Mael Mórdha - Damned When Dead | Review

For those of us who had the honour of attending the inaugural Redemption Festival in Dublin this February, one of the highlights of the day had to be the set of Ireland’s own Mael Mórdha. There was a certain look of determination in their eyes which befitted their battle-paint, and it seemed as if Mael Mórdha had realised their time is nigh. The roar that rose from the crowd when singer Roibéard Ó Bogail announced the band had signed with Candelight, just before they tore through two new songs (‘All Eire Will Quake’ and ‘Bloody Alice (of Abergavenny)’), stood as a striking confirmation of this, and it was one of the more celebratory moments that occurred during the day’s festivities.

Besides this romantic view of Mael Mórdha’s Redemption Festival performance, it has to be said that the band’s unyielding dedication to folk-laden doom metal has gifted them with a committed fan-base around Europe. Unfortunately, however, the glass ceiling seems to have capped the pagan four-piece in terms of greater recognition. Mael Mórdha’s signing to Candelight, their new-found confidence as displayed on stage, and their debut for the esteemed British metal label – Damned When Dead, should finally push the band to the next level. This is because Damned When Dead holds plenty of reward once the song-writing, as well as the gravitas of the lyrics, which often revisit historical events of the band’s motherland, speaks in clear tones. Ó Bogail's moving battle-cry and charismatic clean melodies turn this whistle-wielding singer into a modern day seanchaí, and his storytelling talents on the likes of “King of the English” and “Dawning of the Grey” separates Mael Mórdha from the jovial pagan bands that have appeared sword-in-hand in recent years.

The grave, bass-heavy rumble of opener "Laudabiliter" (named after papal bull issued in 1155 giving Henry II of England the right to assume control of Ireland) is a worthy introduction to the album and is as good a starting place as any for those unfamiliar with the band’s past releases. The previously mentioned "All Eire Will Quake" and "Bloody Alice..." brandish vengeful, galloping tempos yet remain rooted in doom’s allure. And it is clear from these songs, as well as the gloom of 8 minute title-track, that creating and holding drama and tension is just an important part of Mael Mórdha’s music as ever. The band has tried and mostly succeeded in crafting this album in the same way Primordial approach each opus – by balancing the credence of the lyrics and vocals with emotionally rich and expressive instrumentals. Such comparisons to their Irish brethren are unavoidable, and while Mael Mórdha have yet to find that exact balance – the vocals and lyrics are stronger, more individualistic and more engaging than some of the music, Damned When Dead is a mighty step forward for the determined Irish warriors, who will certainly receive more (deserved) attention as a consequence of this album, and whose best still has yet to come.

Dean Brown

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Dean Brown is a metal scribe based in Ireland. He is currently a contributing editor to the North American cultural magazine Popmatters and he regularly throws words for a number of other reputable loud noise publications such as metal,,,, amongst others. He has a strong affinity for music that shakes souls and leaves debilitating tinnitus in its wake and such obsession has left him financially and medically crippled, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Follow Dean on twitter @reus85