17 Emerging Irish Artists You Need To Hear Right Now
Rich in Celtic culture and melancholic history it may be, but Ireland seems to be perennially underrated as a breeding ground for raw rock talent. From Therapy? to Thin Lizzy, though, the Emerald Isle has produced more than its fair share of seminal heavy bands.
Indeed, it’s tempting to list the veteran acts who blazed trails, or those still ruling stages worldwide – Gama Bomb, Primordial, Ash, Stiff Little Fingers, Mourning Beloveth, Mael Mórdha, Sweet Savage, Mojo Fury and Slomatics, to name a handful – but we thought it’d be more fitting, this St Patrick’s day, to spread the good word about the next generation of Irish talent you’re (probably) yet to encounter.
From Northern Irish punks energized by Ulster’s apparently endless political travails, to the leading lights of Dublin’s thriving metal scene, to daring experimentalists way out West adding new threads to their homeland’s rich musical tapestry – and everyone in between – this is the next generation of talent on whose shoulders Irish rock is forging forth, and with whom every modern rock fan should get familiar…
Photo: Charlene Hegarty
“When you can’t find the music you want to listen to, you have to make it yourself,” explains New Pagans bassist Clare Miskimmins of Belfast/Derry alt-rock collective New Pagans. “That’s how this band came about.”
Rounded out by local-legend vocalist Cahir O’Doherty (previously of Fighting With Wire/Jetplane Landing and an occasional member of Frank Turner’s Sleeping Souls), drummer Conor McAuley and singer/guitarist Lyndsey McDougall, New Pagans deliver a slinking, swaggering brand of alternative punk perhaps best exemplified by latest single, It’s Darker, which just dropped on 11th March.
“The five of us came from different musical backgrounds,” Clare explains the potent mix of influence at play. “Believe it or not, this is actually Lyndsey’s first band.”
In a part of Ireland caught between its troubled, fiercely traditionalist past and the bright possibility of the future, one doesn’t have to look far to find the causes around which those disparate members rally. “There’s enough happening around us in Northern Ireland and beyond these days to spark a fire inside anyone,” Clare says. “New Pagans want to harness that. All our favorite bands had that same voice: Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Pixies… It’s about anger and aggression with pop sensibilities, and something interesting to say.”
DEATH THE LEVELLER
Named after James Shirley’s poem of the same title, melancholic Dubliners Death The Leveller present a darkly distinctive interpretation of the afterlife. “It’s a striking poem about the fact that – at the end of the day – all humans are the same,” explains veteran drummer Shane Cahill (also of Mael Mórdha). “We die, turn to dust and return to the world where we came.”
Completed by bassist Dave Murphy, guitarist Gerry Clince and vocalist Denis Dowling, the quartet rose to attention with 2017’s discreetly-titled I: a record transfixed with the mysteries of mortality.
“Our idea is to have three further releases,” Shane explains of their medium-term plans, “exploring the life, energy, death, dust and revival, exploring the multi-universal energy of that concept across four songs on each. Next up, II will have a sex/death theme, linking our animal nature and our spiritual yearnings. It’s about the question of ‘Why?’ and the acceptance of death. There’re elements of pseudo-Jungian energy and even Egyptian magical themes and imagery. Even the artwork ties in. II will be represented by The Hourglass. III will be The Boatman, and so on…”
Harking back to their esteemed forbears in Primordial and Mourning Beloveth, DTL’s music is a densely textured skein of sound dark sound and even darker themes. “In a nutshell, we’re exploring our relationship with death. Yes, the people left behind are at a terrible loss, but death is not something that should be feared. It’s something we should embrace as the next step in our existence; a new journey; a new beginning whether we turn to dust, another living form or simply as some form of energy. Whatever that may be…”
Across the U.S. and Europe, the revival of shoegaze’s 80s and 90s sounds are going strong, with bands like Philadelphia’s Nothing, Belgian collective Slow Crush and L.A.’s excellent Teenage Wrist leading the way. The genre has some notable Irish ancestry, too, however, with the legendary My Bloody Valentine emerging from Dublin in 1983. Now, Just Mustard – based an hour and a half up the M1 in Dundalk – have seized that baton, with a sound alive with abrasive metallic screeches, hypnotic basslines, swirling claustrophobia and ethereal threat.
