John Mulvaney, the man behind Fractured (a film/
documentary series focusing on Irish undergroun d music), talks us through his current favourite Irish metal bands.
As a country, Ireland has never really been short of musical talent. Point in fact, my grandmother always used to ask us, “Do you have a song?”. Because, you know, everyone had to be able to hold the tune of at least one number. Music is intrinsic in our make up. Having said that, we don’t exactly have the best of histories in promoting and focusing on more adventurous or extreme forms of music. John Mulvany spotted this and decided it was up to him to document the more experimental and peripheral Irish music on offer. This documentation takes the form of Fractured, an essential music documentary series that aims to explore as many Irish underground bands as is humanly possible.
In the spirit of shedding light on underground music, we asked John to select his current 10 favourite Irish metal bands. He duly obliged. He’s a gent.
Top ten lists of anything can be strange beasts; for hardened genre fans they can seem noobish and pointless, but for those attempting to get to grips with something new, they can serve as a very useful starting point. I can see both sides of the argument here – they are easy talking points, for sure, but seldom do they seem useful in the bigger sense; people usually read them looking for that instant recognition /self justification of, ‘my favourite band is listed here, so that makes me happy ‘.
Recently, Metal Hammer published their list of top ten Irish Metal bands, which featured some truly incredible acts, but felt like it barely scratched the surface of what is happening in this country in terms of heavy music. If anyone is into the heavier side of things, I’d imagine you’d be aware of the likes of Abaddon Incarnate, Primordial and Mourning Beloveth already – they hardly need an introduction at this point. Also included on the list were a handful of bands that had definitely broken up – it doesn’t stop their music being any less brilliant, but felt like a missed opportunity to bring something fresh to the discussion.
When I was asked to assemble this list, I decided to focus on bands that I felt were a part of what was bubbling below the surface in terms of Irish metal; bands that were fully active, releasing new material and gigging regularly – bands that the average Irish or UK metal head might not yet be aware of. Bands that you should definitely be paying attention to if you aren’t already.
So, this is it – my own personal picks of what is making me excited for metal in this country in 2016.
1. Zealot Cult
Forming in 2008, earlier this year saw the release of their second EP, Karmenian Crypt, and with it we watched the band step away from their previous ‘brutal’ death metal stylings and take a more classic approach to riffing – and what a difference it makes.
Gone are the more guttural sides to their sound, and the Limerick-based band finds themselves sitting comfortably alongside classic-era Death and Obituary in their approach to song writing – and I gotta say, it suits them perfectly. The EP is flawlessly produced, and live, these guys know exactly what they are doing; it’s the sound of a band that has taken the time to re-assess their music, hone their style and play to their strengths. A full length release is currently in the works.
When Mastodon come knocking on your door and request you to accompany them on their Irish gig dates, you know you are doing something right. Getting the seal of approval from a heavy-hitter wouldn’t mean much though if they didn’t have the music to back it up, but a few spins of their latest release, Harmonic Ruptures, tells you everything you need to know.
While they might wear their hearts clearly on their sleeves – it’s not hard to spot the influences of the aforementioned Mastodon, or equally Thin Lizzy, for example – it all gels into something that just sounds great to listen to. The huge riffs on record are met equally with a hefty stomp when played live – if your head isn’t banging after a few minutes, there’s no hope for you.
Joseph Deegan might be steeped in the shadows and history of extreme Irish music – his impressive CV includes involvement with Sol Axis and Myrkr, for example – but it doesn’t mean that Slidhr is nearly as well recognised as it should be.
Slidhr’s sound is one of carefully layered, dense, blackened metal – an ambitious, frosty tone that continues to reward long after repeated listens. The last EP – 2015’s ‘Spite of the Apostate’ – accompanied the first live shows of the project, and showcased an artist willing to push further beyond what we have come to expect from extreme music from this country. We are getting some rare Irish shows early in 2017, don’t miss out.
