction.

The sound of horses and an army on the march takes us into “The Battle of the Yellow Ford”. This is where O’Neill organised the ambush of the advancing English troops. The music represents the danger and the death, but also the spirit of defiance and pride. As we move onto the fiery “Cath na Brioscaí” there is the most evocative and most Irish sound from the fiddle. Gather ye round and dance, even though it’s all amid some searing black metal. “The Harp, the Lion, the Dragon and the Sword” represent the values as Cruachan go on a jolly romp to take the bloody tale further. Folk mixes with metal in a way that is furious and exhilarating. “The Harp, the Lion, The Dragon and the Sword” is just magnificent. Time is taken for a drink before the mediaeval courtly music of the album’s title strikes up. This is the prelude to the sombre “The Siege of Kinsale”, referring to the events of 1601 when the English managed to overcome the Spanish, who arrived in the southern port to support the Irish, who had to come down from Ulster. In the end, O’Neill left for Spain himself. This was known as “The Flight of the Earls”, the next dark folk tale. It is delivered in traditional style. “Back Home in Derry” is then another fiery traditional song in which presumably O’Neill reflects his wish to be back home in Derry. But the English had now taken over and were handing out O’Neill’s estate to other lords who had been supportive of their cause.

I have an interest in the history here, but even if you don’t know about the Nine Years War, it is remarkable how Cruachan, through subtle combinations of traditional Irish music and the darkest metal, manage to recreate the story and the roller coaster of events and atmospheres in this bloody tale of war and conflict. The story is captured graphically and imaginatively, and of course it is something that is historical and real. “Nine Years of Blood” is utterly captivating.

(9/10 Andrew Doherty)