Photo Credit: Filmawi
The deer has always had a peculiar position within Celtic mythology and is often associated with spirituality and the supernatural. In Ireland, the ghost of the now-extinct Irish giant deer still gallops across the barren landscape and continues to transfer its mythical symbolism to new generations. Therefore, it is not surprising that the finest Irish rock band in years – Fontaines D.C. – has put a giant deer on the cover of their third album, Skinty Fia. The title is an old Irish saying that roughly translates to “the Damnation of the Deer.” Adding to the mysterious circumstances, the deer has been misplaced in a stairwell – I mean, what could be creepier than an ancient creature in a place where it doesn’t belong? Then again, it’s a brilliant way to represent Fontaines D.C.’s creepiest, most sinister album to date.
The echoes of Irish rebellion and bitterness echo across the album, starting with an immediate assault on the English Church and their demands to also include an English translation of “In ár gCroíthe go deo” (Irish for “in our hearts forever”) at Irish-born Margaret Keene’s gravestone. The case was tried in a court where Keene’s family won, and Fontaines D.C. celebrate this with a song titled in the same way. It’s a monotonous, repetitive grinder that opens this record as if you were about to enter an old, haunted, Celtic house.
It eventually takes until track four for the Fontaines to fire on all cylinders. “Jackie Down the Line” comes off as an eviler post-punk adaption of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”, with singer Grian Chatten declaring his unreliability as a lover over the brilliant chorus. “I don’t think we’d rhyme // I will wear you down in time // I will hurt you, I’ll desert you // I’m one Jackeen of a line,” he sings before getting even darker. “I will hate you, I’ll debase you // I am Jackie down the line // And I will stone you, I’ll alone you // I am Jackie down the line.”
Ironically, it never gets more melodic than this on Skinty Fia, not even as they come up with a song as romantically titled as “I Love You”, a song described by Chatten as “the first overtly political song we’ve written.” “Cloud-parting smile I had, a real good child I was // But this island’s run by sharks with children’s bones stuck in their jaws,” is probably the greatest thing anyone has ever said about the mass graves of over 800 babies found at a former Catholic care home in Ireland, as Chatten more or less explicitly continues to rage with swirling anger at political parties and hypocritical radio personalities.
On “Roman Holiday”, the band eventually lets in some light in a somewhat romantic attempt to conquer the London nightlife as an Irishman. An atmospheric guitar line hovers over most of the song and that’s probably as close to traditional guitar music we will ever get from this group. As a non-Irishman, it might at times be hard to make sense of all the feelings of anger and frustration that Chatten rants about on this album, but like the finest of wordsmiths, Chatten makes us understand what it’s like being Irish as well as let’s say Bob Marley helped us making sense of the buffalo soldiers.
Whether you will like Skinty Fia or not is largely down to whether you preferred their 2019 debut Dogrel or their 2020 follow-up A Hero’s Death. One thing is for sure, though: forget the radio-friendly pop hooks of “Boys in the Better Land”, the majority of Skinty Fia sounds a lot more like “Televised Mind” or “I Don’t Belong”, only more pissed-off. This album is an important document on Irish history and regardless of what you think about Fontaines D.C.’s path carving away from groups like IDLES towards less accessible groups like IceAge, Skinty Fia confirms their position as one of the most important Irish acts of all time.