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Give it a second chance - 83%

Sean16, April 17th, 2009

1996 had been a busy year for Skyclad. Barely ten months had passed since the release of the now classic Irrational Anthems that they put out some kind of throwaway work, this Oui Avant-Garde à Chance. Disguised EP, patchwork, or futile game with a mediocre cover and idiotic title – this pun on We haven’t got a chance is objectively more than far-fetched, while it doesn’t mean anything in French (literally, Yes Avant-Garde to Luck): what a strange, controversial monster, what a hunch-backed hydra and, well, what a good album it is...

Just ignore the construction. There isn’t any. In this awkward crucible fast songs melt with ballads in random order, brand new tunes with covers and remixes, humour with bitterness and emotion. And while the result is certainly unequal, let’s remember the ‘Clad has yet to record a perfect, homogeneous, harmonious release (they got close with A Semblance of Normality, but this isn’t “classic” Skyclad anymore). The two covers are indeed disposable, being initially non-metal songs (why not) covered in a non-metal fashion (still nothing wrong here) which in the end still don’t sound anything like Skyclad (this, contrariwise, being totally inept on a Skyclad record). However, they still aren’t worse than some genuine Skyclad songs from other albums given these guys, alongside their unquestionable and numerous sparks of genius, have always had a special way of writing incredibly lackluster, tedious, boring tunes.

The remixes are another question. There are two as well, and while re-recording old tunes isn’t an uncommon, and sometimes welcomed practice, recording new versions of less than one-year-old songs has always smelt a bit too much of easy record-filling. Of course, Penny Dreadful is still Penny Dreadful, a bouncy monster of a track, improved by a new arrangement over the dryer Irrational Anthems version. Some may object the backing accordion only serves to add a both cornier and more commercial edge; but we’re talking about the self-dubbed “full shilling mix” of a song against, precisely, the perverted music business here so this is no surprise. Coming to History Lessens it’s never been my favourite ‘Clad track, and this slightly altered version failed on changing my mind on the topic. Case closed, I guess.

Now, it’s obvious those who can’t get into the softer side of Skyclad won’t fully appreciate this release. Agreed, the originators of folk metal aren’t usually very good at writing slow songs, most falling into the above-mentioned lackluster, tedious and boring category, but those featured here are of pretty good quality, not a bad thing as there are lot of them. The Constance Eternal, Postcard from Planet Earth and Jumping my Shadow triptych first, all ballads, all very emotional songs – I hear the word in a positive meaning. Constance Eternal is probably the strongest (okay, I’ll also admit Jumping my Shadow and its story of failed relationship has been recently growing on me a lot); first it shows Martin Walkier, the misanthrope Martin Walkier, is also able to write very personal, touching lyrics, this time about a deceased relative, then the combination between the fiddle and the acoustic guitars works simply wonderfully and the track never falls into mellowness – which unfortunately isn’t the case of its follower, one of the weakest pieces of work here in spite of an interesting psychedelic vibe.

Granted, Bombjour! is another slow song, but that time we’re fully back into the bitter, cynical, politically committed Skyclad to denounce the French nuclear tests of 1995. Alright being French myself the lyrics are likely to touch me more than some others; however the sad, melancholic, ambiguous violin doesn’t know any nationality, neither do the cringing rhythm guitar or Martin Walkier’s desperate, hopeless voice. If Walkier, one of the best metal lyricists ever, has otherwise never been my favourite singer, his performance here is for once near to flawless. No anger in this song, only resignation facing eternal human stupidity, topping an irrepressible doomsday feel; while Constance Eternal was sad, Bombjour! is almost frightening. The anecdotal coda, the instrumental version of the song – Bombed Out – can be looked at in two ways. Base level useless filler, will say some. Another nail in the coffin of humanity, with a slice of sick flute and even more ominous violin, say I. Did I mention Frau Schmidt from Subway to Sally fame was playing here? Another guarantee this release can’t get wrong, hey.

