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Intelligent and reasonably complex folk metal - 92%

Agonymph, April 8th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Noise Records

Before folk metal became synonymous with heavy drinking songs – that being either heavy songs for drinking or songs for heavy drinking – Skyclad managed to blend folk and heavy metal in an intelligent and reasonably complex manner. For the British band, the folk influences were there to enhance the engaging riff work instead of the other way around and in Martin Walkyier, they had the best lyricist in metal. Each of the first five albums is great, but while others may point towards ‘Prince Of The Poverty Line’, ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ is the one I return to most.

With ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ being Skyclad’s second album, it was still very much rooted in the NWOBHM and thrash metal history that Walkyier, guitarist Steve Ramsey and bassist Graeme English had in bands like Sabbat and Satan. However, the addition of violinist and keyboard player Fritha Jenkins to the line-up meant that the folk elements were promoted from novelty to a full part of the arrangements in a spectacular manner. In fact, songs like ‘Karmageddon (The Suffering Silence)’ and ‘Salt On The Earth (One Man’s Poison)’ have some incredible harmonies for the violin and two guitars.

Despite arguably being the first band in the genre, Skyclad’s early work may have some trouble being considered folk metal by current fans of the genre, save for ‘Spinning Jenny’. Then what is it? It’s not quite thrash metal, though the intensity and the tempos are there and while it’s considerably more complex than classic heavy metal, calling this progressive metal would be a step too far. Still, how ‘A Broken Promised Land’ moves from intense riffing to a tranquil middle section and back is very likely to please fans of all aforementioned genres rather than alienating all of them.

In later years, the atmosphere on Skyclad’s songs would frequently move into bitter irony. Here, most of the material is still quite angry and aggressive, really bringing out the best in Walkyier’s diction. His gruff bile spitting can hardly be accused of possessing a wide range, but it does give the already impressive riff work on songs like the atmospheric ‘Men Of Straw’ and the incredible ‘R’vannith’ a little extra push. ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’ is the biggest masterpiece here, as everything simply works: Walkyier’s word play, Ramsey’s pulsating riffs and an incredible climactic build-up towards its spectacular chorus.

Creating a whole new subgenre isn’t something every band can claim doing, but I doubt if that was ever Skyclad’s intention. ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ never sounds like a band trying to be clever, instead just focusing on making the best album possible. My only minor quibble with the album is that it closes with ‘Alone In Death’s Shadow’. This dark, doomy ballad is quite good, but doesn’t work as a climax. ‘R’vannith’ would have been my pick. Apart from that, there hardly is anything to complain about here, unless you passionately disagree with Walkyier’s fairly left-wing views. But even then, there’s too much excellent music to let this go by unnoticed.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’, ‘A Broken Promised Land’, ‘R’vannith’

Originally written for my Kevy Metal weblog

Hymns to long lost causes. - 90%

GrizzlyButts, March 3rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Noise Records

Skyclad struck inspirational gold combining elements of folk and Celtic rock with thrash metal on their debut and were quickly back to recording this notable follow-up album that brought a far more accessible take on their sub-genre innovation. In fact this combination of Sabbat and Satan members would spawn a new and impressive album every year for almost a decade. On “A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol” the thrash metal style of the previous album is still present but the thrash riff no longer drives the music like it did on ‘Wayward Sons of Mother Earth’. Instead the music of ‘A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol’ features a prominent violinist at the center of melodies for the majority of the tracks. While the concept of violin and guitar rarely works in the avant-garde metal sense, here it serves as a driving lead guitar would when ensorcelling melody.

Because I’m not comfortable crediting the invention of folk metal with Isengard‘s 1991 demo, this album was essentially the invention of Folk Metal proper. This is despite the fact that Skyclad is to this day the only band to sound like they did on this album. It is idiosyncratic, accessible and well written music. To see the group tastefully cling to their now scantily-clad thrash guitar ideas while integrating classic heavy metal and violin jigs together in an almost progressive fashion was massively inspirational for folk metal. That said, any thrash fan might want to sit the rest of their discography out after this one because they would soon start to focus more emphasis on violin driven melody and the vocalist’s increasingly impressive lyrical melodies rather than big metal riffs and guitar solos.

‘A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol’ is the sort of thing an open-minded classic thrash fan will enjoy quite a bit, still. “Salt on the Earth (Another Man’s Poison)” is arguably heavier than most of their first record and my favorite track “R’Vannith” combines that aggression with the violinist’s virtuosity to greatest effect. In fact the violin is so successful here because it’s placement is always organic and in service of central melodic or rhythmic transition.