“We make an experimental blend of alt-rock, noise, trip-hop and electronica,” explains the band when asked to pin down their defining characteristics. Quoting influences as eclectic as Warpaint, Aphex Twin and Portishead, the band are evidently unwilling to be curtailed by the limitations of the genre they’re helping rejuvenate, stressing the importance of capturing the sound and the experience of witnessing the band in their “natural state.”
Regardless of from whence they’ve come, Just Mustard’s debut LP Wednesday – released in May 2018 – feels like a promise they’re headed for big things. “We make music that excites us and which we enjoy playing,” they say with a shrug.
TEN TON SLUG
Photo: Liam Carroll Photography
“Ten Ton Slug oozed its way out of the bogs of Connemara in the West of Ireland in early 2014, and is now based in Galway,” says guitarist/vocalist Sean Sullivan, who originally formed the band with his drummer and brother Michael as Auditory Shrapnel. “It has ingested four humans and left a trail of riff-filled sludge metal in its wake…”
There’s a brilliant sense of pride and drama as Sean describes Ten Ton Slug, a band completed by lead-vocalist Rónán Ó hArrachtáin and bassist Pavol Rosa. Their superbly-titled releases Brutal Gluttonous Beast and Blood & Slime live up to the promise that “The Slug is inspired and influenced by both the landscape of Ireland’s West, and bands like Crowbar, Pantera, Orange Goblin, Black Sabbath and Melvins…”
The Slug also shows noticeable shades of the heavyweights with whom they’ve shared stages, such as Black Label Society, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Conan. “The Slug is all about riffs and groove with guttural roars and piercing screams, and this year will see the band focus on a new record while bringing their own blend of sludge to audiences across Ireland, the UK and Europe.”
“The Slug is hungry,” says Sean gleefully. “The Slug shows no mercy.”
THE WOOD BURNING SAVAGES
“We’re like a live triage ward for those in need of a boost of reassurance and stability in these fucked-up times,” laughs The Wood Burning Savages’ uber-charismatic frontman Paul Connolly. Safe to say, politics play a big part in the music of these fast-paced Derry punks. “People come to our shows with all sorts of weight on their minds and we try really hard with every show to lift them up. The merciless [economic] cuts and insipid bonus-culture of the Tories and the disgusting racism of Brexiteers are not the things that will define our generation.”
Completed by bassist Daniel Acheson, drummer Elliot Finlay and guitarist Michael Woods, TWBS have been toiling away for years on the Irish underground, but with the release of 2018’s debut LP, Stability – a record that echoes to the classic punk of Sex Pistols and The Clash and even, whisper it, the soulful post-punk of early U2 – they feel like they’re finally ready to take on the world.
“We’re a band of flesh and bone, not a moody, male fashion exercise in how hip, out-there and esoteric our trousers and bookshelves are,” the singer says, listing influences as varied as Alice In Chains to Megadeth to Wu-Tang Clan to Kurt Vile and Irish authors like Flann O’Brien and Seamus Heaney. Beyond replicating the messages of their heroes, though, the band exists to precipitate long-overdue change.
“Northern Ireland’s political sphere is like something from the 17th century,” Paul Concludes. ” We have a Voltairean focus on using our music as a tool to fight for equality. We want to bring Northern Ireland back into step with the rest of the modern world.”
FROM THE BOGS OF AUGHISKA
“Legend has it that the Devil is an Irishman,” grins From The Bogs mainman Conchúir O’ Drona, “and, as they say, the Devil does have all the best tunes…”
Mysterious purveyors of “Apocalyptic witchcraft” from the legendary music and matchmaking town Lisdoonvarna, FTBOA’s avant-garde ambient black metal really is the sort of stuff that needs to be heard to be believed. Numbered-up by Conchúir’s co-conspirators Bryan O’ Sullivan, Ronan Hayes and Padraic Farrelly, they’ve developed their twisted, chilling, defiantly swampy sound across 2010 self-titled LP, 2013’s Roots Of This Earth Within My Blood and last year’s Mineral Bearing Veins.
“We’re heavily influenced by the harsh and majestic nature of the barren west of Ireland and its mythology,” Conchúir continues, with a glimmer of dark humour that’s reflected in the brand-new The Devil Is An Irishman clip they’ve provided us for release. “We consider ourselves to be alchemists of terrifying, dark, ambient sounds, entwining them with black metal and Irish folklore! Just imagine Lustmord remixing Burzum…”
SO LONG UNTIL THE SÉANCE (S.L.U.T.S.)
