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Quintessential Skyclad - 90%

amelanchier, September 25th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

If you want an album that epitomizes Skyclad's entire career, look no further than the absurdly named Folkemon. It plays right down the middle of Skyclad's various styles and approaches, while featuring some of the best production values in Skyclad's discography. Another way to think about Folkemon is that it blends the superb sound quality and almost-progressive folk stylings of The Answer Machine? with the bangin' metal grit of Vintage Whine.

While the album draws from all parts of Skyclad's career, it is no simple "averaging out" of what has gone before, or a generic, play-by-numbers album. There's a good bit of subtle diversity here. Some of the tracks have catchy, sing-a-long choruses, like "Think Back and Lie of England" and "The Antibody Politic," but also feature extended instrumental breaks with non-4/4 meter. And dynamic, gritty, minor-key compositions like "Polkageist" roll along entirely in 4/4.

Unlike Vintage Whine, Folkemon really lets interesting fiddle figures take over key themes, rather than depending so heavily on the rhythm guitar (though there are some stomping guitar riffs here too!). The eerieness of an up-tempo but minor-key folk melody works magic on tracks like "Polkageist" and "You Lost My Memory" -- the latter deserves to be on a shortlist for greatest Skyclad tune ever. Keyboards also make appearances throughout, though as block chords providing "shading" around the edges of the music, not as a key melodic element.

No Skyclad album could be discussed without mentioning Martin Walkiyer's outstanding lyrics. You get all the typical Martin themes - the faithless hussy in "Polkageist", the woeful lover in "You Lost My Memory," a left-field critique of British history in the exquisitely titled "Think Back and Lie of England," and a wonderfully cynical-yet-cheery political call-to-arms in "The Antibody Politic" ("The masses are numb, their ethics awry/Nothing's as dumb as the vox populi/So if there's anyone else out there/Aiming sawn-off philosophy/Let's all unite and make things right/With an overwhelming minority").

The digipak version of this album contains a guilty-pleasure folk-pop-punk cover, "Swords of a Thousand Men." Worth checking out for - again - the guilty pleasure.

Skyclad's no King Crimson on the bleeding edge of musical innovation, but what they do give us is a marvelous pastiche of musical styles that sum up to tremendous fun. If I were to recommend a single album to the novice Skyclad-ian, it would be Folkemon.

Skyclad went tired - 63%

Sean16, March 11th, 2007

There has to be albums like Folkémon in most long-living bands’ discography. It’s Fear of the Dark, it’s Like Gods of the Sun, it’s the album where a leading bandmember is about to depart, the album the whole act doesn’t seem really concerned about. Granted, I’ve no proof Martin Walkyier had considered leaving Skyclad BEFORE this release. But it’s striking how little he seems to be involved in it – so little it can’t be a coincidence.

While I never considered Walkyier as a godly singer, his performance here sounds indeed like a letdown compared to previous albums. Not that his voice is altered by any means; it’s rather the vocal lines which sound disagreeably similar from one song to another, as if he didn’t care any more for introducing more subtlety than he was asked to: Martin has to sing, so he does – Allright. But this vocal linearity becomes rapidly tiresome, as he’s now mechanically unfolding the trademark singing style he already found long ago, this old-school clean voice tainted of slight, raspy aggressiveness which add the necessary touch of folk-ish authenticity.

Let’s be fair with poor Martin. First this linearity and apparent tiredness occurs especially in the second half of the album, the first songs remaining pretty solid. Second, he’s far from being the only responsible, as his fellow-bandmembers don’t sound really involved either. Folkemon doesn’t really differ from its predecessor Vintage Whine: same line-up, same sound, which isn’t a bad thing per se as Vintage Whine is a fully enjoyable album in spite of a couple of fillers; however Folkemon most of the time sounds more like a compilation of B-sides from its elder brother than a totally original, inspired release. Even the best tracks here sound like an odd déjà-vu of previous works – indeed “déjà-vu ain’t what it used to be”, as the ninth track tells us.

Of course the sound is very clear, of course Skyclad play very well, of course you get galloping riffs, Harris-fashion resounding bass, bouncing drums and, depending on the song considered, a touch of flutes, acoustic guitars, jaw’s harp as well as angry fiddle. Thus Folkémon still displays a couple of gems like the lively opener The Great Brain Robbery or the equally lively Crux of the Message (well, my personal favourite if someone still cares), where the violin is replaced by worth-to-be-noticed keyboards (played by the same person, Miss Biddle), an element otherwise pretty discrete in this album. But now, on the opposite way it’s hard to find some qualities to this triptych of slow mid-tempo fillers: The Antibody Politic, When God Logs-off, You Lost my Memory, where Skyclad seem to have lost all of their former spirit. Finally most of the remaining songs oscillate between these two extremes. For instance the two closing ones, which may sound livelier but a tad empty and repetitive. Or the unusually long The Disenchanted Forest, another track with keyboards (but far more discrete), which drags on and is plagued with clumsy breakdowns in spite of several nice riffs and ideas. And if Polkageist is both the fastest and catchiest track here, it’s mostly a joke. Nevermind, I like it, in spite of the brain-lacking out-of-tune chick the guys had the good idea to introduce.

Eventually the lyrics are as remarkable as usual, confirming Martin Walkyier has always been a far better lyricist than singer. If there had to be a weapon against those pretending folk metal only consists in happy, silly songs about beer, it would be Skyclad (Okay, okay, there’s a big bottle of ale on the hilarious cover, but it’s another matter, isn’t it?). Walkyer’s words aren’t only humorous, tongue-in-cheek and filled with puns and uncommon vocabulary, they also border on ferocity. Think Back and Lie of England, The Antibody Politic or When God Logs-Off have for instance to be underlined for their atrociously bitter, but so true, lyrics alone. Meaning that ironically one is better reading the words without the music to fully appreciate them in all their subtlety!

All in all Folkemon isn’t bad, it’s just far from being mandatory. And who knows why the booklet still mentions a ghostly eleventh track, which seems to be featured on the digipack edition, but, that’s for sure, not on my “normal” edition?

Highlights: The Great Brain Robbery, Polkageist!, Crux of the Message