The Morrigan’s Call
Like folk music, metal is the life-soundtrack of a tightly knit community, so it’s not surprising that metal bands in various countries have lately been blending the amp-frying guitars and thunderous drums of their genre with the native traditional sounds their parents and grandparents heard and played. The Irish band Cruachan has been doing this for some time The Morrigan’s Call is its fourth, and most accomplished album. The group’s originals utilize both the imagery and the instrumentation of the Irish folk tradition—songs like “Cuchulainn” and “The Brown Bull Of Cooley” layer bodhran, banjo, mandolin, and tin whistle amid the thunderous double-kick drumming and roaring electric guitars, as the lyrics retell classic Celtic mythology. Vocal duties are divided between hoarse barking (from multi-instrumentalist and band founder Keith Fay) and Karen Gilligan, whose banshee wail perfectly suits both metal and the subject matter. If the recently reconstituted Pogues joined forces with Slayer, the result might be something almost as rocking as this album.
Q&A WITH KEITH FAY
How did the band come together? Were you metalheads first, or folkies first?
Hard question to answer, actually. We grew up with folk music and appreciated it from an early age that’s the way it is in Ireland. Folk music is everywhere. But I personally got into metal music and the whole culture that surrounds metal. I must have been ten or eleven when I first started listening to Metallica and Slayer. When I first thought about getting a band together, it was almost an afterthought that folk music would come into it somehow. I explored that idea a bit more, and as a result really got into folk music, not only Irish but a lot of European folk music as well. The initial version of Cruachan, Minas Tirith, was a kind of J.R.R. Tolkien tribute band. All of our songs and music were influenced by his books—this was 1991, long before the movies. We used folk music more and more, and in the end changed the whole concept of the band to reflect the sound of the music. Cruachan was born.
Have you ever played for a hardcore Irish folk audience? What was the response?
Yes, kind of, we supported Shane MacGowan a few times, although that’s not really a hardcore folk audience, as there’s always a young, modern crowd at his shows. The crowd loved it regardless.
Why do you think so many bands are combining the folk music of their native countries with metal? Is metal a folk music, in a way?
Hard to say I really don’t know. Irish people are surrounded by their native music, and really associate with it. Other bands might not have that kind of association in their native countries, where national folk music is something that would be scorned by the hip, young, trendy crowds. I believe metal could be a folk music. A lot of early metal bands were very influenced by folk music. I listen to a lot of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, and there are many, many parts in their songs where you could stick a fiddle playing the guitar riff and it would be pure folk!