Photo: Steven Donnelly
“We’re a rag-tag gang of miscreants peddling their horror-inspired songs of love and heartache, laced with plenty of 80’s-esque trash and sleazy guitar melodies,” explains S.L.U.T.S.’ frontman Mike Van D, without makeup when we speak, but unable to wipe away the theatricality that’s in his very bones. “Our influences are like a pop-culture Frankenstein’s monster: stitched together from the horror-punk icons like Misfits and Murderdolls and goth-pop outfits like HIM and 69 Eyes.”
Sporting an appropriately B-movie-alike cast of characters - Shadow Lestat (guitar), Gizmo (drums), Tommy D. Bauchery (guitar) and Friar Buckfast (bass) – So Long Until The Séance have already released ear-catching EPs like Seducing The Devil and Vulvar Myiasis, as well as gigging with the esteemed likes of Wednesday 13 and Doyle. They’ve also toured across the UK with ex-Misfits frontman Michale Graves, honing their ghoulish pageantry every step of the way. Now, the band has finally begun working on a full-length EP.
“We started off wanting to be the antithesis of the serious attitudes and personas saturating the current rock and metal scene,” Mike says gleefully. “Now we’re getting to share stages with our heroes.”
The contemporary Irish scene has more than its fair share of post rock heroes right now, with North-coast experimentalists And So I Watch You From Afar leading the charge and Wicklow’s ponderous God Is An Astronaut not far behind. Capturing the stark Atlantic exposure of the West coast, however, Ealadha are more reminiscent of the likes of mainland British heavyweights 65daysofstatic, Maybeshewill and Mogwai than anything else.
“We jammed for over a year in a run-down empty hotel in the heart of Cork city before playing our very first gig in Mr. Bradley’s bar, just meters up the road,” remembers mainman Dom Murphy of the band’s humble beginnings, cramped in alongside bassist/pianist Cormac Shanley and percussionist Peter Crudge. “We started out as a purely instrumental post-rock outfit in the vein of Pelican, but since then I’ve added some sorrow-filled vocals into the overall eccentric cocktail of sounds. Otherworldliness is definitely something we aim for, and our music has often been described as ‘transcendental’ or ‘cathartic’ but, as much as we steer away from conventional song-structures, we try to be somewhat accessible, even catchy.”
“Getting the first song we ever recorded on national radio was a big deal for us,” Dom smiles, remembering the days before even debut EP Limit Of Our Sight. “We were sandwiched between David Bowie and Soundgarden. That definitely motivate us to write more oddities…”
There’s more than a hint of sardonic relish when locals in the know refer to Haunch as a ‘supergroup.’ That’s not to take anything from the past achievements of guitarist/vocalist/drummer Willy Mundell and guitarist/vocalist Rory McGeown, whose previous post-hardcore outfit Throat is still revered by those who remember it. Nor is it to belittle the achievements of bassist Michael McKeegan, who continues to rumble the roofs off venues with Therapy? It’s more that anything other than resolute modesty gets laughed out the door in this (non)parochial corner of the Irish scene.
“Haunch started out as a studio project for myself and Rory,” Willy explains. “We’d played together years ago and had started writing again for a bit of fun. Beyond that, I wanted to get away from ‘front-manning’ and jump behind a drum kit. We roped in Michael to play bass and, as recordings progressed, things started to sound pretty impressive – to us, anyway!”
Haunch are quick to admit that their debut album, Lay My Bones Beside The Others, found its path out into the world almost accidentally. “We originally intended on just throwing it up on Soundcloud or Bandcamp and giving it away, but when our mate Robyn G. Shiels [More on him, later in the list] stepped forward with tales of PR and CD duplication and lured us forth to the dark domain of Black Tragick Records, we were happy to follow!”
So, not that the wheels are moving on the project, what does the future hold? “We hadn’t intended on being a proper performing band, hence the lack of gigs…so far,” Willy teases, “but people seem to want more. We have a few new songs brewing and maybe there’s another Haunch album in the pipes…”
The Magnapinna are not like other bands — not unless you’re thinking of the leftfield likes of Tomahawk, Melvins, Neurosis and Devin Townsend. Delivering caustic alt rock in undulating waves of severity, the ‘No Wave’ collective from Cork, who prefer to speak as a collective, are neither your average listen…nor your average interview.
