Let’s admit it… Ireland is not THAT famous for its doom metal bands but Mael Mórdha are trying their best to leave a huge mark in the genre with their brand new album "Damned when dead”. Pest Webzine thought it would be a great idea to chat with drummer Shane Cahill to find out more about this Gaelic outfit.
The name of the band is inspired in an Irish King… Why?
It was somewhat accidental to be honest; Rob came across the name in around 1998 when he was changing the line-up of what was then called Uaigneas. Later, when reading a biography of Brain Boru, the High King of Ireland, he realized that Mael Mórdha was Brian’s arch nemesis and thus the name of the band. In reality he thought it was a great fit for the band and thus was born the band you now see today. .
Candlelight describes you as Gaelic Doom Metal from Ireland. Do you think this is the best description?
Well, that is a description that has been going around for some time now. In the early days we may have had something to do with that. Sure, we play music that references Ireland and the Gaelic ways and traditions, and there is an obvious lean towards the early English Doom bands, early My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost etc. I think the music has evolved over the years to what you hear now, which has a more epic heavy metal feel to it. I think people always try to pigeon hole music in particular or fit a band into some trend or niche so that they might feel more comfortable with themselves. If they want to do that fine….
Black metal has corpsepaint and Mael Mórdha have blue paint. How important are aesthetics for you? What’s the meaning behind it?
For us it is really an extension of the lyrical themes of our albums. It’s been a part of our show over the years and it has also changed over the years to how we look now. In the years gone past Irish warriors would go into battle, possibly naked, covered in whatever white substance they can find in order to scare they opponents. The woad which you see, that is the blue war paint, is an extension of that. I could never imagine us going on stage with jeans and a tshirt. It just would fit the aesthetics of the band and the performance.
I recently read that "Damned When Dead” is built around the traditional Irish text the ‘Annals Of The Four Masters’ with the title of the album extracted from within the text – ‘Putrid when living, damned when dead.’ Is this information accurate? If so, why have you decided to base yourselves upon this text in particular?
Damned When Dead tells the story of the arrival of the Anglo Normans to Ireland in 1169AD, which can also be referred to the Norman Invasion. The King of Leinster at the time, Diarmuid MacMurrough was fighting fiercely with neighboring kings and thought it would be a great idea to hire warriors from abroad to help defeat his enemies. So he invited Strongbow, (Richard De Clare) to come to Ireland and he helped defeat many of Diarmuids enemies. It turns out Stongbow married, Diarmuids daughter Aoife and thus the Kingdom of Leinster came under Norman control. I suppose this can be seen as the beginning of English control over Ireland. Soon after King Henry of England, followed his Norman Lords and thus began the control and dominance of Ireland by the english.
Diramuid became know in the Annals of the four Masters, in 16th Century history as "putrid when living, damned when dead”…
"All Eire will quake” includes any current political message or is it based upon an ancient story?
Let me make this clear, we do not have any political agenda in any way. Some of us are interested in politics, be it ancient or current, some members of the band just a fleeting, passing interest. All Eire Will Quake is written from Diarmuids point of view. He imagines the power he will have in Ireland once his foreign allies have arrived and he bathes in the thought of the retribution he will have over his enemies. But he has doubts. His mind wonders what will happen to his lands, and his family once he has begun this war. Another point for Diarmuid is that his son has been taken hostage by the High Kind, and will more than likely be executed if conflict breaks out.
The album art was painted by Vasileious Zicos. Can you tell us more about it?
We originally wanted use a painting in the National Gallery of Ireland, but that was not to be. It was a painting of the marriage between Strongbow and Aoife, by and Irish artist called Daniel MaClise in the 1850’s. As it happens I am delighted that it didn’t work out, as Vaslieious has done a great job. Some elements of the original work is represented in the artwork you see now, but I think it has come out far better that we had hoped. On the front you will see our friend, the Minitaur smashing the Cross.
It seems most fans actually think that the production on this album is more improved in comparison to your past releases. So what are the most significant changes?
From our point of view we threw everything at the album. From a writing and structural point of view, overall production, our playing ability, lyrics and art. We gave it everything. I think our previous releases are quite strong, and represent where we were at, as a band then. Damned When Dead is where we are now as a band. ..I think we are a different beast and that shows on this recording. It feels good for the band we are...
Have you ever decided to change a song in some way because the reaction to it was not so good?
You use both ancient Irish and English in your lyrics… it is a way to pay tribute to your ancestors?
To pay tribute but to also show people that we had a rich linguistic heritage that has all been but forgotten. Only a few areas in remote Ireland still speak Irish, or Gaelic. There is a bit more interest in the language at the moment, with clubs and classes opening in Dublin that will only allow Gaelic to be spoken. If we can open peoples eyes to our history, that is some thing we are very happy about.
Do you believe the Celtic heritage is underestimated by society? What should/could be done to make people interested in it again?
I think our heritage is often misunderstood and under-appreciated, and this is something that our education system and history has some responsibility for. For example, all Irish children study their native language every day of their educational lives until they leave school yet the majority have a very poor ability to speak it and many people actively dislike it. A language is the most important part of any cultural identity and our school system seems to be quite harmful towards it. Perhaps the compulsory teaching of it could be replaced with a class in Irish heritage and culture for those kids who struggle with the language itself so they won't be completely turned off anything to do with their native culture.
