Blood on the Black Robe
Style: Celtic Metal
Release date: 18 April, 2011
Playing time: 54:01

Lead vox Karen Gilligan had sung in a string of well-received Cruachan albums but left the band in early 2010. After some soul-searching the band opted to discard female vocals from the main line-up and in “Blood on the Black Robe” they expand the remit of founding member Keith Fay to include lead vocal duties. It was in this format, after all, that the band had started out about 17 years ago. Keith also plays a range of other instruments, such as electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, bodhrán, bouzouki, mandolin and various percussive instruments.

As soon as ‘I Am Warrior’ (the ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ of Celtic Metal?) kicks off, it becomes clear that the Cruachan sound is still alive and well, even if a tad less distinct. And by ‘Crauchan sound’ I refer to a vein of Black Metal where Irish/European folk instruments – such as the flute and aforementioned mandolin and bouzouki - are a mainstay of the band’s music. To an extent, one may consider “Blood On The Black Robe” to be Skyclad with the heaviness meter raised several levels. In fact this must be one of Cruachan’s heaviest albums.

The lyrics of Cruachan are also personal affairs and tend to put contemporary Ireland in context of the country’s pagan mythology and folklore. A recurring theme in the band’s albums concerns feelings of anger at the spilling of Irish blood and “Blood on the Black Robe” too seems to contain such sources of inspiration.

‘The Nine Year War’ possibly encapsulates the album’s music, having riffs that regularly change tempo and with brief but regular moments of respite being thrown in - courtesy of some violin solos and rhythms based on hand percussion instruments. Meanwhile the flute retains a ubiquitous presence. Karen Gilligan makes an appearance as guest vocalist in 3 songs, namely ‘An Bean Sidhe’, ‘The Voyage Of Bran’ and the album’s title-track. Her presence makes Cruachan’s change in direction sound less drastic.

I confess I’m not fully satisfied with the production aspect of “Blood on the Black Robe”. For some reason all of Cruachan’s releases seem dogged by production and/or mixing issues and this is very frustrating since the material on offer per se is usually excellent stuff. The bottom line is that “Blood on the Black Robe” might not be the band’s best album – I feel that that title is still held by “Folk-Lore” of 2004 - but it’s doubtlessly a classy piece of work.

A release I wholeheartedly endorse!


01. To War
02. I Am Warrior
03. The Column
04. Thy Kingdom Come
05. An Bean Sídhe
06. Blood on the Black Robe
07. Primeval Odium
08. The Voyage Of Bran
09. Brian Boru’s March
10. Pagan Hate
11. The Nine Year War

Label: Candlelight Records
Distribution: Plastic Head Music
Reviewed by: Chris Galea
Date: 1 April, 2011