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Symphonic Team
4 stars And so the butterfly was "unstabled"

The Middle Kingdom might be the Cruachan album that is most palatable to the more traditionally inclined Prog (Folk) fan. This is so as it incorporates only a bare minimum of Metal elements (some would perhaps call this Heavy Rock rather than Metal) and nothing at all of the Extreme (Black) Metal that permeated the immature debut album. It is indeed hard to believe that this is the same band, so complete is the transformation they had gone through; like a beautiful butterfly resulting from an ugly caterpillar! The progressive elements of their sound virtually exploded onto the scene here with plenty of Symphonic, Classical, and Medieval elements present for the first time in addition to the Celtic elements. Keyboards are often prominent in the sound including string synths, piano, and harpsichord. Most importantly perhaps is that the vocals of Keith Fey that reigned supreme on the debut had now almost fully given way to the delightful voice of new member Karen Gilligan.

All this resulted in the band taking an enormous step forward with this album, both artistically and sonically (as the debut was horribly mixed and produced). As they were certainly taking a plunge here into previously unknown musical territory, some imperfections would be expected and are still noticeable. But while this initially disturbed me, I now actually find the naiveties present here rather charming. Cruachan would go on to perfect this style with their next album Folk-Lore, with which they took yet another major step forward. But already here it was obvious that they were not content to remain just a straightforward Celtic Metal band (the subgenre they virtually created). They had bigger ambitions, some of which were realized here and some on future releases.

This is not Cruachan's best album, but their Prog-related period can be said to have begun here, and it is a highly recommended addition to a collection already containing the band's next three albums.

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Posted Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | Review Permalink

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