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Everyone lets you down... except Skyclad! - 85%

Darth_Roxor, August 28th, 2009

It's been five long years since Skyclad's last long-play release (Semblance of Normality), and the fathers of folk metal return with another 40 minutes of goodness in the form of 'In The... All Together'. How does it compare to the previous releases? Well, to put it shortly, it's 'just another Skyclad album', but I believe every fan of the band should be overjoyed by such a statement, because everything that makes the music great is still present.

Let's start with the most noticeable 'innovation' the CD introduces. You see, Kevin Ridley phoned, and he said he's had about enough of you saying how he's inferior to Martin Walkyier, and boy oh boy, is he pissed off, and you can hear it at the very beginning when he starts shouting out the first verses of the opening track (Words Upon the Street). Indeed, his vocal range has improved a lot, and he uses 'harsher' vocals throughout the album (to get an idea about how they sound, one can also listen to the last minutes of 'Semblance''s 'Hybrid Blues', but I digress). But that is not to say that his 'calmer' clean vocals like the ones you could hear on 'Semblance' are not present - you can still hear them often in songs such as 'The Well-Travelled Man' or 'Which is Why'.

While listening to the album, you'll probably get a lot of 'deja-vus', because many tracks sound familiar to some of the previous songs, but they still manage to feel fresh, different, and definitely aren't recycled or ripped-off (because after all, it's Skyclad we're talking about and not Alestorm). For example, 'Which is Why' sounds a bit like 'No Deposit, No Return' and 'Modern Minds' has a 'Building A Ruin'-ish vibe to it. Also, almost every song holds 'a little something' that makes it feel special. 'Well-Travelled Man' is a great 'half-ballad' resembling a Romanticist's biography lyrically, and it holds non-overdriven, aggressive chords (how's that even possible?) and a very strong violin line, through which Skyclad again shows that this instrument can be used for more than just overly jolly 'Fiddly-fiddly-fiddles'. 'Superculture' has a middle-eastern feel to it, but it's an up-tempo track, unlike 'Semblance''s 'Ballad for the Disenchanted' which was, well, a ballad. 'Hit List' has an absolutely mesmerising acoustic interlude, and 'Modern Minds', for me, is an instant classic, with a wonderful leading riff, a very 'jazzy' guitar solo in the middle, overall memorable and shifting song structure, and lyrics about how humanity trusts in science and politics too much.

Another welcome come-back is made by the violins, which are again very dominant, but played from start to finish by Georgina Biddle (unlike the previous CD, where the Royal Orchestra dominated the field), and to be honest, you can *really* hear the difference between the violins here, which are, well, more 'personal' and mostly in the foreground, unlike in Semblance, where they were mostly in the background, and somehow 'detached' from the overall compositions.

The balance between faster and slower tracks is well-preserved, with some songs shifting tempoes in mid-play. The 'fast' tracks are first and foremost 'Black Summer Rain', which is very 'thrashy', with no violins whatsoever; the opening 'Words Upon The Street'; 'Still Small Beer'; 'Superculture'; 'Modern Minds' and the closing title track. 'Babakoto' and 'Which is Why' are slower, with the first being a very gloomy and ominous track, a bit resembling a hundred times slowed down 'Polkageist' in atmosphere, and the second being a 'typical Skyclad ballad', similar to 'No Deposit, No Return', as I said earlier. 'Well-Travelled Man' starts and ends like a ballad, but gets faster in the middle, 'Hit List' starts fast, then goes through a soothing interlude, and ends like a completely different song, which also shows that the band is not afraid of 'derailing' their song structures.

However, as with everything, there are also downsides. The biggest one is 'Babakoto'. Now, it's not a 'typical' Skyclad song, and I appreciate that they experiment with different sounds, but here we have pretty much, the first Skyclad song that is bad (which is somehow an achievement, I suppose), and that is not really because of the instrumental aspect, but because of Kevin's performance. In the chorus, he hits an almost 'shrieking' high note that has the force of shattering glass, and each time I listen to this song, it just makes me cringe, unfortunately. Second, Still Small Beer. It's another drinking song, but not Anotherdrinkingsong, and I find it to be completely misplaced, because while Anotherdrinkingsong fit the band's style, with its 'Irish' sound, this one sounds like taken straight from one of the Finnish folk metal bands. Please keep your Korpiklaani out of my Skyclad. Third, the title track. While not a bad track per se, (because it is actually quite good) is a very weak closer. I wouldn't mind it at all, if it was somewhere in the middle of the album, but after the brilliant 'Modern Minds', it's a bit of a disappointment, since it's just 'ok'. And lastly, but this is a minor complaint, and perhaps even a bit of nitpicking, the lyrics sometimes make little sense ('If I flatter to deceive, how come it feels like I never lived' - what?) and they have a bit of word repetition in themselves ('Can you find you' in Hit List or 'Hurt myself (...) abuse myself' in Modern Minds).

So in the end, there are 40 minutes of another Skyclad album, which is reasonably filler-less, because even the 'iffy' songs are somewhat interesting, and they definitely can't be accused of being boring or forced, and after the last notes of 'In The... All Together!' you're left with a hunger for more and keep repeating this CD's highlights (Well-Travelled Man, Hit List, Superculture, Modern Minds) again... and again... and again...