I remember the first time I saw Haggis and Bong live, it was on a Saturday afternoon at RAMfest 2011. It was magical, although I probably would have run away were I still hung over! They came onto the stage and blasted the crowd with the mighty wail of the great highland bagpipes. They embodied the spirit of great Celtic warriors, facing off against an unimaginably powerful foe.
I got the album on Monday night and the first thing that struck me was the absolutely stunning album art designed by Don Mumford. It fits the album perfectly! What Celtic act wouldn’t put the Loch Ness monster on their album cover? I would have liked it if the booklet had been fleshed out further, but I can understand bands working on tight production budgets. Besides that one gripe, it is a well-polished product. I can see how it could appeal to casual browsers of merchandise stands, or how it would fit well on the shelves of that one little record shop that has all the unknown local metal.
Haggis and Bong refer to themselves as “Celtic groove metal”; though, to me, it falls squarely into the folk metal genre. The album does have some pretty sweet grooves, but on further listening, I realised that if I were a European festival organizer, I’d sign them up to share the stage with the likes of Eluveitie, Korpiklaani or even Turisas. The album is completely drenched in blue war paint. It’s the type of album that you would play just before you go into battle to raise morale. And before I get lynched for not mentioning this fact: Haggis and Bong is a purely instrumental band.
The album opens with “Eiridh Tonn Air Usage Balbh”, which I dare anyone reading this at work to say out loud! It translates to “A Wave Will Rise On Quiet Water”. It’s a solid introduction, encapsulating Haggis and Bong‘s sound in one two minute track. If you don’t like what you hear, run until you hit the horizon, but I warn you, you’re missing out! The unpronounceable opener leads into “Revelation of the Gods”. By all accounts, this song is pretty dark, despite the drum intro. One can hear a seething darkness rising to the surface and exploding into a wicked guitar solo, after which it ends in a near cacophony of sound, as if the “revelation” is that there are no gods. Next, we have “In the Ranks of Morrigan’s Army”. This track has a great atmospheric feel to it, it’s almost as if you can envision Morrigan, inspecting his forces, ensuring that all men are ready, willing and able, and those that aren’t, be damned. In this army you are one, you will stand, you will fight, for your freedom! (Sorry, but a Braveheart reference was bound to end up somewhere.)
Next is “Shillelagh” (pronounced shi-lay-lee according to Wikipedia.) A shillelagh is basically a ‘knopkirrie’ as South African’s would call it. The song has a punchy one-two opening, very reminiscent of Korpiklaani‘s “Keep on Galloping”. It paints a picture of travelling, perhaps to a port, or a distant loch. Definitely one of the groovier tracks on the album. Track five, “Blood Loch” is one of the few tracks with very prevalent guitars. Callaghan is leading the charge on this one, laying down the rhythm with his axe, bagpipes in close tow, bringing it all together. I imagine this song is an immense crowd pleaser when performed live, and is a perfect midway mark for the album.
You have now reached “Where Cloud and Mountain Meet”, which is an oddball of a track. It starts with a decidedly hair metal style intro, slipping quickly into a more Celtic sound, as if standing atop a mountain. It’s often broken up by more 80s fretwork, which jerks you back into reality, and then the pipes fly you back. It’s sort of schizophrenic. “Flying the Banner”, probably my favourite song on the album, is forged of many a manly thing; kilts, swords, blue paint, it’s all in there. This song is their “Primo Victoria”, their “Battle Hymns”, their fucking “Stand Up and Fight”. The pipes bellow proudly, driven by solid drums and pretty hard and fast riffing. This song will see me through coming hardships, it will find a spot in my Songs of Battle playlist.
“Confronting the Shadow” shows Haggis and Bong dropping some funk! Groovy doesn’t even begin to describe this song’s baseline. This, in addition to the thundering drums and singing pipes, creates an unexpected symphony. You wouldn’t expect the track to work, but it does, and pretty well at that. “Isle of Irie” is the most purely driven bagpipe track on the album, following many conventions one would expect from pipe players, supported by the other instruments to flesh out the sound. A good way to start winding down the album.
But it’s not over yet folks, their second to last track, “The Immortal”, brings back the proud and mighty wails of the pipes, and another stellar guitar solo. It’s an ode to the immortal warrior. He stands before his enemies, sword in hand, roaring as he brings the sword down upon their heads. They close the album with “The Celtic Force”, a knock out ending to a great album. Including a trombone, it’s an expertly structured song, and just so much fun to listen to. It really wraps everything up in a neat tartan package.
I do have a few minor issues with the recording and mastering. On some tracks, the bass is barely audible, and on others the drums lack that hard double bass machine gun assault. Despite these few problems though, I liked the album, definitely a must have in everyone’s local metal collection!
Haggis and Bong is:
Angus Nixon: Bagpipes
Liam O’Flaherty: Bagpipes
Dominic Skelton: Bagpipes
Tom Hughes: Drums
Xavier Knox: Bass
David Callaghan: Guitars
If you have not heard any Haggis and Bong, below is the video for “The Celtic Force”.