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The Gaelic Doom Metal of Dublin's Mael Mórdha may have had its final send-off in a last live show in 2018, but there's more to the story than that. Comrade Aleks spends some time with founder Rob and bassist Dave...

Interview with Mael Mórdha.
"Mael Mórdha, from Dublin, took a long and rocky road that started in 1995 under the name Uaigneas, where the band created it's own genre of "Gaelic Doom Metal". Traditional Doom Metal, some Pagan Metal, some Folk and a large part of the ancient Irish legacy were taken, mixed and compiled in an impressive blend. After four full-length albums the band's ideologist and charismatic frontman Roibéard Ó Bogail left the tribe, and they performed a few live shows with Stiofan De Roiste of Celtachor. At the same time Dave Murphy (bass), Gerry Clince (guitars) and Shane Cahil (drums) started another band with vocalist Denis Dowling (ex-Cursed Earth) named Death The Leveller: their first EP was released in 2017. That's just a scroll of dry facts, but the living story from Roibéard (Rob) and Dave is far more interesting and inspiring. And I should thank Shane, who helped to organize everything here in the name of Manannán!"

Mael Mórdha: Roibéard Ó Bogail (Vocals, Keyboards), Dave Murphy (Bass, Vocals), Shane Cahil (Drums, Vocals), Gerry Clince (Guitars, Vocals).

The band existed as Uaigneas between 1995 and 1998, with a completely different line-up. How was it formed?

Rob: Uaigneas started as a musical idea for me to put music to my poetry with the aim of building a band around it. During its first life, Uaigneas never played a gig or entered the recording studio. It was with this line-up that the name eventually changed to Mael Mórdha as Eugene (guitarist at the time) did not like the original name.

When that version of Mael Mórdha collapsed, myself and John McGhee (bassist) continued on slowly building (and rebuilding) until finally we played our first gig in Eamon Doran's (Dublin). I remember Shane rubbing blue paint onto my back at a gig in the 13th floor (which took a whole week to wash off) about a year later. I think he still might have a copy of the Path to Insanity from that gig. Shane and myself were working together a few years later when we needed a drummer which is where his continuous tapping and hammering his legs on the floors is where he (unknown to him) did his audition.

After the renaming, Mael Mórdha recorded demos 'The Path Of Insanity' (1999) and 'The Inferno Spreads' (2000). As I understand it, the line-up was already new by 2000, and then one more demo was recorded in 2003 - 'Caoineadh na nGael'

Rob: It's not so much that the line-up was new in 2000, as it was still evolving/changing. We went from a five piece to a four piece in 2000, losing one guitarist before Gerry Clince came onboard, which was then followed by the departure of Joey Deegan. This line-up then changed with John McGhee (bass) being replaced by Darren Clarke who was finally replaced by Dave Murphy. D.O.D. (drummer) had to retire due to injury. He held out until after we supported My Dying Bride in Dublin and was replaced by Dave's brother Cathal who drummed on Caoineadh na nGael. Due to Cathal moving to the U.S. to study, Shane finally joined.

Dave: I came on board having known Rob and the band for a while through playing with other bands on the Irish scene. Among the first few gigs I played with Mael Mórdha was a mini Irish tour supporting Primordial, the first gig of which was in Cork in the south of Ireland. From those days on the scene in Cork really adopted us and it became our favourite place to play in Ireland.

Rob. Photo: Fabry C. - Stolen Instants.

When did the band start to use the self-definition of "Gaelic Doom Metal"? How do you see the necessary elements of this music?

Rob: Gaelic Doom Metal was the term I used in 1995 to describe Uaigneas/Mael Mórdha's music. I was a big fan of the Doom/Death bands from Northern England at the time. Also, nearly everything was being described by the media as Black Metal in those days (as it was the "in thing" at the time) or Death Metal, neither of which we were playing. The band's musical roots were based in Doom/Death but also 70's Folk Rock and Traditional Irish Music. I felt we were not a Death Metal band but the Doom elements of those aforementioned Northern English bands were there along with very strong Gaelic Irish influences so the Gaelic Doom Metal title seemed apt. The songwriting reflects this but so too did the use of Whistle, Bodhrán, Uilleann Pipes (in Cluain Tarbh) and Horns as well as the Sean Nós infuenced singing.

