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When I decided to write a review for every Skyclad album, picking each of them more or less randomly had been part of the game; however I’d known since the beginning I’d finish on Vintage Whine. Why? The album which introduced you to a band, especially a band with such a lengthy discography, necessarily has to always retain its particular niche in your heart. Not to say it’s my favourite by any mean. The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea would easily win the prize, and I always had a special inclination for the unfairly overlooked “extended EP” Oui Avant-Garde à Chance. But in retrospect, Vintage Whine was probably the best introduction to our best-loved British misanthropes.
Coming after the controversial The Answer Machine, it appears like an unexpected spark of light. I don’t hold any serious grievance against The Answer Machine but it’s nonetheless a tame, quiet, probably too subtle, slightly frustrating, slightly annoying album. By contrast Vintage Whine, launched by its ironically triumphant brass intro of course not devoid of hidden mockery (Kiss my Sweet... Brass), a unique occurrence of brass instruments in the whole ‘Clad history, sounds all bright, clear and shining. It’s easily their album boasting the highest number of bouncing, lively, upbeat, rockish tracks, alongside The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea, at first giving the false impression of an overall happy band, more in the lines of what newcomers usually associate with the infamous folk metal tag. Hell, The Silver Cloud’s Dark Lining is almost a dancing tune! Though, put in perspective with the complete Skyclad works, this one seems to lack of really immortal songs. It’s fast, it’s at first catchy, but it undoubtedly lacks a bit of staying power.
The reason may be simple. It’s no coincidence the title track sounds like a watered-down version of Building Up a Ruin, the only really lively track on The Answer Machine, and indeed it seems like – maybe unconsciously, maybe in a deliberate way of denying the accusations of having turned soft - the band just wished to write a full album of sequels of the aforementioned song. Not to say it was a bad idea; Building Up a Ruin is a top Skyclad number, and there’s a good deal of excellent tracks from this vein here: On With Their Heads, The Silver Cloud’s Dark Lining, Cancer of the Heart or Little Miss Take are all contributing to what is eventually still one of the strongest Skyclad releases. The process just appears a bit too mechanical and, while The Answer Machine was probably too subtle, Vintage Whine isn’t subtle enough. I’m unfortunately still not familiar enough with the entirety of Martin Walkyier’s great lyrics, but somewhere amongst the 150 ‘Clad songs there must well be one about people who can’t be pleased whatsoever!
Thus the best track might well be one a tad less immediate, a tad less shining, I’m talking about, let’s say, Bury Me. It’s not exactly the title which will first come to the lips of a Skyclad fan, and it’s a pity. It may first be because of the couple of mediocre tracks immediately preceding it, which don’t really put the listener into good dispositions for a cleverer, ingenious piece of work. C’mon, we all know there’s no 'Clad album totally devoid of any filler, but a song like A Well Beside the River, never beginning, never ending, with Walkyier speaking rather than really singing, the violin only repeating the same poor, deliquescent line over and over, not mentioning the elementary guitars, is simply scandalous (No Strings Attached, while almost equally bad, is less surprising – just the usual crappy acoustic ballad the guys put out once in a while). Bury Me, on the contrary, should at least be singled out for its incredible middle section where, for once, the band plays with backing vocals in a rather tasteful fashion. Backing vocals never were Skyclad’s strongest point, often sounding pretty idiotic, but here the duet between the angry, spiteful, disdainful Walkyier and the backing choral litany of Bury Me! Bury Me! Come on and Bury Me! is of a tragically comic effect. No politics for once, but another of the numerous moments dedicated to this special brand of voracious women Walkyier seems to have a particular (dis)taste for.
The production is worth a word as well. It’s a tad more polished than on previous releases, probably reinforcing the overall “bright” effect, with a particular emphasis put on bass (e.g. Cancer of the Heart) which only other equivalent in the whole ‘Clad discography might be on Prince of the Poverty Line (I said, might, well it’s not that easy to carry an extended and objective comparison of ELEVEN albums). Eventually it must be the album where the characteristic use of the uninterrupted, wandering violin lines is put to its paroxysm – but don’t forget it’s Skyclad, the ultimately ironical band: after a totally violin-driven release Georgie Biddle just remembers she’s also supposed to be the act's resident keyboardist and writes a short piano conclusion, a process which isn’t without similarities with the fact of sticking a pipes intro before the otherwise un-folkish A Semblance of Normality album.
