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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.