Our verdict: 4/5
Find it at: Bandcamp
Ok, listen up.
There are some genres of music that seem almost ludicrously niche. Pirate Metal for example (Don’t believe me? Just check out Alestorm’s fine albums Captain Morgan’s Revenge, Black Sails at Midnight or Back Through Time.) Nevertheless, despite their supposedly ‘limited appeal’, they have plenty to recommend them and often deserve to be heard by a wider audience.
So what about a Celtic punk rock band from Quebec featuring metal guitar, bagpipes and bawdy folk lyrics that are occasionally written and sung in French? Franco-Irish-Canadian Punk-Folk-Metal? As styles go, you’d think it might be hard to find it’s natural audience.
Nevertheless, Irish Moutarde (translation: Irish Mustard), a seven piece band from Quebec City, are doing just that.
Formed in 2009 with a view to paying tribute to Irish Punk (Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly are obvious reference points), Irish Moutarde released their first original single in 2012. Titled ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’, it became something of a cult classic via the internet and lead, in time, to debut album, Raise ‘Em All.
Recorded between December 2012 and June 2013, your fondness for the album may well depend upon your threshold for up-tempo Irish jigs, delivered via loud guitar, short but incandescent solos, bagpipes, tin whistle, accordian and banjo. But if you’re in the mood to dance and drink whisky, find yourself looking for some original party music for next year’s St.Patrick’s Day, or simply love the sound of what Irish Moutarde have to offer, then we can think of no finer album to get you on your feet, reclaiming (or simply fabricating) your Irish heritage.
Opening track, ‘The Black Mill’, comes quickly in to view through static crackle, the sound of bagpipes evoking scenes of a village ceili on the Emerald Isle. Actually set to a traditional Scottish tune, exploding out of the blocks seconds later comes a galloping thrash metal guitar riff, redolent of the Big Four thrash pioneers of the 80’s. It might sound like bolting Anthrax on to the Whigmaleerie Ceilidh Band would put you on a hiding to nothing, but against all odds it works beautifully.
Banjo and pipes intertwine like a double-helix, taking the place of a gurning guitar-God completing a complex fret-run. All of this is underpinned by the kind of high-speed drumming that Dave Lombardo would be proud of. In a similar vein, the lyric at first plays out as a nature-based folk tale, “The grouse-hen nests in the Black Mill,” but finishes on the slightly more rock n’ roll advice to “Get over it, get over it. There could be worse than chicken shit!”
‘Farewell To Drunkenness’ occupies slightly more familiar territory, it’s punk-polka blast sound-tracking the tale of a band member finding that “A throb is in my head, my guts are on the floor.” Despite the protestations of a fair woman, the lack of a day job, waking up with a sore head and having to rush to the bathroom, it’s soon time to “…bid you goodnight, good friends that you are. And I’ll see ya’ for sure, tomorrow at the bar!” The melodic lilt of vocalist Andreé-Anne McHalley, and the jovial progression of the music, give the impression that the drunkenness is proving to be too much fun for it to be bid farewell for anything longer than a couple of hours.
Along comes ‘The Cabin’, a short, claustrophobic and yet catchy squall that is done and dusted in a two and a half minute furor. The more dour amongst the audience will then no doubt be offended by ‘I Heard Jesus Was’, a creative re-imagining of Jesus’ life and times that depicts the apostles as “…twelve merry drinking pals…” and the Messiah’s emotional cry at Gethsemane as “My God! Old Man! Why have you forsaken me? We hoped to party until dawn, but we’re out of beer and it’s only three!” It’s often humorous, occasionally hilarious, and a very human way of re-interpreting the Passion for a contemporary rock audience.
The pace slows a degree or two for what Moutarde describe as the “theme song” of the album, ‘Glasses To The Sky.’ It may sound like the most obvious paean to whisky-soaked merry-making this side of Dublin, but this triumphant waltz has greater depth than that. Coming on like the best possible combination of Richard and Linda Thompson, Bruce Springsteen and Green Day, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball album, had Jake Clemons been a bagpipe virtuoso and Billie Joe Armstrong replaced Nils Lofgren on guitar. “They may take our jobs away, lead us all astray. Doesn’t matter anyway, we’ll get stronger every day.” Indeed. City bankers watch out and be damned.
‘Olaf’ is a French-language ditty that tells the story of how the band came by their mascot (and album cover star) Olaf The Irish Giraffe. You’ll have to translate that one yourself. The LP then continues a-pace through instrumental ‘LLL’, a rock version of Scottish traditional ‘Lord Lovat’s Lament’, followed quickly by ‘D.O.E’, featuring a mind-boggling guitar solo from Anonymus’ Jef Fortin.
‘The Fields of Athenrey’ moves the music back to it’s Irish roots before the aforementioned ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ comes bounding in to view. George R.R. Martin and HBO fans take note, the band’s very first song takes it’s inspiration from lyrics in the Game Of Thrones series of novels. Take your own time spotting the references as the music sets out it’s stall, ably accompanying the story of this “black and brown hairy bear” and “the maiden fair” with “honey in her hair.”
The lively traditional lament, ‘The Wearing Of The Green’, offers a stage upon which the band showcase their nimble way with pipes and banjo, and is followed by the final track, ‘A Lad and A Hag’, an original ode to the dangers of basing your impression of someone upon your own lust and their good looks. The band save the most complex flavour of their particular brand of musical mustard until last, adding tin whistle, piano and Celtic harp to the already heady mix.
All of which may sound in-your-face and overwhelming. But the whole album is done and dusted in 40 minutes flat. Like many of the best records, it’s direct, to the point and, if anything, leaves you hungry for more. As the band themselves are wont to say: this is ‘Celtic rock as it should be! It’s time to rock your Irish ass!’