Rude Chord 2023
Rewinding counterclockwise wonders at will, wanderers from the coast of Éire land on the mysteries from 1972.
If this ensemble’s initial plan suggested they would play what should amount to a temporal game from the past into the present and follow their 2015 debut "1975 Triptych" with a 1978-oriented offering, yet once “Origins” checked that box in 2019 the band changed direction and stared, admiringly, at 1972 – the year when “Argus” began looking upon the vale and the fist of “The Táin” was being raised. Taking such classics as a template, “At The Mercy Of Manannán” is, unlike its predecessors, a concept work but, similar to the Dublin collective’s first works, it doesn’t try and replicate the sound of a long-gone era; instead, the platter applies the spirit of yore to the group’s own take on progressive rock. So while it may defy, or deflate, expectations set by the record’s cover art, the pieces on display sound alluringly fresh.
There seems to be nothing outwardly Celtic at the start, as the softly “Setting Off” prepares the scene for plain sailing, with Jonathan Casey’s voice, piano and whistle heading unhurriedly for the crest of a synthesizer-woven wave before the organ-laden “Riverflow” dissolves its rage in the acoustic lace of PJ O’Connell’s guitar to present a pure pop refrain and a few impressive fusion passages to the eager listener. Still, gliding past the tumultuous instrumental “Whirlpool” where abstract figures rear their angular faces and Mark Grist’s drums deliver a stormy solo, the ensemble land on the understated-to-anthemic, if slightly amorphous until bass rumble and ivories thunder reveal the epic’s rage, panorama of “To The Other Side” only to finally discover the initially expected folk motifs in the riff-driven “Na Bruídaí” that’s gloriously, with panache, sung in Gaelic and shifts from a rhythm-and-blues chorale to histrionic art-rock.
But it’s the traditional “Sha la la” chorus of “Valley Of Elah” that takes the album’s drift to what should be considered the “Manannán” source, with another rustic ballad “Scaling Novas” locating the shore in this melodic sea, leaving the wordless “Carnivale” to hang and waver in the air as a lingering aftertaste. There’s nothing retro about the Irish band’s whiff of fantasy – and there’s no need, for there’s passion which rules their game.