And, the last but not least guarantee, this couple of opening high-paced anthems (which titles alone are a program by themselves – I mean, GREAT BLOW FOR A DAY JOB!), just to burst in the face of those who still haven’t understood folk metal bears metal in it. Listening to the musically as well as lyrically crazy, furious Great Blow... one might for instance even forget it’s another totally acoustic song! And what can be said about the resolutely anti-Christian If I Die Laughing it Would be an Act of God with its storming intro, bouncing drumming, spiteful, sometimes almost thrashy singing? Wait, it’s folk metal, it can’t be anti-Christian, it must be about beer – alright, you failed.

It’s indeed ironical that what may look at first glance like a collection of B-sides ends up being overall more enjoyable than the presumably more serious Irrational Anthems that, in spite of its high reputation, has always sounded slightly dull to me. Let’s bet our beloved British ever-disillusioned quintet must love this kind of puzzling paradoxes.

Highlights: If I Die Laughing..., Great Blow for a Day Job, Constance Eternal, Bombjour!, Penny Dreadful (Full Shilling Mix)

FUCK YEAH!! But they should have stuck to an EP. - 75%

RageW, November 23rd, 2008

THIS is how folk metal should be done! No chugchug’ness, no polka influenced stuff, just plain kickass heavy metal with a touch of fiddles and hobbit stuff. Skyclad have everything right—they managed to marry the folk melodies with the guitar riffs in a way few bands can; and it’s not that hard! Take the fiddles, make a catchy melody, put a cool riff below them, and then have a kickass singer singing kickass lyrics! There’s Martin Walkyier, that cynic bastard, with an instantly recognizable voice, and the fucker is displayed in all his venom spitting glory when singing all those great lyrics. These fuckers know, that if your music isn’t all that great by itself, then you must have incredibly awesome lyrics to complement it! And Skyclad have, hands down, the best lyrics ever this side of Iron Maiden. Satirical pricks, they’re both funny and elegant all at the same time! Feat that few bands achieve without becoming a self-parody and you laugh at their stupidity—well, that doesn’t happen on MY ‘clad, though! And that Walkyier fellow just makes everything a lot more interesting with his British accent all over the place.

I would have honestly given Oui Avant-Garde a Chance (‘We haven’t got a chance’…Where do they come up with those?) a much higher score, if it weren’t so long thanks to those re-mixes at the end. Had those songs been put in an EP aside from this, and had Skyclad written a bunch more of winner numbers, then I’d give this at least 10 points more! But we have 6 ‘normal’ tracks, and then 6 re-mixes/B-Sides, and that holds this album down, since I want a full-length, dammit! Also, there are plenty of what the fuck Batman moments, but it’s worth it, just too fucking worth it.

Anyways, we start with the catchiest, funniest, pretty much best shit EVER!!; “If I Die Laughing, It'll Be an Act of God”. This song just has ‘WINNAR’ written all over it, and it’s the best song Skyclad ever wrote; never to be dethroned. Its fun, fun fun, catchy, catchy, catchy, and I just love it! Seriously, the best time I heard it, I had just finished listening to Boris’ Absolutego, and it was 1 o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t feeling very good; since Boris is so monumental and epic that it pretty much steals all of your energies and positive feelings (it’s actually a good thing when listening to drone). But, then I popped this album on my stereo, and I started GRINNING immediately. It starts with a drum roll, and then, one of the most painfully happy fiddle melodies ever kicks in; that alone and I was already smiling. But I was reading the lyrics along; and they were so awesomely anti-Christian without morphing into self-parody, that I couldn’t help but start laughing, just happy, natural, laugh. I believe it’s the only song that has ever had that effect on me; it made me happy! Music is supposed to put that feeling in you, at least, of satisfaction; and I’m satisfied if I’m all full of joy and stuff. Also, that chorus is so goddamn catchy, that, along the second chorus with backing vocals, it’s all good. Then there’s a very bluesy solo, nothing too overwhelmingly technical; but it suits the song perfectly. And when it ends, I just want it to start again…That’s how music should make you feel, in my opinion.