Mael Mórdha's debut full-length album 'Cluain Tarbh' was released in 2005, and it's said that it's dedicated to the historic battle between the high king of Eire, Brian Boru, and the king of Leinster, Mael Mórdha. How did you work on this material? What kind of components helped you to make the album a solid story?

Rob: We had been contacted by Karmageddon Media with the view of releasing the Cluain Tarbh E.P. and Caoineadh na nGael E.P. on one CD which we felt would not have worked very well as they were recorded in different studios with different engineers and a different drummer so we re-recorded some of the older songs to add to Cluain Tarbh that we felt would complement the existing songs. Our history in school taught us a completely skewed version of the battle which we tried to rectify with this album.

Mael Mórdha - 'Winds Of One Thousand Winters' (2009):

Most of the album's features appeared on the next Mael Mórdha release, Gealtacht Mael Mórdha. How do you value your progress on this album?

Rob: There were a number of changes between the recording of Cluain Tarbh and Gealtacht Mael Mórdha. Firstly, we became a five piece again when Anthony Lindsay joined us as a second guitarist and secondly we had signed a deal with Grau who had agreed to release the next few albums which gave us a certain amount of stability. Anthony was involved in the writing of the new tunes so they had an added dimension which we did not have on Cluain Tarbh however we also pillaged some songs from our older E.P.s. which we felt would work with the new songs, as before. We recorded Gealtacht in Trackmix again (where Cluain Tarbh was done) so as you can see there was a continuation of the work done on Cluain Tarbh but with some new influences. I remember having the flu' when recording my parts for this which was not ideal but it worked out well in the end.

Dave: I had known Anthony for many years and played with him in various bands. I think he brought a really fresh influence to song-writing and the live performance, and we played some really great gigs while he was in the band, highlights being the Cernunnos Paganfest in Paris.

As I understand it, this time you decided to write not a concept album. Instead Gealtacht Mael Mórdha rather tells separate stories, but would you say that all of them are united with same mood?

Rob: It kind of was a concept. We used the themes of some of the re-recorded songs to compliment the new songs we had written which described the perceived Madness (or Gealtacht in the Irish Language) of Mael Mórdha. The stories told in each of the songs are all linked leading up to his Death in the title track.

Gerry. Photo: Andy Crive.

Not everyone here is into Irish mythology, so what about the bull-headed deity Manannán depicted on the 'Gealtacht Mael Mórdha', 'Manannán' and 'Damned When Dead' albums? Why did you choose him to represent these records?

Rob: Actually, he is also featured in Cluain Tarbh too. He is in the centerfold of the inlay card. Our "Pin-Up" you could say. He started out in the sketches of the artist who was responsible for our artwork (Vasilis Zikos) and quickly became our "Eddie". Cluain Tarbh means the Meadow of Bulls in the Irish language. Cows are sacred in the old Irish traditions so it grew from there. Manannán has his place in the mythology of the East part of Ireland especially so even though the picture is Vasilis' creation and has no basis in Irish mythology he became our representation of Mannanán who featured again and again in our works.

Dave: One of my favourite aspects of what we achieved with Mael Mórdha, was the creation of this little bit of our own mythos, running with the symbolism of the artwork. A lot of thought and research went into the background to the album concepts and song lyrics, but we also allowed ourselves some liberties with the mythological side, as all story-tellers do.

Does this philosophy somehow inflict on your daily life?

Rob: All the time, much to the annoyance of those who know me. I can't let that many things go now. If someone can defend their views on things then I can learn from them. If they can't, well then maybe they need to ask why.

Dave: For me one of the reasons why I eventually lost faith in the Mael Mórdha project was the proliferation of stupid people in the metal, and in particular folk metal scene, who have no respect for historical scholarship, or appreciation of mythology as literature. I got tired of bullshit interviews with so called 'pagans' and it really upset me when people attributed to us motives that had nothing to do with the band's concepts, such as racial supremacy or other nonsense. I have practically no interest in the world of folk metal at this stage.

Mael Mórdha - 'Dawning Of The Grey' (2013):

'Damned When Dead' was the band's fourth album: how did its recording sessions differ from the first ones you had for 'Cluain Tarbh'? Was it a faster process after ten years of being together? Did you have difficult songs on this album?

