Cavan metal album earns global reach

‘Drown in Ash’ recorded and produced in Cavan.

Some may be surprised to learn that one of the most celebrated black metal releases on the European scene in 2022 was in fact by a band from Cavan. Not so for fans of Eternal Helcaraxe who’ve mapped musical evolution in earnest, from their debut ‘Palest Kingdom’ (2008) to the seminal EP ‘To Whatever End’ (2010), the now decade old ‘Against All Odds’ (2012) through to 2017’s ‘In Times of Desperation’.

‘Drown in Ash’ was recorded at Leader Studios and produced by fellow Cavan musician Johnno Leader. It was released by German label Naturmacht Productions at the end of September 2022, with several tracks teased out beforehand to widespread critical acclaim across various streaming platforms.

‘Drown in Ash’ earned rave reviews, and despite its relatively late arrival stormed onto the Top 10 lists of several highly influential metal music reviewers, edging out albums by far more established peers.

Now into 2023 ‘Drown in Ash’ continues to receive extensive radio play, and such is their success that Helcaraxe were asked, and have accepted, invitations to play the Odyssey To Blasphemy Festival in Oberhausen in Germany next month, and Berlin’s The Dark Paths Festival in March.

“A lot has happened very fast. We’re getting back to where we want to be,” explained Rory McDonagh (Praetorian- Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals) who shares his place in the band alongside brother Dermot (Tyrith-drums) and Asrius Dulaitis (Oceans- Bass) who joined the band in 2017.

The context of his comment lies in how Covid obliterated the plans of almost every band, not just Helcaraxe. When the pandemic hit, Helcaraxe were a band brimming with momentum, pencilled to play several significant Irish metal festivals from Urban Assault in Cork to Metal 2 The Masses in Dublin’s iconic Fibber Magees.

While many retreated, Rory instead used the period of isolation to begin writing ‘Drown in Ash’, semblances of which had been manducating since ‘In Times of Desperation’ was sent for pressing.

Ex-Naddred, Primal Dawn, Sinister Demise and the sole drive behind ambient side project Éadóchas, Rory is happy to break with tradition in the black metal sense. Where most tracks last three to four minutes playtime at most, title track on ‘Drown in Ash’ is an epic nine minutes and 20-second long journey. ‘Ice Cold Winds’, meanwhile, travels almost eight minutes, and ‘In Darkwoods and Dreams’ weighs in around the nine-minute mark.

“I’ve always loved songs that told stories, where the music was massive and epic. Kiss used to do it, Meatloaf, and even early Metallica. The first four Metallica albums, songs were maybe six, seven, eight minutes long. I’ve always written albums believing they should be one complete journey, delivering a theme. The same with [Drown in Ash], I’d notepads filled with lyrics and a single feeling is what I was aiming for.”

To hit upon the sound they wanted- “a really ice cold reverb sharp sound”- they looked to the likes of Mgla, whom Helcaraxe have previously supported on tour, Woods of Desolation, and Wolves in the Throne Room, particularly the album ‘Torn Beyond Reason’.

For the first time in a while Rory feels Helcaraxe are also beginning to find their rhythm again.

A four-piece for some of their existence, and now back to three, Rory’s eager not to tinker too much while the formula is working well, but is open to the prospect of adding a second guitarist at some point in the future, but only if it fits with their overall vision.

Reluctant to rest on their laurels, Helcaraxe are already back in the studio.

All the while, ‘Drown in Ash’ continues to receive plaudits. In the first week alone the album’s profile was lifted through almost 10,000 streams, with listeners tuning in from as far afield as the US, Germany and Poland and the motherland of the genre, Scandinavia, to somewhat stranger destinations like Bangladesh, Honduras, Costa Rica, India, Guatemala and Azerbaijan.

“South America is incredible, North America too. Dallas we seem to have quite a few listeners.

“It’s incredible compared to what it was like for us starting out nearly 15 years ago, where everything was postal. Now it’s all online, and you’ve people you’d never believe would have access to your music getting to hear it.”

Rory believes that spread of exposure can only be a good thing and good for the Irish metal music scene too. He’s also hugely supportive of folk metallers Cruachan’s bid to fly the flag for Ireland at the Eurovision later this year in Liverpool. “I really hope they get it,” he says.

*** UPDATE: Eternal Helcaraxe have added the U.K.B.M. festival in Cumbria, UK on October 6-7, 2023, on their upcoming tour schedule.