We are back to Limerick again, but this time with a much more melodic take on metal. These guys know how to deal out the crunchy, complex guitar playing and manage to pull off something tough in the process – make you completely forget that the music is entirely instrumental. No easy task, for sure.
led by the twin guitars of the real-life twin brothers Eoin and Ciaran, the band have become a real backbone of the Limerick music scene, with their members not only involved with the regular Bad Reputation events, but with sound engineering and recording, too. This dedication is reflected not only in their full length record, Living Bridges, but in their fun live shows. They have a tendency to suck you in with melody, before peeling your face off with heaviness.
Probably one of the more well-known names at this point to emerge from the Irish death metal scene, Malthusian have managed to build up quite a reputation for themselves in a considerably short space of time. It’s all based on the strength of the material, though – from the opening doom-laden chords of Wraith///Plague Spore on their MMXIII EP, there’s a real confidence on display that you rarely see in a debut release.
It’s no surprise then to see the talent involved – members of Wreck of the Hesperus, Altar of Plagues, Mourning Beloveth and On Pain of Death make up the numbers, and what is delivered is quite possibly the darkest music to crawl out of this country. See them live and watch them suck the light from the room.
Another band that have been around for over a decade, but don’t get nearly enough attention – Belfast’s Slomatics. 2016 saw them release their 5th full length, but don’t let that put you off; with each album comes refinements to their massive sound while their mission statement – to bludgeon – remains the same. It’s safe to jump in anywhere.
The trio specialise in big, spaced-out riffs – and when I say big, I mean it; they are fucking huge. It’s hard to convey how heavy they are, but when I first played their latest release – Future Echo Returns – I laughed giddily as the guitars and bass attempted to put the car speakers apart. If you like your metal played at planet-crushing levels, get on board now.
The most recently formed band on this list, Coscradh have members from all sides of the country, but come together in Dublin to bring us their own vicious brand of black/death metal.
So far we’ve just had a 4-track demo, released through Invictus Productions, but it shows serious promise – where they really blew me away though was seeing them live. There’s a real violence and energy to them that you don’t see too often, and they do it so well it seems effortless. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next from them.
8. Venus Sleeps
Bringing things down a few notches, tempo wise, is Venus Sleeps. Despite taking their cues from doom masters such as Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard, they aren’t afraid to take chances every now and then – who would have expected to see a Syd Barrett cover smack bang in the middle of their debut album?
It’s this self-assured nature that shines through in their music – founder and guitarist Sie also has a great voice, and he let’s it soar over the lengthy jams. The band are back gigging and testing out new material now, before heading back into the studio soon. Catch them while you can.
9. Unyielding Love
Their demo that released in late 2015 gave an indication of the potential Unyielding Love had in them, but the follow up EP – The Sweat of Augury – didn’t play it safe; expectations were thrown out the window completely, kicking and screaming.
Despite the grind/noise tag, there’s a lot more going on in their sound than just blast beats and viciousness. They’ve learned to use their noise aspects in a more fully integrated way; tracks seemingly rot before your ears, but they know when to pull it back from the brink of complete collapse with a recognisable guitar riff, before slowing things down and going in a more ambient route. Being able to find that space to breathe in the chaos makes the ride even more sombre and intense.
Vircolac have been keeping busy since they formed in 2014; they’ve released a handful of demos, been touring constantly (with plenty of dates in Europe), and have just knocked out their first EP – The Cursed Travails of the Demeter.
Taking their music cues from the early Morbid Angel era of death metal, there’s also a rather meaty horror vibe to everything they’ve released – ‘Vircolac’ means ‘werewolf’, in Romanian, so maybe no surprises there. The live shows are also full of energy; this is where the punk/hardcore elements of certain key members come into play, and front-man Darragh doesn’t hold back for a second. Death metal as it should be; fast, furious and full of atmosphere.
Photography by Shane J Horan.
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