Hand Of Kalliach - Corryvreckan

Artist: Hand Of Kalliach

Album Title: Corryvrekan

Label: Prosthetic Records

Date of Release: 23 February 2024

There’s something in the water right now in Scotland. The land to the North has never been the most prolific in terms of heavy metal exports, with only a small handful of names coming to mind when I try to think of examples. And yet, following on from Sgàile, Hand Of Kalliach are the second Scottish entity to turn my head this month.

It’s a small world, too, because it transpires that I could actually wave to Hand Of Kalliach once every couple of months, as I travel by train over the Forth Bridge to visit a work client. Who knew that in South Queensferry dwelt a band that I’d end up reviewing? Certainly not me, as it’s picturesque but not exactly a bustling metropolis, alive with extreme metal possibilities.

As it turns out, Hand Of Kalliach, named after Cailleach, the Scottish god of winter, is a rarity in another manner, too, being a husband and wife duo. John Fraser handles the gruff vocals, guitars, and drums, whilst Sophie Fraser provides clean vocals as well doubling up as the bassist. Together, in between marital tiffs and undertaking those ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ jobs that I hear so much about, John and Sophie have found time to write and record ‘Corryvrekan’, their second full-length album. I almost entirely missed it, too, but I’m so glad I didn’t.

Stylistically, Hand Of Kalliach are probably best described as melodic death metal with strong Gaelic folk influences as well as a sense of the ethereal and the serene. The resulting music is, unquestionably, pretty original, and one that should be lauded for its uniqueness. There are others out there that experiment with the blending of extreme metal and folk music, of course, but I can’t think of anyone else who does it in this way.

Bearing in mind the album is named after an enormous whirlpool in the sea around the western Scottish isles created by the Cailleach, it’s no surprise when the opening track, ‘Three Seas’ comes to life via the sounds of the waves. The soft, breathy, ethereal vocals of Sophie duet with reserved, but rich orchestration as the song builds in cinematic fashion, welcoming the sounds of drums and guitars as the intensity grows. John’s gruff vocals gradually appear, at the edge of your awareness at first, before becoming much more prominent. At its peak, we’re confronted by thunderous drumming, fast-picked riffs, and savage growls, not to mention a lead break or two and chunky death metal riffs. But the potent atmosphere, orchestration, and other-worldly ambience never fully departs and is artfully interwoven into the composition to ensure both facets of the music work together harmoniously.

Hand Of Kalliach - Corryvreckan

‘Fell Reigns’ follows and is instantly a personal favourite. It wastes no time in hitting its stride, delivering heavy riffs overlaid by a Gaelic melody that is both unmistakeably Scottish and instantly catchy. As a result, the song skips along brilliantly, satisfying my love of heavy music and delicate melody in equal measure. Despite its immediately heavier framework, the duo are not afraid to drop the brutality at points to create welcome light and shade, as well as moments of quieter reflection.

If anything, ‘Dioghaltas’ dials up the extremity even further, unleashing a blisteringly potent assault on the senses, led forcefully by some utterly spiteful vocals from John. It’s the stark contrast between the growls and the serenely effortless and mellifluous voice of Sophie that keeps my attention rapt, especially when they overlap. The term ‘beauty and the beast’ is used a lot in metal, but here it is very much in evidence, creating such a fascinating and rewarding experience. It’s made all the more interesting when you learn that much of the lyrical content is sung in Scots Gaelic.

Underneath it all is some expert songwriting and strong musicianship that ensures that Hand Of Kalliach are so much more than just a gimmick, or a novelty act; both are serious musicians, with real talent, desire and focus, which comes through within each of the nine compositions. Take ‘Cirein-Cròin’ as a prime example of the couple’s craftsmanship, a song that tells the tale of a gigantic sea monster that can disguise itself as a silver herring in order to lure the unsuspecting to their demise. Not only is the subject matter really fascinating, it is delivered within a piece of music that ebbs and flows to lend drama and intrigue to the tale it weaves.

If I was to be ultra-critical, it would be that a couple of the latter tracks don’t hit me quite as hard as those in the earlier stages of the album. Based on my personal tastes, I’d have loved another more immediate and catchier hook-laden track in the mould of ‘Fell Reigns’. But, as I said, this is hyper critical stuff as there’s no denying the quality of the music across the forty-minute run-time.

I mean, how can you not love a song with a title like ‘The Hubris Of Prince Bhreacan’? The opening groove-laden riff of ‘Unbroken You Remain’ is a real delight, whilst the subtle beauty at the heart of the closer ‘Of Twilight And The Pyre’ is impossible to ignore. Solemn strings combine wonderfully with Sophie’s beautiful voice to unravel one final tale of ancient myth in a way that only these two musicians can. It all means that ‘Corryvreckan’ is an overall triumph and is a must-hear for anyone who enjoys brutally heavy music laced with delicate, fragile beauty. I’ve rarely been prouder of the fact that I am one-quarter Scottish on my maternal side.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%



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