Ok, so maybe no other song can match the huge levels of WIN contained within the opener; but the rest is pretty interesting as well. There’s the wonderfully titled “Great Blow for a Day Job”, are you fucking serious? I mean, that’s just pure genius right there; where the hell does Walkyier find all that shit? Anyways, it’s not a metal song; it’s what I would call Hobbit Music™. Seriously, I can picture the little bastards running all around The Shire, while some small, old, and fat hobbit plays the fiddle and everyone is clapping to the rhythm in a very painteresque scene. Let’s not forget that, folk metal + dwarves = Spinal Tap. It can’t get more WINNAR than that. It has incredibly funny, tongue in cheek lyrics, “I have put my pen to paper and eternally am damned,/I've squandered my immortal soul by singing in a fiddle band.”. I laughed at that phrase, as with most of Walkyier’s lyrics. It’s so fun, it grabs you (by the balls), and doesn’t let you go.

Another of my favorites is “Constance Eternal”, with a very beautiful intro, and Walkyier’s soft voice over it. The song has a very ethereal feel, and it makes you feel really good. Well, the rest is similar, fun, catchy, folk metal, with tons of sing-along choruses, and incredibly good lyrics. It’s sad for me to give this album a 75%, since it’s so good…! Then, “Postcard from Planet Earth” is really weird, in an almost psychedelic fashion, and it almost reminds me of Pink Floyd. “Planet earth is great to visit, but you wouldn’t like to live there”, too true; those skeptic sons of bitches should write a book. And did I mention everything is REALLY FUCKING CATCHY?

This is a must have—ignore the review’s score; I just gave it that since I feel they should have released it as a full length, with much more songs. It’s a waste to put those B-Sides at the end, since this could have morphed into one of the best folk albums ever; or at least, the best Skyclad album ever did.

Planet Skyclad is great to visit!! - 93%

ShatteredSky, March 10th, 2004

Though being far away to be a true metallic album, this one (and also many of the others) includes deeply thoughtful, sad and melodic songs. Two of them are covers (“Come on Eileen”, “Master race”) and one is a remix (“Penny dreadful”), but don’t forget it was their second release in 1996. As always, the song writing is full of pointed ironically remarks on many subjects of human life.
The tracks with a harsher outfit include “If I die laughing...” (religion criticism), “Bombjour” (French atomic bomb testing), the somewhat doomish “Badtime story” (my favorite), “Master race” and “Penny dreadful” (from “Irrational anthems”, about prostitution of the music industry).
Then we also have the very moving obituary-ballad “Constance eternal” plus the bittersweet story of “Jumping my shadow”. “Great blow for a day job”, the Faustian break-free from Your miserable run-of-the-mill life, is one of my all-time favorite lyrics.
“Postcard from planet Earth” sounds somewhat intermediate, and includes the phrase that should be considered by many tourists: “Planet Earth is great to visit, but You wouldn´t want to live there...”
Résumé: Though I listened to this album about 13795 times for the last weeks, it never wears of.

Great album by 'clad - 89%

yeentrancemperium, September 19th, 2003

This album came out the same year as Irrational Anthems, and it also has some remixes of previously released songs, but it also has about 7-8 brilliant songs. Not to mention the best titles of songs I've seen in a long time.

Great Blow for a Day Job, hehehe. Martin Walkyier in all his sceptic miserable glory, self irony parades around in this song, with lines such as "If I put my pen to paper for eternity I'm damned / If I don't I'll never be the singer in a fiddle band"

If I die Laughing is the band's questioning/mocking of Christianity, which is sort of a standard element of Skyclad. Far from the unintelligent, and 3rd grade way of doing it as many metal bands do, these British boys take a different route: tragicomedy I guess is what one would call it.

Constance Eternal and Postcard from Planet Earth are more melodic song, showing a different side of Skyclad, while Bombjour is another great tune about the European Union, and French Pres Chirac.

History Lessens and Penny Dreadful are from the aforementioned Irrational Anthems, but they sound pretty good here as well.

Come on Eileen is one of those 80s songs, and an odd choice for a cover, yet the band does a decent job of it.

Overall, a very strong album by Skyclad, with about 7-8 brilliant songs on here. I'd say it's a good starting point for new listeners of the band. Die-hard fans already have it, I assume.