When you look at the history of a musical genre, even a subgenre as questionably reputable as European Folk Metal; it never astonishes to find that some of its forefathers are overlooked in favour of those currently in the spotlight.
Which brings me to tonight’s interview with Keith Fay, one of the founders and main voice behind Irish metallers Cruachan.
In between working his day job and recording a new album in the works, Keith took some time out of his schedule to talk to me about the past and future of Cruachan, what he personally thinks about the subgenre’s recent wave and folk music’s less shinier qualities.
It’s already been four years after the release of your last LP ‘The Morrigan Calls’; so would you mind explaining the long wait between albums?
We always seem to take a bit of time between releases, for many reasons. The band is not full time and we lead busy lives outside of it with responsible careers, families, children etc.; so making room for the band between all this can lead to these delays.
Though we have not fully decided, I think [the new album] will be called “Blood on the Black Robe”. We would hope early next year for a release date and no later than February; but I don’t know exactly how that fits in with Candlelight’s plans.
At the moment, how does it feel to be part of the Candlelight family after your previous experiences with Karmageddon Media?
We feel great! They are a fantastic label, and in my opinon this is the greatest label that we have been on to date. We have had many crazy experiences in our time, with labels going backrupt and unable to pay recording costs – threats of court over this etc. etc. But nothing like this will happen to us on Candlelight.
What are your hopes for the future, after being signed to such a rising label?
Our hopes for the future, with Candlelight and the strength of the new album; is to cement our place as not only the creators of Folk Metal but also one of the best Fok Metal bands around.
Your new album will also see you all performing without co-vocalist Karen Gilligan. How does it feel to be making a full record without her, after playing together for over ten years?
With full respect to Karen (as she is a great friend still), it feels great! It has been really great playing the more lighter side of metal with occasional splashes of black and death extremes; but my heart has always been in the more extreme side of metal.
When Karen left, we decided not to replace her. I would resume full time vocals like in the “Tuatha Na Gael” days, and we now had the freedom to do exactly the type of music we wanted. Karen is a great vocalist, make no mistake; but we had to write songs around her style.
Previously your lyrics have dealt with mostly Celtic mythology, Irish folklore and history whilst skirting around the topic of religion; which looks as if that might change with the song ‘Pagan Hate’ on the recent demo.
Are religious friction and pagan belief going to feature more often in Cruachan’s music; especially with the issues surrounding the Catholic Church in Ireland?
We still have mythological songs and always will have, but I wanted to write some anti-religious songs from a Pagan viewpoint. There are a few anti-Christian songs on the new album, but they are within context and mainly speak about the wrongs of the past.
I accept that people take comfort in their religion, be it Catholic, Jew, Muslim etc. and that is perfectly fine and I respect that. But I do not respect blind faith; where there is no acknowledgment of the wrongs that these organised religions have caused the world.
What led you to mostly avoid this issue in the past, on your albums?
Well, I didn’t totally avoid it – the song Pagan (from that “Pagan” album) sends the exact same message as some of our newer songs.
How important are paganism and spiritual belief to Cruachan’s music as a whole?
I guess it defines us as a band, so it is very important. I am no longer a practising Pagan, and this has been the case for quite some time; but I know my beliefs and am happy about them. Modern Paganism is a very personal thing and can manifest itself in many different ways.
How important do you consider your connection to Ireland’s past, both spiritually and as a band?
This is very important and also a defining part of what Cruachan is. You can see clearly in our lyrics the pride we have for our country’s past (not so much for the present, thanks to our shameful government). We wear our pride on our sleeves in Cruachan, and always have.
Of late, there is a tendency to interchange the terms “folk metal” or even “pagan metal” with “viking metal”. As a Celtic band, how do you feel about such attitudes?
I don’t know, to be honest. There is no real defined “Viking music”, so all these Nordic bands use “sea shanty” type tunes to match their music. A lot of these bands, especially the bigger ones, are called Folk Metal but they don’t really understand what real Folk Music is; though I know this is not true for all of them.
We in Cruachan have grown up absorbed in this music all our lives, steeped in its history and significance. It irritates me to see people direspect the genre, just to get a punchy sounding folk part into a song.
That said, what are your thoughts on those who seem to now assume that folk metal (rather than folk music) automatically means macho attitudes, Valhalla and Odin?
It’s great – when I first started, I would have thought folk metal was the opposite with regard to the macho aspect since fiddles and flutes don’t come across as very macho! Though if people automatically associate Valhalla and Odin with Folk Metal then it is like I said – wrong. There is no defined folk music that can be tied to that, hence all the “sea shanty” type music.
Celtic mythology and Irish / Gaelic mythology have a real folk musical presence associated with it [unlike Norse mythology].
As standing veterans of the Folk Metal scene, do you have any thoughts on how it seems to have transformed today?
I think it’s great that it has gotten so big, but I also feel a little left out. Which is a pain, considering we were there at its inception. We were the first Folk Metal band with an extreme angle!
I hope and pray this new album will make people open their eyes to what we have done in the past, as well as now in the present.
How do you especially feel about the currently popular view of the genre being primarily party music with swords, mead and heathen themes?
I don’t know, but if that’s what people like, well good for them. Folk music can be jolly, but it can also be very dark; which we have explored on this new album. So stop dancing, and listen up!
Whereas many folk metal bands like to keep their lyrics centred on heathen pasts, Cruachan have written song about both the pre-Christian and the Christianized aspects of Irish history.
Why did you choose this approach, over for the former?
We write about all three, and I believe that all three are very important. I have also never lost touch with my Black Metal roots either; I prefer Black Metal to most other genres so this is obviously going to reflect my lyrics slightly – although my lyrics might be anti-Christian, they are never Satanic.
Do you have any thoughts on the tendency of bands to continuously revel in anti-Christian themes, through Folk Metal of late?
I think it’s awesome, haha! More and more people are realising that modern Christianity is a sham. As I said earlier, people are entitled to their beliefs and if being Christian makes them happy – so be it. But the reality of what Christianity represents is probably way beyond what these people could comprehend. It is a religion created for military purposes, and exists today because of its money-making potential.
Where do you feel the future for Folk Metal lies, lyrically and musically in order for it to continue on as a metal subgenre in its own right?
I see Folk Metal almost as a main genre in metal now – in my opinion it is right there with black and Death – due to its popularity. As for its future – I don’t know.
Maybe we’ll kill it off altogether with the release of our new album, haha!
Ann Sulaiman would like to thank Keith Fay and Cruachan for this interview.
Check out Cruachan’s official website at