Indeed, Vintage Whine must be the Skyclad release which is the easiest to get into. Could I do anything but recommend it to anyone new with the originators of folk metal? Granted, it may not be the very best, but it’s nonetheless a pretty solid album, and at least people wouldn’t be disappointed when checking their other works. And why should they? If the reviewer has to be picky, the fan doesn’t have to. The fan doesn’t have to be rational. Understand this, each of the eleven Skyclad full-lengths is great. Now on these ultimate words of wisdom my series comes to an end.
Highlights: On With their Heads!, The Silver Cloud’s Dark Lining, Bury Me, Little Miss Take
I love Skyclad, it's a scientific fact. The originators of folk metal, the only "pure" folk metal band I've ever heard, Walkyier's intelligent wit and sarcastic bark, catchiness on par with AIDS, what's not to like? Well, there is one problem with Skyclad, they have never, EVER made an album that is wonderful from start to finish. Every last record they have ever produced has had AT LEAST two or three plodding throwaways. It baffles me how this band can write songs like Cardboard City and Civil War Dance, and yet on the very same album have The One Piece Puzzle and Land of the Rising Slum. I just don't get it. They have written some of the best songs metal has ever seen, but at the same time some really boring shit that ALWAYS seems to sneak into the record. Sorry to keep capitalizing so many words, but I must emphasize how they've never managed a single amazing record... always "Half perfect, half utter piss".
That said, Vintage Whine is one of my favorite Skyclad releases because the songs that are good, are fucking amazing. That's actually how it is with their entire discography, but I guess my personal favorites are all on this one. Really, it all comes to personal taste with Skyclad.
Vintage Whine begins with Kiss my Sweet Brass, a classic Walkyier approved pun that most listeners are already used to. New listeners might be put off the the rampant puns throughout the discography, but he usually applies them quite well when it comes to actually integrating them into the songs. Anyways, the intro is over quickly, which is good because I can't see it being interesting for more than half a minute, which leads us to the title track, and what may be my favorite Skyclad song. It's mid paced, but holy fuck is this song catchy. I mean it, it's catchy on a scale that only the Bubonic Plague can match. It also sports one of the catchiest choruses in the history of man, right next to Running Wild's White Masque or Iron Maiden's Run to the Hills. I found myself singing it for well over three months, no exaggeration. On With Their Heads!, The Silver Cloud's Dark Lining, Little Miss Take, and Something to Cling to are all speedy and catchy monsters that really make the album great. The first three tracks are really some of the best in heavy metal history, I'm willing to go that far. The Silver Cloud's Dark Lining is a great place to start if you are just discovering Skyclad. It was the first song I heard and it made me a fan instantly.
But if you look at the track listing, you may realize I completely skipped over tracks four through eight. That is because that is where the obligatory "this album is rocking too hard, we better drag it down a bit" section is. You'll notice that most of their albums work this way. There always a section of three or four songs in the middle or end that just drag the entire album down. Plodding riffs, boring drums, not catchy or memorable, and overlong. Even if it's a normal song length of about four or five minutes, it feels like much longer. They're never bad songs per se, but compared to the rest of the album, they just.... suck. A Well Beside the River isn't bad, but it's plodding and just goes on and on and on and on. It's the heaviest song on the album, but it's just boring. No Strings Attached is a straight up folk tune ala the days of Irrational Anthems, and I don't like it one bit. Bury Me sounds like it will bring the album back up to speed, but never manages it. It sounds similar to the title track, but it is severely missing the magic on the first one. Not to mention the chorus is boring as hell. And Cancer of the Heart is TOO LONG. It's only about five and a half minutes, but there's about two minutes worth of ideas. Thankfully, it is at least catchy in parts, something the last three songs missed.