Rob: It was like comparing chalk with cheese. We decided to go abroad so we made it as far as Mid-Wales in the mist ridden valley of Foel where Chris Fielding was working at the time. It was residential so we stayed there for the recording which was nice as we were able to focus solely on the recording with no distractions from the "real world". Chris had got our pre-production recordings and knew the songs better than we did oursleves. He is also a stickler for detail and let nothing slide. We had to work very hard but I think it is by far our best album. The process of writing was torturous. Lets just leave it at that. Once the songs were written things went really well. The concept of the Coming of the Cambro-Normans to Ireland was really strong and the songs reflect that with "Dawning of the Grey" and "Damned When Dead" being my personal highlights.

For my own part there was over two years of researching went into the material from which I learned once again that we had been taught more bullshit in our school history. Being asked by an English journalist after the album was released if it was racist was one of the most disappointing things I have ever been asked as it shows that most people don't bother with inlay cards or lyrics anymore, a far cry from when we started. Music has been cheapened beyond belief and the world is a much poorer place as a result. Also the lack of support from out new label was also very disappointing. I hope at some point in the future someone else will re-release Damned When Dead and give it the attention it deserves.

Dave: Writing and recording this album was difficult. Anthony left the band in the writing process, after we had decided to record in Wales with Chris Fielding. I think this decision was good as it brought us out of our usual process - we had never recorded in a residential setting like this before with nothing to do but live and breathe the music and no real world distractions. I'm proud of the album and I think it represents our most complete project.

As Rob says, we were all disappointed with the band's fortunes after this album was released, I think we thought it would bring us more of a breakthrough than it did. It's a shame as well because our live performances had become, in my opinion, very powerful at this stage.

Dave. Photo: Andy Crive.

The band went on a three year hiatus in November 2015: what made you take this decision?

Rob: I left the band in January 2014. Stephen was selected as my replacement. I met him a number of times to chat about how he was going to approach his performances with Mael Mórdha and everything was very friendly between himself and myself as I wanted to band to continue and become more successful. Hopefully this will happen for the lads in the guise of Death the Leveller.

Dave: Rob departed the band, as he says, in January 2014. The immediate decision that Ger, Shane and I made was to recruit another singer and continue the band. I think we felt we could build on the release of Damned When Dead and had a series of gigs in the UK lined up. After an audition process we were joined by Stiofan De Roiste (Steve) of Celtachor. We played some good shows with Steve but the three of us really began to feel that there was something fundamental lacking from the band without Rob's presence. We were struggling to write new music, and while I tried my hand at writing lyrics for Mael Mórdha, I felt it was too forced without Rob's influence and ideas. My fear was that the band would become a pale imitation of itself, so we decided to bring it to an end.

Death The Leveller - 'A Call To Men Of Noble Blood' (2017):

Almost the whole line-up went on to create the band Death The Leveller, and you recorded one EP under this moniker. What now? Will you put it on hold now Mael Mórdha is back again?

Dave: After Mael Mórdha finished up, Ger, Shane and I didn't play much music together for a while but we did eventually get back to jamming and this led to the project that eventually became Death the Leveller with Denis Dowling on vocals. DtL is 100% our main focus at this stage, as musically and conceptually it represents far more where we are at now than the music of Mael Mórdha would.

Shane. Photo: Fabry C. - Stolen Instants.

So Mael Mórdha was resurrected in 2018, with new vocalist Stephen Roche replacing Roibéard. Roibéard was not just a charismatic vocalist but also the lyric writer, so it seems Stephen has a difficult task replacing him. Do you feel yourselves ready to start composing new songs?

Dave: Mael Mórdha came back just for one show in 2018, at Hammerfest in Wales, and it was with former member Anthony Lindsay on vocals, not Steve. This was a once-off performance, really a sort of farewell gig, and there are no plans to repeat this, but never say never. However, there will be no new music from Mael Mórdha and the band is not in any sense existing currently. Personally, I have no real regrets and I'm proud of what we achieved and created in this band, and maybe like the historical subject matter of the albums it's better to leave it in the past. We made a lot of friends through this band, playing gigs from the USA to Greece, and seem to have connected with some people with our music, which as an artist is the best you can ask for.

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Interviewed on 2018-11-17 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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