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Skyclad > A Semblance of Normality > Reviews
Skyclad - A Semblance of Normality

Forget Walkyier. Forget him! - 80%

Sean16, April 22nd, 2009

After the departure of iconic singer Martin Walkyier, after the questionable reworked songs of No Daylights nor Heeltaps, Skyclad was eventually back to serious business with their first (and only to date) full-length album featuring Kevin Ridley on vocals. If opinions may differ about it, if some long-time fans probably haven’t even condescended to lend an ear on it (people are stupid, old news), at least something is sure: this isn’t classic Skyclad anymore.

... And it’s a good thing. Really. The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea has already been recorded. Vintage Whine has already been recorded. So-called Classic Skyclad could hardly get better than those, all the more without Walkyier’s trademark ever-pissed-off style. If it was to release another Folkemon – no thanks. The British band had just come at this time in life when one has to sit down and think off for a while – to begin again, as strong as before. A Semblance of Normality has indeed to be first rewarded for being one of the most consistent albums the guys (and the girl) ever put out. While compiling all the fillers the ‘Clad scattered throughout their fertile career would easily lead to a double worst-of album, there is in comparison no especially weak track on the thirteen this release counts. Granted, A Song of No-Involvement is a tad too repetitive and, thus, annoying, while a track like... precisely, Like... A Ballad for the Disenchanted sounds like a pedestrian exercise in modern metal devoid of any imagination; nonetheless those don’t come to the point they’d destroy the harmony of the whole album as, if here and there the songwriting is undoubtedly weaker, the mood isn’t fundamentally different from the rest.

So what’s this so-called mood, may you ask. Well it could be summed up to two words: LESS FOLK. In fact, this is probably the less folk-oriented Skyclad release, alongside the debut. Not that they aren’t any folk songs anymore. With a title like Anotherdrinkingsong one should exactly know what to expect, some pub fun in the vein of the No Daylights... compilation. Farther, Lightening the Load doesn’t have anything to envy it either. But now, if Skyclad overall recorded very few pure folk tunes, there also used to be very few songs devoid of any folk element. While here? Do They Mean Us, A Good Day to Bury Bad News, Three Little Kingdoms, to quote only the most evident. Of course you don’t have to use two acoustic guitars, three fiddles, four flutes and a whole company of bagpipes to record a folk-oriented song (let’s also remember In Extremo managed to record nu-metal songs with three bagpipes). But folk melodies, folk rhythmic lines, folk solos are a reality, a reality the three aforementioned songs are totally devoid of. Otherwise, it’s interesting to note this album is paradoxically the only one beginning with a pure folk intro – a bagpipes solo. Vintage Whine featured a brass intro, A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol some bizarre noisy soundscape, The Answer Machine an aborted song, and all the other had no intro at all. Just as if, before really beginning, the guys just wanted to state something in the lines of: We’re Skyclad. We’re the originators of folk metal. You don’t believe us? Okay, take this full minute of pipes in your face. Now, let’s go back to the music.

The production seems actually custom-made to negate any folk-ness to the music. The acoustic guitar topping the electric guitar was a standard Skyclad formula which is, first, far less frequently used on this release; then when it is, the electric guitar is now mixed far louder than the acoustic one (e.g. A Song of No-Involvement)! Coming to the fiddle, it has namely been substituted by a full orchestra on roughly half the tracks, and with it disappears another obvious folk ingredient. Not to say the orchestra is worthless. First it’s a genuine orchestra, not some programmed mess, then it helps to make the songs sound thicker, denser, more majestic. Just again, this isn’t classic Skyclad anymore (oh, and has anyone noticed the irony a band with often critical, politically-oriented lyrics plays with the very formal Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?). By the way, that’s old news Georgie Biddle had been progressively switching from violin to keyboards since already a couple of albums. Add to this the drums being mixed up as well, Ridley’s less rough, more professional voice, then finally the new focus on extended electric guitar solos (another Ridley effect?), and you’ll obtain... a very metal album, albeit not what you’d have instinctively associated with the Skyclad name.

Alright but... there comes the topic you’re all waiting for, filling Walkyier’s lyricist shoes. The new texts aren’t half bad, actually. Granted, Walkyier would never have called anything Anotherdrinkingsong or, even if he had, you could have been sure it would have been nothing but tongue-in-cheek, biting satire. Here Anotherdrinkingsong is just, lyrically as musically, well, another drinking song. Don’t hastily deduce the ‘Clad have turned to Korpiklaani, beer-worshipping lyrics. I guess few fans would have forgiven it. Fear not, titles like A Good Day to Bury Bad News or The Parliament of Fools should be enough to convince anyone Skyclad has once again fulfilled its quota of political and social issues, even if by becoming more explicit, less ironical, less pun-filled, less bitterly humorous, the lyrics have nonetheless lost some of their charm I’ll admit. But again, it could have been far worse. Who listens to metal for lyrics only anyway – even if it’s Skyclad?