Little Miss Take is SUCH a breath of fresh air after the last pool of stagnation. The album can best be described as the Grand Canyon. It's so high up, it's awesome... but then there is a very sudden dip, in fact a cliff, leading to a deep valley. You trudge across the valley floor, doing your best to stitch up your wounds from the fall as you cross. Then suddenly, you're at the other end, you're high up again, and all is right with the world. There is such a sudden dip in quality on this album it's staggering. I chose to review this album above all of the others because it starts the highest up, and almost reaches the center of the earth in the middle.
It really pains me to do this, but the album has earned a 77, a measly C+ for a band as great as Skyclad. It was really disheartening to see the calculator show up with a 77%, it really was. The songs on here that are on the ball, are fucking ON the ball, some of the best I've ever heard. Unfortunately, the middle slump that EVERY Skyclad album has, drags it down from around a 98 to a 77. Well, that's life... just skip the middle and listen to the beginning and end. An album with a ton of potential. Tracks 2, 3, 4, 9, and 10 are all essential listening (I didn't include the intro/outro in my rating, or else it would be a tidbit higher, unfortunately they don't feel like full songs, so no rating). This could be one of the best albums ever.....
This is definitely my favourite Skyclad album of all time. Why? Because it merges all the good things in music into a 43 minutes long masterpiece of folk metal. Are you looking for catchy melodies? You will find them here. Do you want to hear good riffs? Those are included. Want a good laugh while reading the lyrics? Yup. Searching for a "second bottom" about the meaning of love or other philosophical issues in the lyrics? Hell, even that is here. And with all that this is still the same Skyclad you know and love from the previous albums.
The melody lines, choruses and riffs are as always top quality. I can assure you that you are bound to sing along to the songs and by the time the music ends you'll be disappointed that you can't hear the guitars and violins anymore. The album is actually very diverse, the first part (songs 1-4) are jolly and typically folkish (maybe except for the lyrics, but I'll return to that later) with a very fast tempo (especially "On With Their Heads"). The next part (5-8) is a bit slower and more "sad" part where the violins are going deeper into the background while the metal part is going up, especially in the song "A Well Beside the River" where the violins are pretty much non-existant, while the track is led by slow yet strong riffs and the song itself a bit reminds me of Megadeth (but that's probably just me). The song "Bury Me" is similar in the musical way to track 5 while the violins grandly return in "Cancer of the Heart". Also, "No Strings Attached" is a pleasant ballad, not pushed too hard and is a fine pause from the harshness of the previous and upcoming track. The last part of the album (9-11) is something of a "I guess I gotta move on" part. The music returns to joy and you can really feel the sense of hope behind the track "Something to Cling To". All of the songs have *very* catchy choruses and absolutely great vocal performances from Martin Walkyier.
While at it, Martin Walkyier is probably the best part of this CD. In one interview, he stated that "Vintage Whine was a very personal album" and you can hear that. All the vocal parts are sang with a true passion in them. Also, the lyrics that he writes are superb. From absolutely hilarious ("On With Their Heads!") to kind of philosophical and reflective ("Cancer of the Heart") yet all of them are highly sophisticated and to understand them in full, you'll definitely need a good knowledge of the English language. But, as I stated before they're not typically folkish, however they're definitely skycladish, because I don't really think that any other folk metal band has sarcastic lyrics about sentencing everyone the singer despises to death.
To sum up, in my opinion "Vintage Whine" is a flawless masterpiece and is a must for all fans of folk or for people who are not familiar with the genre or the band but want to find out what's it all about.
In other words - get it now or Martin the First will get your head off your shoulders.
Skyclad had released albums that were more metal than folk (“The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth”, “The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea”) and also an album that was more folk than metal (“Oui Avant-Garde A Chance”). The perfect balance between these styles can be found on this album, their 9th full length album, the 1999 masterpiece “Vintage Whine”.