“Dead presidents, serial killers, lost lovers, Tinder addicts and social media magnates are just some of the fodder chewed up and spat out,” the Magnapinna tell us of their influences. “As members of The Order of Teuthida, the notion of living in the past is anathema to The Magnapinna. The great aim of art, music, and culture is to obtain a seed of originality and foster the growth of something unique. We absorb the zeitgeist in all its forms, from high art to poisonous social media, and declare, ‘This is what you created, now wallow in your own reality!’
“The gaze of the many-armed god is upon you, casting judgement,” they continue. “If success is the death of endeavour, The Magnapinna are death of success. We grind in the trenches, comfortable in the knowledge that each slow step forward is another nail in the coffin of our band’s existence. With freedom from the constraints of achievement, we travel through space and time unhindered by aspirations and delve into our musical output with reckless abandon!
“Do you like unexpected pop choruses? Then we’re for you!” conclude the band. “You like joyful nihilism? We’re for you! Do you crave 90’s guitar tone and disco beats? We are for you! Live for constant artistic contradiction? WE ARE FOR YOU!”
We’ll be honest, riff lords from the tiny Antrim village of Doagh (it’s Game Of Thrones territory, trust us…), Skypilot aren’t a new band, per se. But they’re an underrated favorites, and they are about to rise again.
“We’ve been playing together since 2002,” explains frontman Dave Hall. “We’re very comfortable with the type of music we make and how we go about it. We love all sorts of rock, from classics like Maiden and Sabbath, to bands like Clutch, Fu Manchu, Deftones, Tool, Soundgarden and everything in between. The music we make is vaguely proggy, kinda’ stonerish, and full of big grooves.”
Though the members have been rattling venues with their riffs for 17 years, Skypilot’s debut LP Monument dropped in 2013. Sadly, the demands of everyday life have slowed the band’s momentum…until now. “Our new album The Affront came together really easily, and we’re excited to get out and play in support of it. We have a load of dates lined-up round the UK and Ireland. Hopefully this time we won’t have any run-ins with the police like on the last tour!”
“They thought we had stolen our own van…” Dave laughs. “Well, that plus when we stepped in to stop four guys beating up a homeless kid. It made for a memorable tour! Those four guys will remember us too!”
Some people think of Ireland and envision rolling hills, warm welcomes, and Riverdancing leprechauns hoarding gold at the end of rainbows. Brilliant blackened death collective Malthusian would be happy if those people kindly got a grip on cold fucking reality, and do so with the kind of overwhelming sonic punishment that would have Satan filing a noise complaint.
“We’re born out of the filth, squalor, and begrudgery of fair Dublin city,” explains mysterious spokesman MB. “Our influences are evident in our music and our disdain is evident in our voices. While we love the folklore and traditions in both story and song of our island, we don’t align with the paddywhackery that people associate with it.
“Our dark and ancient home fought its way through mass emigration due to avoidable famine, and occupation has made our souls angry and our hearts yearn. All the while, we hide behind broken smiles so people can dye their beers green and regurgitate ‘Top o’ the morning to ya!’ ad nauseam.”
One might wonder if Malthusian wouldn’t be somewhat displeased about being featured in a St. Patrick’s Day list honoring Irish bands. But for the band, any change they can take chip away at the wretched stereotype of where their from is a good one to take,.
“The sole meaning and aspiration behind our music is to create unease and darkness in the listener to share in the plight of our isle,” says MB. “We’ll raise a glass – to the demise of the parody of our homeland.”
ROBYN G. SHIELS
There’s an argument that the sort of murder ballad dispensed by Robyn G. Shiels falls outside the traditional rock oeuvre. Endorsed by My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero, however – with whom Robyn has toured supporting Death Blooms – the shapeshifting darkness beneath the surface of his death-folk compositions has enough of the Devil in it to warrant any headbanger’s consideration.
“I like to think of my music as ‘Doom And Gloom For The Jilted Generation,’” Robyn grins, “or ‘Songs to Uplift the Soulless’. It’s what Death Spells might sound like if they went folk, or Wilco if they lived in Larne…”
The mainman behind the aforementioned Black Tragick Records, Robyn is a pivotal character in the Northern Irish scene before he even strikes a chord, but his addiction of Celtic flavor to the sort of devilish melody favored by artists like Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave, and Ancient VVisdom demands attention in its own right.
“I got into music fairly early in the game breaking my leg dancing in my mother’s kitchen to Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop, so I musta’ been four years old,” says Robyn. “Many a bone and heart have I broken since, of course…mostly bones, though.”
