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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.