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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.