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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