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A Flood of Metal Folklore in All Its Naked Charm - 86%

bayern, June 9th, 2017

Although this celebrated band is pretty much a “child” of the Satan/Pariah duo Graeme English and Steve Ramsey, it’s really hard for one to view it separated from Martin Walkyier, one of the most unique voices in metal. It seems as though wherever the man appears, he leaves an indelible trace that is not easy to erase even by the greatest “healer” that time is. The moment he left Sabbat the world forgot about them, and very few were those who paid attention to their swansong (“Mourning Has Broken”, not a bad album at all). He even managed to bring some of the characteristic pagan grandeur of the Sabbats to the Skyclad template as evident from the debut which was a really strong showing putting the guys on the metal map. Thrash metal, which was featured prominently on this first instalment, gradually lost its significance replaced by the folk-ish motifs and the omnipresent violin which on the album reviewed here is in full bloom. Consequently, it sounds way less aggressive than the previous two as the band enter the folk metal parade, created single-handedly and developed by them alone, on a full-time basis, tearing all past ties to satans, pariahs, and sabbats with several fiddle tunes down the line.

The moment the folksy motifs of “Thinking Allowed” hit with the violin adeptly supervising on the side, the listener knows that there won’t be burnt offerings anymore although the delivery is quite intense with impetuous gallops giving it at least a speed metal vibe. Folky epic quasi-doom comes served next with “Cry of the Land” with the violin dominating the landscape for the first time, with Walkyier attempting more lyrical cleaner tirades which work just fine. “Schadenfruede” looks at the German folk heritage for inspiration, and finds it in abrasive jarring guitars bordering on proto-thrash although nothing too extreme occurs here, just more intense mid-paced riffage. Saddle your horses, though, for “A Near Life Experience”, an awesome galloper with sharp lashing riffs and very prominent bass which duels with the violin on both the faster and the slower passages with tasty melodic leads adding to this diverse roller-coaster.

“The Wickedest Man in the World” introduces one of the staple hooks in the band’s repertoire, one that plays a bigger role on the next instalment and beyond, comprising heavy semi-noisy riffs with a characteristic melodic blend the contrast achieved giving a fairly individualistic flair to the proceedings which in this particular case are content enough to tread in mid-tempo, doomy waters. “Earth Mother, the Sun, and the Furious Host” is the staple Skyclad folkish speedster, a nice combination of melody and intensity with the violin galloping next to the guitars not taking much space on “The Ilk of Human Blindness” which is a similarly-styled invigorator. All roads here inevitably lead to “A Word to the Wise”, one of the band’s most popular hymns, an officiant authoritative epicer with nice melodies, atmospheric embellishments, balladic respites with haunting violin tunes, and a nice memorable chorus. “Bewilderbeast” is a captivating metallized version of Spain’s national pride the flamenco, the acoustic guitars intertwining with the brooding riffs, with the violin humming on the side aggravating the drama the latter gone on the idyllic serene “It Wasn’t Meant to End This Way” where Walkyier shares the vocal, or rather semi-whispered, duties with an angelic female croon.

Everything that followed from the band’s discography was forged here; the pagan folk motifs became a legitimate part of the metal formula, and one is yet to witness a better performer within these parametres. Some have been complaining about the omnipresence of the violin, and that it dissipates the more aggressive riff-driven passages, but after all this is a different interpretation of the metal canons, and it definitely doesn’t irritate as much as the incessant use of keyboards, for instance, to which so many supposed metal outfits adhere to. As a transitional album this opus generated a fair amount of detractors, mostly from those who didn’t like the severed ties with Sabbat due to the less thrashy delivery. It took a while for the fanbase to get used to these new fiddling rhythms, but all was good a mere year later as the guys nailed their reputation with a dedicated “pilgrimage” which saw them releasing something, at least an EP or a compilation of some sorts, every year all the way to 2002, including two whole full-lengths in 1996. Whatever it takes to become a household name on the field, but in Skyclad’s case it paid off handsomely.

The band lost Walkyier, the folk metal god, for that same 2002 instalment, but the situation didn’t change much music-wise as the guys continued with their chosen stance, slowing down with less regular visitations. All is forgiven, though, after the excellent freshly released “Forward into then Past” which may be viewed as their finest hour ever since Walkyier’s departure. Mentioning the latter, one should do no wrong to check out his new project The Clan Destined where he’s teamed up with another former Skycladder, the drummer Jay Graham. One demo (“…in the Big Ending”, 2004) has been released so far the style being a slightly less polished version of the early Skyclad style with a few nostalgic looks at the Sabbat heritage. There’s room for improvement, but this new clan is onto something, and may as well rise in stature once they produce the ultimate soundtrack to all arcane pagan rituals and nude dances under the moonlight.

Anecdotal - 70%

Sean16, April 30th, 2009

Skyclad’s shortest full-length isn’t the most interesting to say the least. Maybe at that time the band was already thinking about what they’d record next, as some of their best material was soon to come, and didn’t feel fully involved in their then-current work. Besides if the title is really, as some will say, a pun about Joan of Ark, it has to be their worst pun ever – even worse than the infamous Oui Avant-garde à Chance.

