Ireland is at the top of my “To See” list for at last a hundred reasons. It’s more than a landscape and a history. There’s more to the Emerald Isle than that. From an outsider’s perspective, there is something intangible, incalculable that draws me to the island. It’s never something I’ve been able to describe in words. When I started listening to metal, of course I found my way to Irish metal and from there came Resounding Footsteps. There is something in the music, in the extreme underground music of Horrenda, Celtachor, Gaoth, and From the Bogs of Aughiska that calls to me. That same interest I had in Ireland that I couldn’t describe, couldn’t quantify, has been put into sonic form. That desire that I had to see this place now has an aural draw. Never was this more obvious to me that my first listen to Laochra (Gaelic for warrior), the side project of Celtachor’s frontman/renaissance man, Stíofán De Roiste. Home and Heart was officially released today (March 31st) and while I’m not overly given to hyperbole, this album affected me in a way that only a handful of albums have done my entire life. This album was everything I love about the Irish sound, the harsh yet beautiful tones that express pain, anger, joy, and hardship all in one note. Home and Heart is beautiful. It is the sound of the Irish legends coming to life again.
Another feeling that might sound hyperbolic to some but is still equally true to this album is the surge of adrenaline I felt when I listened to it the first time. I felt as though something wanted to jump out of my skin and start fighting. With the nickname Bear, I suppose it’s not too out of the ordinary but it was an incredible feeling. There was such emotion packed in this album it was crazy. Stíofán is an incredible vocalist, if you listen to him on Celtachor then on his gust work with From the Bogs of Aughiska you will understand his range. It was because of that range that I wasn’t actually sure of what I was going to get when I listened to Laochra. I knew it was going to be good, whatever it ended up being.
Laochra is a much more pagan, much less rock based, version of Celtachor. Home and Heart is more about the story than the music and, even though the music is incredible, the story is stronger tenfold. Stíofán’s vocals run the gambit the entire album, from his harsh, shrieky growls that made me fall in love with Nuada of the Sliver Arm, to a softer baritenor, and the Sean-nós that he used on Fenian Ram even makes an appearance. Each style is put on display here, and each style is perfectly selected and timed to fit the music to a tee.
Home and Heart is about exactly that. It’s hard to find a more straightforward album title as it relates to the subject matter. It’s poetically concealed though, making sure the title isn’t cheesy or campy. This is not that kind of album. There are some happy moments, some awe inspiring tonal sweeps but for the most part the album focuses on the glory of the old legends and the deep sadness that comes with remembering those days, the unbidden knowledge that days like that may never come again. Stíofán’s clean vocals are perfect for that sort of emotion. His voice, more so than the instruments, captures these feelings and distills it for the listener. Home and Heart gives the listener a front seat to ancient battles fought and glory won. The album paints a wonderful picture of the battles with voice and with instruments. In a similar way that seanchaidhe would have done in the days gone by, Laochra recounts glorious tales with ample parts hyperbole and dramatic realism. Not only is Stíofán an excellent vocalist, he’s an excellent storyteller. As I was listening, I felt connected to the story, to the music. I could close my eyes and imagine I was actually there. The stories are melancholic, brilliant masterpieces. Each song represents a story that should never be forgotten. Laochra has given its listeners a charge: to never forget what they have heard and to spread the stories far and wide.
Each of us is given the chance to become a sort of storyteller. After I listened to the album I felt the urge, the need, to write something write away. Normally I like to sit and stew on the music, so to speak, but this review has really been a stream of conscious review, writing about anything and everything that has entered my head. This analysis, in a way, has been my own interpretation of these events, though they pale in comparison to the music.
I loved the folkish aspects of the album, they are really the dominant sound on the album. Rather than add folkish elements to the metal, Laochra adds metal elements to the folk music. I was delighted to hear sounds very similar to Celtachor but amped up to eleven. The pagan atmosphere made the music come to life. Upon a further listen, I’ve lost count at this point, I felt as though the music took on a life of its own, separate from the intentions and mechanizations of the artist. Good music as the ability to respond to exactly what the artist wants to convey, the same with literature. Great music, and great literature, can go beyond what the artist or author intended, it can effect listeners and readers in ways that the creator could not have imagined. The music can speak to the listener in ways that only that listener can understand, that listener has the ability to see things, hear stories, that only they can hear and see. Such is it with Home and Heart, the tendrils of the music reach much farther than the artist intended, each listener will be blessed with a unique and personal experience. I wanted to go out fight anything and everyone and dance at the same time. It was a strange feeling but an exhilarating one nonetheless.
Home and Heart will, or at least should, be a mainstay in all the black metal, folk metal, or what have you, radios for a while. I think it’s going to be considered a giant in the genre. I loved it, it was an album that spoke to me. I heard the call of the wild hills, I heard the shouts of glory and freedom, I heard the tears of agony and despair, I heard the voice of Ireland in this album.
Highlights: My Homeland, Loss of Brianna
If you enjoyed this try: Celtachor, Falkenbach, From the Bogs of Aughiska
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