Martin Walkyier had already found his bitingly sarcastic and cynical voice in Sabbat but his lyrics took a turn towards even more personal and thoughtful examination of social issues rooted in history and politics. His voice is distinguishable as the guy who sang on ‘Dreamweaver’, though. Thankfully their discography wasn’t pure lyrical outrage and his increasingly pun-driven wit would come to form the personality of Skyclad with each successive recording. Skyclad set a very high bar for folk metal and if you’re curious about it’s inception and style this is the album to start with.


something new is afoot - 82%

amelanchier, November 16th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1992, CD, Noise Records

Following the thrashy debut Wayward Sons of Mother Earth, A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol is a transitional Skyclad album and could well be considered the first folk metal album ever. Burnt Offering oscillates between the grimly serious, white-knuckle thrash of tracks like "A Broken Promised Land" and parts of "Karmageddon" and "R'Vannith" and mid-tempo, eerie, hard-edged folk metal. The fiddle is more prominent than in the past and actually carries several melodies. Keyboards are also present, generally shading the edges of the music rather than taking a leading role.

Don't expect the jaunty, catchy folk tunes of later albums. The fiddle leads generally have a haunting aspect rather than a cheery one. Even the potentially playful "Spinning Jenny," the first of Skyclad's many songs about femmes fatales, has a brooding underside, emphasized by Martin's gravelly, dour vocalizations. On the album as a whole, the vocals are, like the first album, mixed a bit lower than on future albums, and the vocal lines don't really carry a melody very often.

While if you really like the catchy, folky side of later Skyclad, this album is unlikely to find its way into your favorites, it would be a real error to leave the analysis at that, or to dismiss the album as merely "historically important," but not enjoyable in its own right. Because it really is enjoyable most of the time. Beyond the infectious stomp of "Spinning Jenny" we have the badass breakdown riffs of "Karmageddon," the fist-pumping chorus of "The Declaration of Indifference" ("We pledge allegiance to pretence/Raise the white flag of indifference/You sought a grail forged of fool's gold/And on the quest your souls were sold/Sell-outs!"), the genuinely peaceful, palate-cleansing ballad "Ring Stone Round," a searing guitar solo on "Alone in Death's Shadow," and several other tasty nuggets. Though less than three minutes long, "Spinning Jenny" definitely belongs on a list of the top ten Skyclad tracks ever, and "The Declaration of Indifference" probably ought to make it onto, at the very least, a top 20 list.

Historically important, a bit mired in its own genre definition (still essentially thrash), not as honed and tight as later albums, but still not to be overlooked because of the gems it contains, A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol is an essential Skyclad album.

First Genuine Skyclad, Harsh-Style - 75%

Sean16, April 27th, 2009

Another year of existence for Skyclad, and already another album: the originators of folk metal were henceforth to keep this impressive pace until the end of the Walkyier era – meaning, nothing less than their first ten years of existence. The origin of their numerous fillers, which fortunately yet aren’t numerous enough to eclipse so many unforgettable moments, shouldn’t be looked for elsewhere. However let’s admit the second album of the British sextet is probably its most homogeneous alongside its last-to-date so far (A Semblance of Normality).

Not its best, though. A Burnt Offering... seems at first a rather harsh, unsexy and – why not saying it? – bland album. While the thrash vibe of the debut is still present this opus is already far less riff-centered, and on the other hand the guys still hadn’t perfected their unique style which was soon to receive the infamous folk metal tag. If it’s the first “real” Skyclad album, it nonetheless lacks of truly anthemic songs, of those little some-things which would stick in the listener’s head for hours and hours. However, though both releases have little in common I’d compare it to the later The Answer Machine – a first not-that-attractive album which is still worth be looked more in-depth.

So – the first real Skyclad, did you say? Indeed. The songwriting has gained in complexity, acoustic passages are more numerous and far better integrated to the songs (this incredible solo in the otherwise average Men of Straw for instance), and for the first time melodies appear which could be genuinely labeled as folk. Meanwhile, the band now boasts with Fritha Jenkins its first member fully dedicated to violin and keyboards and, while we’re still far from the omnipresent, uninterrupted fiddle lines of the later recordings (especially after the arrival of Georgie Biddle), there isn’t a single song where the instrument doesn’t gnash for at least a few bars (coming to keyboards, while they’re a bit less anecdotic than on the debut, they still remain a mere backing instrument).

Thrash influences haven’t disappeared though – and won’t totally disappear before another several years. In Martin Walkyier’s raspy voice first; in the fast, galloping pace of most of the tracks then, partly responsible for the apparent uniformity (in a slightly negative sense) of the album. Curiously, and contrary to most other Skyclad outputs, the fastest tracks (Salt on the Earth, Men of Straw) aren’t especially the most interesting. The thrashy ‘Clad had given its best on the debut: now the band is going its own, so far unexplored path, such parts sound a bit out-of-place. Well, this still doesn’t prevent them from being enjoyable anyway.