Indeed it may begin very strongly on the pretty aggressive Thinking Allowed, but it’s merely the tree which could prevent us from seeing the wood behind. A greyish, characterless wood where even the liveliest, fastest tracks fail in being really attention-grabbing, while slower tracks are as often weak. The songwriting might be overall more subtle and varied than on the first two albums, as will testify complex tracks like A Near Life Experience or the long, atmospheric A Word to the Wise. However said albums at least exhibited a distinctive harsh, almost primitive atmosphere which in particular suited the lyrics, more pagan-oriented than on later releases, well. The third opus, on the other hand, lacks of atmosphere altogether. Prince of the Poverty Line could be deemed nicely awkward, The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea bouncy, The Answer Machine all soft and gentle: Jonah’s Ark is just flat. Not bad, as apart from the one-minute long babbling transition of Tunnel Visionaries the ‘Clad will record far worse tracks than those (like, let’s say, Quantity Time); just uninspired and, also, slightly repetitive.

Compared to its predecessor the sound marks another step away from the band’s thrash roots, thrash roots which will very soon be circumscribed to Martin Walkyier’s harsh voice only – which in turn will become less thrashy as years go by, though always remaining raspy and unfriendly. Meanwhile, as thrashy riffs are slowly vanishing into oblivion the violin keeps on gaining in importance, and for the first time the keyboards are considered as a genuine addition to the melody rather than a loose background noise. On songs like The Wickedest Man in the World or Schadenfreude may even be heard the first traces of the electro/atmospheric/psychedelic sounds the guys will most successfully incorporate on their following album. However, unlike in said album the keys here are considerably mixed down, thus not really influencing the overall mood.

What else will be remembered from all this? A touch of mandolin sometimes, a touch of female vocals on a couple of songs (Schedenfreude, It Wasn’t Meant to End this Way), some fiddle solos which more than once save otherwise not very inspired songs (A Near Life Experience, and above all Earth Mother, the Sun and the Furious Host which eventually ranks amongst the most noticeable tracks here), and not much more. Walkyier sometimes gives the not very pleasant impression to try experimenting with his voice, as with this bizarre tired (drunk?) accent he takes in the clean parts of Cry of the Land, or in the closing It Wasn’t Meant to End this Way where his vocal performance reminds more of this whiny goth freak of Anna Varney than of a thrash or folk singer. Note I’ve nothing against Varney or Sopor Aeternus, but I just don’t want him on my Skyclad records!

Eventually while other releases from the British band are usually well-produced the sound here is a tad weak, meaning there’s no prominent instrument, what probably doesn’t help. All in all Jonah’s Ark is of all ‘Clad albums the one really left to completists. There are probably more disposable songs on Irrational Anthems or Folkemon, but also more unforgettable ones. On the contrary while I’ve listened to this album many times now, every time I’ve forgotten it as quickly as it finished.

Highlights: Thinking Allowed, Earth Mother the Sun and the Furious Host

Three all time classics - 85%

morbert, October 11th, 2007

From the Walkyier-era this album is on a par with ‘Irrational Anthem’ in terms of quality and importance. The reason is simple: it contains no less than three of my all time favourite Skyclad songs and a lot of decent material. As a whole the album was better balanced between metal and folk than predecessor “A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol” and the songs themselves are more compact.

I must admit at first the album took a while to settle when I first heard it back in ’93 for it gave the impression at first of being slightly monotone. But after all these years especially ‘Thinking Allowed’, ‘Earth Mother, the Sun and the Furious Host’ and ‘The Ilk of Human Blindness’ have become indispensable Skyclad masterpieces.

Opener ‘Thinking Allowed’ starts of with a catchy mandolin and violin intro before plunging into a great mid paced pounder with nice speed metal riffing. The intro to ‘The Ilk of Human Blindness’ is so beautiful and strong it still gives me goosebumps even after 14 years. The song in itself is immensely strong (great solo right after the intro). The great intro riff and vocal line are repeated in the middle of the song.

‘Earth Mother, the Sun and the Furious Host’ starts with a nice drum intro before swinging into a danceable folk tune. Not to mention the great posh accent details on "Attend our university. Accept responsibility. Chant our mantra of morality until your throat is sore."

These three songs alone make it worth owning the album. The rest of the album is simply very consistent and I never skip a single song when playing the album.

Catchy - 80%

Egregius, December 14th, 2003

One of Skyclad's earlier albums.

It's quite comparable to Vintage Whine in terms of quality (VW being the only other album by Skyclad I own); great hooks, solid songs. Folky metal unlike other folkmetal bands that came later. Skyclad has the folky elements akin to folk-songs from the middle ages with catchy melodies, or rather, song-hooks.

The song-hooks are most apparent on the first four songs. The later songs drive more on simple solidness. Of note are the fantastic guitar-riffs. Together with the interesting (folky) vocallines they make for passionate music.

The lyrics are, like on Vintage Whine, intelligent, and socio-critical. On this album it's a bit preachy though. Martin Walkyier comes across very 'complainitive', however, in the end I'm prone to simple agreement to what he has to say.

The vocals on this album can basically be described as gruff clean vocals. No plum for soprano of the year here, although Martin receives my compliments for his use of intonation and such.

Comparing this to Vintage Whine (the only other Skyclad I know), Martin Walkyier as vocalist and lyricist isn't as full-grown as on Vintage Whine, but already on a moderate to high level. The music itself however, is already on a high level, although VW is more consistently high level than Jonah's Ark, and just slightly better overall.

It shouldn't be necessary, but I'll reiterate that Skyclad is an awesome band. Consistently high-quality, and to many an undiscovered gem.