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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