As it may be guessed on such an album everyone’s personal favourite is likely to be different. Apart from Ring Stone Round and its mellow, trickling acoustic guitars, each track has its own respective qualities. The Declaration of Indifference shows a pleasant rock-ish vibe closer to later albums a la Vintage Whine, alongside a cheerful violin tune, making it sound like a breeze of fresh air in an otherwise a tad too austere piece of work. As for R’vannith it’s probably the most ambitious track here, again pretty thrashy in some ways but with an additional epic twist as well as a large part devoted to violin and guitar solos – and of course heavily political and anti-religion lyrics. However, it’s with Spinning Jenny the ‘Clad really signed their first classic as well as the first chapter of their long series devoted to ever-horny, ever-hunting, never-satisfied modern days succubi; a track indeed progressing at the same medium pace the main character (Martin himself?), led by the ominous, slightly mocking violin, progresses into debauchery.

All in all A Burnt Offering... is a solid Skyclad album, not my favourite but there will surely be some listeners to disagree here. At least the original songwriting, the accentuated folk edge and the growing part allocated to the violin now allow ourselves to hold our heads up high to clearly state, in a both convinced and convincing tone: THIS IS SKYCLAD.

Highlights: Spinning Jenny, R’vannith, The Declaration of Indifference

Charming - 80%

Rainbow, June 1st, 2004

I'd always heard of this band, but never got to hear them. I knew they were folk metal and that lyrical madman Martin Walkyier from Sabbat was at the band's front. Now I like Sabbat a lot, but I was too sure about the whole folk thing. Luckily at a used cd store, some chump had returned his entire Skyclad collection. Remember hearing about "Spinning Jenny" I decided to pick this album out of the bunch.

Whoa. Good call.

This is unlike all the metal I usually listen to. It has traditional and thrash elements, with the usual themes, but the atmosphere and folk stuff makes it so much more fun. You can't help but listen to it and have a smile on your face. Granted, the overtly happy tones of the music may not mesh with Walkyier's darker ramblings, but something here just works. The lyrics are amazing for one. That main riff in "Spinning Jenny" is indeed the catchiest damn thing. The stone cold emotion in "Ring Stone Round" embodies the folk moodiness that Ritchie Blackmore and his blonde bimbo could only dream of.

"Karmageddon", "R'Vannith", all continue in this tradition, and though songs say they are long, they flow quickly through the ears. Everything here is just EXACTLY how folk and metal should be combined. I am now a Skyclad fan for sure, and will be returning to pick more of their cds.

All metal fans should hear this. Innovation in the scene is something few and far between these days. Umm, yeah. "these days". This cd came out 12 years ago....BAH...GO GET IT!

The lost Skyclad album - 95%

Hattori, February 18th, 2004

This is the only Skyclad release out of print. Why? Don't ask me, but Skyclad fans have become bitter enemies fighting for this album on eBay, with the winner usually paying upwards of $50 Canadian. Noise records refuses to re-release the album, saying that “the sales won’t justify it.” Well, the quality of this album certainly does.

A Burnt Offering retains much of the thrashiness of the previous disc, Wayward Sons of Mother Earth, but the fiddle is better incorporated into the music. This is Skyclad's first release with a full-time fiddle player, and the first Skyclad album you could really call folk-metal. The songs on A Burnt Offering are more melodic and better structured than on Wayward Sons. No longer are there pages of lyrics for each song, and Walkyier’s machine-gun bark has been slowed down, without losing any of its bite. Lyrically, the album is much more varied. Instead of songs about nature and its exploitation, we find lyrics about child abuse, AIDS, Saddam Hussein, and a track about a woman so seductive, even priests are helpless against her power.

"A Broken Promised Land" kicks things off in a typical heavy fashion, but the clean sung, violin-filled bridge showcases the band’s growth. Spinny Jenny just bounces along—Skyclad’s catchiest song to date—while the fiddle in "Salt on the Earth" provides the Eastern vibe the lyrics call for. "R’Vannith" (meaning Roman) sports great fiddle-work, and features one of the best riffs in metal (check out 1:02-1:24)—a Sabbat-like thrashfest this song ain’t. It’s much better.

"Alone in Death’s Shadow" and "Ring Stone Round" are the album’s only ballads, and the only songs that take getting used to. Up to this point, Walkyier has made a career of barking through albums, so his clean voice on both tracks is underdeveloped and flat. "Ring Stone Round" serves as a mellow opener to the heavy "Men of Straw," while the strong lyrics of "Alone in Death’s Shadow" and Walkyier’s screams at the end of the song (the best of his career) make the track an apt closer.

In terms of both quality and music, A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol bridges the gap between the very good Wayward Sons of Mother Earth and Jonah’s Ark: one of the best albums *ever* released.

Definitely worth tracking down.