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"We tour Russia more than any Irish band. I think that should be recognised"

Meet Cruachan.

keithcruachan Keith Fay

YOU MIGHT THINK that Irish folk and extreme metal are two diametrically opposed musical genres.

But these forms of music have been combined by an Irish group that enjoys huge success abroad – and whose members wonder why they don’t hear the same applause at home.

Cruachan was formed by brothers Keith and John Fay (the two remaining original members in the six-piece band) and John Clohessy in 1992, when the young teens decided to make music that combined folk with extreme metal.

Taking their cues from Celtic mythology – Cruachan Aí was the home of Warrior Queen Medb – they embraced Irish legend. Signed to Trollzorn Records, they’re working on their seventh album.

The group are fresh from their eleventh tour in Russia, and have achieved great success abroad. But they say this hasn’t been recognised at home in Ireland.

“Nothing like that had been made in metal before”

image002 (2)

Tuatha na Gael, Cruachan’s debut, is considered by many to be extreme folk metal’s seminal album.

“Nothing like [our music] had been made in the metal world before”, said Keith Fay.

There wasn’t much of a musical tradition in the brothers’ home, and folk music was ”always seen as uncool”, but Keith’s love for Clannad lead to something clicking for him at the age of just 14.

Moving on up

After Tuatha na Gael, the band didn’t go with the record deals they were offered, and ended up breaking up for a year.

They got back together in 1999, and second album The Middle Kingdom followed in 2000. They’ve released five more records since then, and toured extensively – to South America, Eastern Europe, Russia and Israel.

“The only thing that’s been niggling at us is the lack of support here in Ireland. We all know the reasons [why],” said Keith Fay.

“You don’t hear it on the radio, you don’t hear any promotion of the Irish [metal] bands,” said Fay. “We tour Russia more than any single Irish band in existence. I think that type of thing should be recognised.”

image004 (1) Doing an interviwe on Moscow FM.

“I think it’s just down to the culture of music in Ireland,” he said. “The X Factor, manufactured type of music.”

Fay pointed to how metal albums are likely to chart in countries in Scandinavia and mainland Europe.

“In Ireland it just never has happened that way,” he said. “Ireland and the UK are very unique [compared to] the music scenes in Europe and Eastern Europe.”

“I think historically it’s never been taken seriously,” he said of Irish metal.

If you compare my band with the likes of any trendy Irish rock band like, say, the Script - they have the most generic chords, most generic chord progressions, direct vocal hooks. There’s no real skill in the music they’re creating. When that’s compared to metal and a lot of symphonic metal, some of the [metal] players are virtuosos.

Playing Celtic metal

The band do at least one show a year in Ireland, which Fay said always sells out – but he also added that it is arguable that at least half the audience isn’t Irish.

Perhaps what attracts people from outside Ireland is the Celtic metal sound and look that the band have.

They dress in Celtic Warrior costumes on stage, “to try and create atmosphere”, and shout “are you ready for war?” at the audience.

image003 (1)

“We’re still seen as this almost novelty band [in Ireland],” said Fay. “People might look down their nose a bit. There is elitism in the rock and metal scenes here. ‘You shouldn’t be doing this’. We’ve always done our own thing.”

After 20+ years at it, the band has “come to terms with it”, “it” being their lack of domestic success. But Fay said that they do sometimes get recognised in metal bars at home.

It’s a far cry from the security staff they had with them while touring in Russia.

We’ll pose with our fans no problem. But we had so many looking for photos that we needed security to protect us.

Darragh O’Leary of Invictus Records and metal store Into the Void, said that there is an “innate conservatism” in Ireland towards metal.

“The underground heavy metal infrastructure that has come to define the music has enabled Irish bands to achieve a global recognition that is simply not afforded the same bands in their home country,” he said.

The innate conservatism that is deeply ingrained in the Irish psyche, whether we want to accept and admit or not, reflects on the type of culture we deem acceptable.

“The fact we have something unique pushed us out there.”

cruachan 1

The band explore Celtic and Irish mythology and legends, from Cuchulainn to Tuatha Dé Danann. ”You can’t get any more metal than that,” said Fay.

They have also changed musical styles a bit – they had a female vocalist, Karen Gilligan, for quite some time, and Fay said that at one point they toned things down musically.

They even recorded an album that was produced by Shane McGowan, and their version of Ride On made it into the top 40. They returned to their harder roots in 2007, after Karen left.

image001 In Russia

Making a living

All the members of Cruchan have full-time jobs, but Fay said that the band doesn’t make them a living.

Their touring and expenses are all paid for. But they also have children and mortgages.

“There are bands more successful than us that are barely scratching a living,” said Fay. “We get out on tour a few weeks a year.”

Last year was their most successful year for touring.

The Irish metal scene

Source: Cruachan Official/YouTube

Fay described the Irish metal scene as “in a great state at the moment” with some bands getting good record deals or appearing in magazines abroad.

“That is really cool that the bands are getting their names out there. The scene in Ireland is as vibrant as ever. There are lots of great things coming up.”

I personally think the best is yet to come from here.
Metal is never going to go away – it’s always going to be there.

cruachan 2

“Metal has always been a cultural red-haired stepchild and no other place is this more evident than Ireland,” said Darragh O’Leary.

He said the lack of coverage of Irish metal bands’ success is “because no one wants to contend with or entertain the idea that metal is anything other than a racket made by angry men barking social anachronisms”.

His comments are echoed by other metal stalwarts.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie last year, Alan Averill of Primordial, the hugely successful Irish metal band, said:

If more people took the risk in going to see [Irish metal bands] and checked them out, we could have a much stronger domestic scene which benefits everyone across the board. It would be an economic investment.

As for Keith Fay, he hopes to see a day “when [metal] is at least respected in the country more than it is, and radio stations will play it a bit more.”

Are you an Irish metal fan – or is it something you’d listen to? Join the discussion in the comments.

All photos courtesy of Keith Fay.

Read: This Irish band is huge worldwide – so why isn’t this recognised at home?>

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