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Skyclad's Most Overrated - 66%

Sean16, April 23rd, 2009

I don’t like this album.

Of course, it has its moments of brilliance. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the comparison to its top-notch predecessor The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea is just too tempting, a comparison making it appear like little more than a weak sequel. Still, something is lacking. Passion. We’re Skyclad; let’s just sit down, and write some more songs. When we got enough of them, we’ll release our sixth album in sixth years.

This isn’t the only dull album from the British band. Though, if The Answer Machine might fall into this category as well songs like The Thread of Evermore, Catherine at the Wheel or Isle of Jura are obvious signs that latter album is carefully designed to be of a quieter, more melody-oriented approach – then it’s up to the listener to decide whether (s)he likes the shift or not. Here it’s dubious how much this work was supposed to sound purposely soft. If there are slow songs there is no genuine ballad, no predominantly acoustic track before the final one. Martin Walkyier’s voice has indeed become cleaner, but it’s been more a continuous evolution than anything else, and said evolution won’t prevent the last Walkyier-era albums from sounding heavier again.

Granted, there is this killer a capella opening leading to another of those immortal Skyclad anthems, Inequality Street. It’s amazing how even on its poorest outputs this act still manages to craft such lively and dead-on-the-spot first tracks. Granted, there’s the folk fest of Penny Dreadful, its crazy violin and lyrics about what we metalheads all love to despise, today’s music industry. Granted, there is another couple of more than decent tracks: No Deposit, No Return is a mid-paced, highly rhythmical song with a sweet melancholy vibe (though there’s too much electric guitar to call it a true ballad); I Dubious is a short grenade only waiting for the end of the as gentle as unexpected piano intro to explode – before vanishing almost as quickly, on another incredible chorus. The Wrong Song is the pretty standard bouncy, punchy Skyclad track you’ll find on every album, magnified by a very solid solo. This one may even feature the most aggressive vocals of the whole release but, don’t get me wrong – Martin, you’re out of tune, aren’t you?

That’s about half of the album. Strong classic Skyclad, the usual mix of folk melodies with metal heaviness, great bitterly critical lyrics, and musical variety. Now how much would it cost to admit once and for all the other half is, at best sub par, at worst totally disposable? I’ll forgive Snake Charming as, though it might show one of those annoying choruses which will surface again in The Answer Machine, though the drumming lines – who knows why – really get on my nerves, on the other hand the... snaky, creepy violin of the middle section is pure genius. My Mother in Darkness and History Lessens are cheap patchworks where folk and metal elements don’t mix as well as usual, leaving a nasty feeling of carelessness and incompleteness. The Sinful Ensemble and Science Never Sleeps are completely unimaginative tracks (both boasting incredibly flat vocal lines and riffs) the guys must have thought they could improve by more or less awkwardly sticking a couple of extra instruments and orchestrations in the background. You fool no one.

Further, one can only thank Skyclad for featuring so few instrumental tracks amongst their otherwise well-furnished discography, given the overall quality of those. If it may sound at first pretty cool to hear the guys jamming around a classical piece of work, that’s a charm which nonetheless vanishes quickly, and the interest of Sabre Dance with it. Coming to The Spiral Starecase I highly suspect Georgie Biddle to have suffered from a really bad hangover the day she recorded it, as never had her violin lines sounded so tired, repetitive and sleep-inducing. But wait, they just have left the worst of the worst for the end, the splendid five-minutes-long piece of jelly called Quantity Time. It must have been the whole band, vocalist included, which suffered from a hell of a hangover that time, unless they mistakenly recorded the track at half its initial tempo, who knows. In any case it’s atrocious.

Skyclad, then at the top of their productivity boost – and the Gods know for this band this means a lot – released two albums in that year 1996. Combining the best tracks of both could have eventually lead to their ultimate masterpiece we’ve all been dreaming of, but which is still waiting for its definitive incarnation. Besides, of the two the superfluous album isn’t what you may think. It’s Irrational Anthems.

Highlights: Inequality Street, Penny Dreadful, I Dubious