Indeed. Seriously, you’ll have to admit it once and for all: there isn’t any serious complaint to make about this album, and if Skyclad with Walkyier was great, Skyclad without Walkyier has proved to be great as well. Ridley’s melodic voice is very agreeable to hear, the songwriting is solid, the cleverly used orchestra adds a novel, powerful touch. Of course there may lack any real anthemic, iconic song here. If my personal favourite is The Parliament of Fools there is no truly objective reason for this, A Semblance of Normality being really one of these albums which deserves being listened to from the beginning to the end. This isn’t classic Skyclad anymore. Who cares.

Highlights: A Good Day to Bury Bad News, The Parliament of Fools, NTRWB

Return of the Kings - 90%

Hattori, June 12th, 2004

Overall, this album is excellent, a much better and more well-rounded album than Folkemon, which I thought was too top-heavy. However, this new disc is not for all fans, and people of the "Walkyier is Skyclad" camp probably will dismiss it. But, if you're like me and feel that Skyclad's excellence was as much due to Steve Ramsey's songwriting as Walkyier's lyrics/vocals, you'll definitely find value in this release. One thing that no fan, past or present, will be able to deny: A Semblance of Normality is an inspired album.

Those who are familiar with "No Daylights Nor Heeltaps" will be familiar with Kevin Ridley's style. He has a melodic, Irish pub type of voice. Gone is Walkyier's staccato bark. Fortunately, Kevin's voice is much better suited for the new Skyclad material, and I think this album's ideas are better realized with Ridley at the helm, then they would've been with Martin. Kevin's lyrics lack Martin's unique humor, but they are quite well written and intelligent, although his messages are conveyed more subtly. As with other Skyclad releases, I found myself consulting the dictionary (insouciance?).

So is this album metal? Yes. When the band released No Daylights Nor Heeltaps back in 2002, they intended it not only as an introduction to the new vocalist, but also as an indication of their new direction. Surprisingly, this new release is similar to "No Daylights" only in terms of vocals. Heavier, downtuned guitars take priority on many of the songs, and overall, "A Semblance of Normality" is less folky than a Skyclad fan might expect or hope.

"Anotherdrinkingsong," "Parliament of Fools," and "Lightening the Load" are typical Clad tracks, and they would make any Skyclad fan grin with kid-in-candystore delight. However, those are three of only five tracks that feature Georgina Biddle on the violin. In her place, five songs use the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, giving those tracks a more orchestral, less folky feel. A hammond organ and northumbrian bagpipes are also used on multiple tracks. The fact that a poor band like Skyclad would fork over the money for those guest musicians shows how much their hearts are into the new material.

The orchestra is most felt on "Do They Mean Us?" and "A Good Day to Bury Bad News." Most of you are familiar with "Do They Mean Us?" It's an orchestral folk-thrashfest that pulled the rug out from under those who were expecting acoustic, "No Daylights"-like material. On "A Good Day to Bury Bad News," the orchestra plays off against the heavy riff quite well. The song's bridge has awesome start-stop orchestral pulses, and the orchestral break in the song is quite interesting. (I need another synonym for orchestral).

Anotherhighlight is Anotherdrinkingsong. It's the quintessential Irish-pub-metal track, with folktastic, do-si-do music after the chorus, and fa-la-la-la chanting that keeps getting faster and faster, giving way to a breathe-of-fresh-air guitar solo. The solos are more upfront on this Skyclad release than on any other. Ramsey's is a killer player. Speaking of Ramsees, "Like.." has a killer Egyptian feel, but the RPO keeps this track away from the tedium that befalls most half-baked Egyptunes (see Iced Earth's "Im Ho Tep").

"A Semblance of Normality" is the most varied Skyclad release to date, an as such, it offers plenty of suprises. "Ten Little Kingdoms" is the heaviest, fastest song on the album. It blasts off, and you have to speedread to follow along with the lyrics. Kevin sings in a much harsher voice, which I'll admit, I didn't think he was capable of. "Not the Roman Wall Blues" is 100% folkless, and the bluesiest track on the album. The downtuned guitars make sure that the blues don't overwhelm the metal, and check out the solo----killer. "Hybrid Blues" starts out as a ballad, and then takes a turn for the heavier, with Kevin's harsher vocals returning. The song is a little too radio-sounding for its own good, but the orchestra and interesting precussion keep it above water. The song is previously unmarked territory for Skyclad, and I can appreciate it in that regard. As a closing track, it is much better than "Quantity Time" from "Irrational Anthems" which followed up History Lessen's bang with a quivering whimper.

Overall, at 13 tracks.. this is an incredibly solid album. Highly recommended, if you can look past the fact that it is not Walkyier. Given the strength of this material, it shouldn't be hard.