Not only a masterpieces because it is a perfect blending of the styles, but also because the compositions are of extraordinary individual quality and the fact that it came right after their most disappointing album (“The Answer Machine”)
After a sweet brass medievalish intro the band plunges into folk metal with the catchy title track that musically refers to earlier classics such as ‘The Widdershins Jig’, ‘Spinning Jenny’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’. Next up is an immediate classic, the very fast song ‘On With Their Heads’ which had some punk and thrash metal thrown in, great anti-megalomaniac lyrics and a strong chorus.
After a sweet violin intro ‘The Silver Cloud's Dark Lining’ continues as an upbeat happy folk metal tune with a pounding verse and catchy chorus. Another personal favourite is ‘Bury Me’ which has strong lyrics, great drum rhythms and once again a very strong folky chorus. Last but not least I’d like to mention ‘Little Miss Take’ which is a quality upbeat catchy song the vein of the earlier mentioned ‘Vintage whine’ and ‘The Silver Cloud's Dark Lining’.
Before I forget, I’ve never been too fond of ‘No Strings Attached’ which is the only song I tend to skip from time to time. Apart from that, marvellous album and personal top 3 Skyclad favourite.
Skyclad is the kind of band you keep hearing about when people drop names of good bands/bands they like, but relatively few people have actually listened in comparison to the amount of people that know their name.
So on a sunny day I decided to check them out, and I have to say, this is a band worth your time. Having always been curious about the stickers on their album shouting 'Originators of folk-metal since 1990!' I kinda had expectations about them. A brief listen in the cd-store gave me the impression that this was an album that was easy to get into, and had some potential to grow. It didn't blow me away though.
First off, I got to say this sounds nothing like other early folk-metal bands (even if the others were started at least a few years later); that is to say, Skyclad absolutely can't be compared to Cruachan or Storm or Otyg, although the comparison to latest Cruachan isn't exactly far off. I was expecting some lyrics of the decline of ancient values, and/or how the invasion of Christians or somesuch was to our common detriment like with some other folky bands, but instead I got lyrics about how Martin Walkyr would chop off the heads of priests who couldn't keep their hands off the choirboys if he was in charge! Woa, not only that, but almost all the lyrics touch on current socially relevant issues. And they're damn good! It shall be a pleasant surprise to people who like good lyrics that the texts are filled with (in my opinion) clever puns, witticisms and social insight/critique.
Check for example the lyrics to the chorus in 'On with their heads!':
"On with their heads, hear my royal decree. / Shut your mouth - it might open your mind / What a change there would be if someday we could see, / One-eyed men in this land of the blind."
Martin Walkyr as a vocalist doesn't display incredible vocal ranges, but he does what he does well. Where he really shines is in the expression of emotion in his vocals. Not melodramaticism or anything, but he knows how to convey a slightly venomous slightly accusatory undertone in his vocals that fit the slightly venomous undertone in the lyrics very well. From time to time there's even a slight hint of held back agression in his voice. That's not all; hope, loss, a cheerfull disposition, he conveys it well with his voice, without going all the way over the top like many gothic and powermetal bands do. He has a sort of British decency and subtleness about it.
I'd almost forget to talk about the music, but nothing bad to mention here as well. The most notable thing about it is how catchy it all is. Every song has a good hook, a catchy melody and accompanying refrain. Of course, that's what folkmusic is usually about, and Skyclad do it without reusing old folktunes (like Cruachan). In fact, if you'd take away the playfull fiddling and even the occasional keyboard and piano, you'd be left with solid and straightforward heavy metal with a decent amount of oomph and catchyness.
If you have a penchant for metal with a bit of folk (without singing tales of crushing religion per se), or just solid catchy metal, or something with an up-beat undertone to it, or just curious to a band that originated folk-metal and has many fine musicians from other British cult oldschool bands in it, you're obliged to yourself to check Skyclad out, and Vintage Whine is, from what I'm told, one of the better albums in a discography void of bad albums. The only possible downside I could detect to this album is that the combination of folky hooks and the undertone of the lyrics/vocals might not work for everyone.