St. Patrick's Day Massacre: 10 Killer Celtic Hard Rock & Metal Tunes
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Read on for classic rock, Celtic anthems, Irish power metal, American punk, and more.
"Drunken Lullabies," Flogging Molly
Start your day at a run with Flogging Molly, a fiery traditional ensemble that plays socially conscious tunes at the speed of punk and holds dual citizenship in Dublin and Detroit. If this breakneck jig is too much this early, try the gentler unplugged version or the band's "Worst Day Since Yesterday," with a classic double-shot of Irish mirth.
See Also: If you'd rather rock out than fiddle around... Before embracing his roots, frontman Dave King cut his teeth with as the singer for '80s metal also-rans Fastway, with members of Motörhead and UFO.
"Whiskey in the Jar," Thin Lizzy
The late, great Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott knew how it felt. And when we say "it," we mean "everything." The black Irish singer-bassist wrote moving classic rock songs about breaking out of jail, falling in love, getting revenge, and being a cowboy. But the band's best St. Pat's selection is "Whiskey in the Jar," an electric rendition of the folk song about badass bandits and the pleasures of robbing and sleeping.
See Also: Metallica's version of the tune may be inferior, but it has a better video.
"The Body of an American," The Pogues
The Pogues began as a post-punk band and kept their energy high in songs like this one, which are indistinguishable from the classics they sprinkled across their discography. This standout is a dynamic, melancholy tale of a deceased hellraiser who drank and fought his way through America, and is now on his way back to the land of his forefathers. (Fans of The Wire will recognize the recurring song as background music from the cop bar, particularly in Jimmy McNulty's sendoff in the series finale.)
See Also: Even on St. Pat's Day, hard rock fans may find the Pogues a bit on the light side. But the Dropkick Murphys perform a high-octane cover of "The Irish Rover," a song the Pogues recorded with Irish icons the Dubliners.
"An Irish Pub Song," The Rumjacks
Hoist a stout and drop your celebration into high gear with the Rumjacks, the Australian heirs-apparent to Celtic punk's knotwork wooden throne. Hard-as-nails vocals and crunchy production grant every song emotional heft. In this popular single, the tight-as-a-bodhrán band race a blazing penny-whistle riff and give a wry wink to the shamrock-sporting party people on the green-and-white bandwagon. Listen for a checklist of St. Pat's symbols and signifiers like a hurley stick, shinty bone, craic, cabbage, and overpriced Guinness.
See Also: All raging banjo and shout-along pub refrains, "Uncle Tommy" is a colorful yarn about a dearly departed uncle who had less than his share of the luck of the Irish.
"Shamrocks and Shenanigans" (Butch Vig Remix), House of Pain
Coming straight outta Cali in the early '90s, this white trio tapped their Irish bloodlines to fuel an original take on the exploding field of hip-hop. Nirvana producer Butch Vig dropped a rock riff into this remixed single from the band's first album, and together they helped launch the rap-rock movement.
See Also: "Jump Around," one of the great high-energy party anthems and jock jams, has an irresistible beat and samples that squeal like bagpipes.
"Two Angry Kids," Street Dogs
Take it down a notch for just a moment with the Street Dogs, a Boston band that play Clash-indebted punk rock with classic-rock finesse. This song starts with a quiet mandolin moment, then explodes in a rowdy chorus. Frontman Mike McColgan was the original Dropkick Murphys singer, and as a Street Dog, he still brings his Beantown brogue to killer singalong choruses about family, fighting, and friendship.
See Also: Where the Dropkicks drape their songs in weaponized bagpipes, Street Dogs keep it spare, even in slower, trad-tinged tunes like "Elizabeth."
"I'm Shippin' Up to Boston," Dropkick Murphys
This Boston institution started as punk band, and as their following grew, so did the group itself, adding bagpipes, violins, accordions and banjos into a new kind of crossover that tattooed skaters and their veteran grandfather both appreciate. With "I'm Shippin' Up to Boston" - as heard in The Departed - the band dusted off some old Woodie Guthrie lyrics and generated an instant anthem.
See Also: The Murphys have recorded an oak keg full of olde country songs like "The Wild Rover," but they've also spiced up their singles with versions of hardcore classics like Gang Green's "Alchohol," which definitely warrants a listen on the busiest bar day of the year.
"Morbid Tales," Celtic Frost
As long the party is going fast and furious, let's send it over the top. As S.O.D. ruthlessly pointed out, this pioneering Swiss metal band aren't Irish. But "Celtic" refers to a whole cross-section of earthy, ass-kicking tribes who swarmed Europe and the future United Kingdom during the Iron Age. Members of Celtic Frost pioneered black metal in Hellhammer, then the Morbid Tales album established the band as a heavy, progressive leading force in through the '80s and beyond.
See Also: "Winter (Triptych, Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale)," a late-career strings instrumental that reflects the subtle side of Celtic culture.
"As Ancient Fire Burns," Darkest Era
Now if it's real Irish metal ye want, these melodic headbangers sing powerful tunes based on the country's pagan folklore. Shot in a castle and bleak woodlands, this creepy clip - and its soaring riffs - will haunt you long after today's revelry has ended.
See Also: "The Morrigan," a metal tribute to the goddess of the battlefield.
"To Dine in the Otherworld," Waylander
To the uninitiated, folk music and black metal may seem like an odd match. But they both have a primal, tribal drive that tends to lead down the darkest paths. This epic fights its way from electric aggression to misty-bog stillness, then ends with a climax that'd be a perfect soundtrack to a bloody battle between Hibernian warlords.
See Also: Like a rich half-and-half, the folk metal masterwork "Echoes of the Sidhe" combines the best of both worlds in the thrashiest tin-whistle riff you'll hear all day.
D.X. Ferris is the author of 33 1/3: Reign in Blood, the first English-language book about Slayer. He writes the webcomic Suburban Metal Dad and runs Pentagrammarian.com, the world's only full-contact, metal-oriented grammar & usage website.