The way we think about our history can be problematic also. We have tended to view Irish history as a simple narrative of opposition to the (British) outsiders, which limits the scope of understanding of the nuances involved in our history. As a people we need to become more mature and separate our understanding of our history from political sentiments, nationalism etc...
The band has many musical influences… do you appreciate thinking and creating "outside the box”?
Most of us come from a variety of musical and personal backgrounds. Some conventional, and some not. I think for all of us, it was a natural fluctuation and not a conditioned thought. From a very early age I always steered away from what most people were doing musically. I certainly don’t want to be creating music that sounds like a 1000 other clone death metal bands, or any style of music for that matter.
I have come from a 70’s hard rock drum background, Thin Lizzy being the backbone of the music I was listening when I started out. I then started listening to the Beast that is John Bonham. When writing we just let the music come naturally, its not forced in anyway and then we gradually construct the songs whilst considering the lyrics and lyrical content. Rob would have strong leanings towards traditional music and some classical music so I would imagine that has an influence of the overall sound that we come out with .
You stated Paradise Lost, Anathema and My Dying Bride as your biggest influences. What’s your opinion on their latest releases, especially Anathema and Paradise Lost considering that they’ve drifted away from what they used to be?!
I haven't actually listened to the recent output from Anathema, since A Natural Disaster which was ten years ago. I didn't get much from the direction they were heading in then so didn't bother with any releases since then. Seen them at a couple of festival shows and didn't really enjoy them either.
Paradise Lost seem to have had a different trajectory, but I like the recent stuff and still enjoy them live. I just heard the rerecorded version of Gothic, which sounds great. Would love to catch one of the 25th anniversary gigs but don't think its going to happen.
I don't think My Dying Bride will come close to recreating the genius of the early years, Turn Loose the Swans, Trinity etc... but they are consistently good. I really like the 'weird' album "34.788%..Complete" that usually gets criticised, also The Dreadful Hours and A Line of Deathless Kings are great and the last one was pretty good too. I thought their live performances were a bit patchy a few years ago but seen them last year and it was excellent, maybe it took a little time for the lineup to settle in?
When searching the web, I found many comparisons between you and Primordial. What do you have to say about this? Is it a compliment or what?
I don’t have a problem being mentioned in the same breath as the guys because I think both bands have their own personal and unique style/sound. We may draw from the same well in relation to certain topics etc for our songs and there is an obvious sense of pride coming from both bands in relation to our land, heritage and culture, or lack thereof these days etc. If there may be a crossover in sonic terms that would be coincidental...perhaps an insight into where both bands originated and the influences that both bands have musically.
What’s the relationship between Irish bands? Do you help each other out?
Name a few Irish bands that you think deserve more attention and are fairly unknown because they haven’t managed to breakthrough yet.
When we play Irish gigs we always try to get other bands, that are somewhat similar to us. Bands such as Cealtachor, Chor Mona and Sodb.
Ireland is a small country and the metal scene even smaller as you can imagine. We all know each other, some of us play with other bands in Ireland too. We are all mates and get on well. Especially in the pub.
Bloodstock Open Air attendants were delighted with a few new tracks from your upcoming album… how was it playing at the festival? How was the reaction of the fans to the songs of the new album?
It was a great gig for us. We last played the indoors event Bloodstock in 2006. This year we were on at the same time as Gojira which was a bit daunting but our audience did swell once we started. We had a great crowd and a savage reaction. We are still relatively unknown band so the audience reaction was a surprise as they really got into it. At that point the album was not yet release, but saying that even with the new songs it was like the audience had known them for years.
You have three gigs confirmed for September and one for November… how important is playing live for you?
Live is the most important thing for me and the rest of the lads in the band. Were musicians, and musicians want to play. Whether that’s in the corner of a bar to a fistful of people or a packed tent in Bloodstock. I think the anticipation; build up and then performance give me a great sense of achievement on a personal level that I have not found in any other facet of life.
We played Warhorns in York and then our Album launch gigs in Dublin and Galway. Some of the best performances we have done so far. We had a small tour of Europe in November but there was some gaps in the dates which made it impossible to complete. The next gigs are with our countrymen, Primordial in Greece at the end of November and then another round of gigs in Ireland.
Do you think the fact that you live in an island is an impediment for success? Irish bands are not the first ones that spring to mind when one thinks of folk/pagan metal.
It’s a pain in the bollix, to be honest. Logistically it is very expensive for us to play gigs. Either ferries or planes are needed, and that’s not even considering ground transport. In Europe, there is the benefit of getting in a van and heading 4/5 hours away and doing a string of gigs over a 3 or 4 day weekend. It is getting easier for us at the moment. We are getting better gig offers now and promoters are actually contacting rather than the other way around.
Any final message to share with the fans?!
Cheers for sticking with us lads, really appreciate the support. If you want to see us in your area, start annoying your local promoters... buy them some beer or something, and we will see you up front. Cheers !
Interview by Sonia Fonseca
Answers by Shane Cahill (drums)