Perhaps even more so than The Wood Burning Savages, Touts tap into the vibrant musical history of Ireland’s border-city Derry, majorly echoing hometown heroes The Undertones. While singles like Bomb Scare and Go Fuck Yourself have resonated remarkably with generations of young fans unsure where Ireland is headed in the era of Brexit. That said, asked to tell a story that demonstrates who the band are and what they’re all about, Jason details an English festival adventure which ended with the band unwilling/unable to fork our £5 a pint and “liberating” reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s rider by chucking the beer over a backstage fence.
“We’re inspired by the lives we lead,” explains drummer Jason Feenan. “There’s no overarching theme beyond that. We say what we see. We make observations about what’s around us: politics, nights out, the people we meet…Matthew started playing thanks to Guitar hero 3, Luke was raised with an instrument in his hands and I just bought a drum kit because I didn’t have any friends…What might be our ultimate talent? Maybe the ability to play an entire tour without a single person understanding a word we say onstage.”
“Do we have an ultimate goal?” Jason can’t help himself. “Well, I eventually want to find myself sharing a hot-tub with Eddie Murphy, Ozzy Osbourne and yer’ man from The Da Vinci Code…”
“Music means many things to many people,” explains The Crawling frontman Andy Clarke. “When it comes to extreme metal, music can be one of the most important things in life, shaping who we are. As a creator, it can define an entire existence with vast emotional attachment. This is what The Crawling represents; the translation of emotion into sound, through the form of death-doom metal.”
The Lisburn trio live up to their billing, plumbing apparently depthless reserves of melancholy and despair. “Collectively, the three of us have a love of slow, heavy riffs, with a melancholic edge added through morbid guitar lines, and themes of misery,” Andy continues. “I feel it’s human nature to focus on the negative aspects of daily living, and that’s something I like to explore. My many hours spent listening to My Dying Bride, Type O Negative, and early Peaceville bands may also have taken its toll…
“Whilst The Crawling is still in its infancy, we have all played in other bands for years. We use that collective experience to make this band the best it can be: great tunes, great sound, and a memorable live experience. We simply want to meet and play to like-minded people, and see where the journey takes us.”
“Drown came together over a love of the subversive and perverse,” says frontman Robert Dalton. “Since our inception, we’ve strived to create our own world, marrying the ethereal elements of shoegaze with the urgency and desperation of punk. There’s a brooding intensity within the music. We’re obsessed with the idea of controlled chaos and trying to transmit that to an audience. We’ve been described as angst-ridden, and I suppose we are quite a melancholy bunch.”
Galway’s Drown obsess over the dark side of 80s/90s alternative rock: Joy Division, early Cure and the Smashing Pumpkins — their name itself a nod to the Pumpkins’ epic from 1991’s Gish.
“We released our debut single Descent along with our self-titled EP in 2016 after only two gigs,” Robert continues. “It blew up and we spent the year relentlessly gigging around Ireland. We were living and writing in one of the most decrepit houses in Galway, being broke and in general ill health. I actually started using an inhaler that summer because of the mould in the place. It was fucking disgusting!”
“Vircolac are a band that don’t shy away from experimenting within the death metal genre,” explains guitarist ‘BMC’ (Bren) of what makes the Dubliners perhaps Ireland’s fastest-rising heavy force. “There’s also that focus on creating an atmospheric mood. The main intention and meaning behind our music is to provoke a response within the listener on some level, and to provide a real sense of intention and effort in what we are doing. A song should be a journey in itself, and we write them as such.”
Coming together in 2013, the quartet dropped their 2014 demo Codex Perfida, 2016’s The Cursed Travails Of The Demeter EP (the name referencing the ship that brings Count Dracula to England in the novel, whose author Bram Stoker was also a Dublin native), and their brand-new full-length album Masque over what’s been a steady ascent.
“Our influences are a strange collection, across all our members,” Bren continues, “but the bands we have in common are Morbid Angel, Autopsy, Deicide, Dismember, Entombed, Bathory, Metallica. Some of the stranger influences are John Carpenter, Genesis, King Crimson, Goblin, Popul Vuh, Fields of the Nephilim and old horror movie soundtracks.
“Musically, Vircolac band will always do exactly what we want to. And we’ll remain firmly planted within our beloved death metal genre – as it provides endless possibilities.”
Stay tuned for a very special interview with Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds
Zao will be on the road in August with Hollow Earth and Wolf King.