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Land of the Twisted Sun - 78%

Sean16, April 25th, 2009

Is it just me, or is Prince of the Poverty Line really the gloomiest, weirdest, sickest album those bitter onlookers of mankind Skyclad are ever pulled out? As soon as the suspiciously frantic opening drumbeat of Civil War Dance begins it seems like everything here is going to show some bizarre, uneasy twist, as one may get by beholding the world through ill-designed glasses. Meanwhile on the cover the wild, shaggy jack of clubs keeps on contemplating his own deadly reflection. Most Skyclad covers are weak; this one could hardly be more accurate.

The simple fact this album features this monstrous, creepy, psychedelic track called The Womb of the Worm, with its thick guitar wall, slow tempo, and ending thirty seconds of hypnotizing mumblings The Beatles in their later years wouldn’t have disapproved of, should be enough to prove at this time the most British of British bands must have been in a particular, altered state of mind (not to say this song is a masterpiece by any mean, as someone not particularly into this psychedelic trip is likely to find it more boring than anything else). If the overall work may still qualify as folk metal, that’s an ambiguous kind of folk metal where disturbing little details are scattered here and there. Like, for instance, the uncommon use of extended samples (not less than one minute at the beginning of A Dog in the Manger), unclassifiable choruses like in Gammadion Seed, the occasional focus on bass guitar and, of course, the particular use of keyboards.

Singling out keyboards on a Skyclad album could seem at first glance silly. This is all but novel, Skyclad songs with keyboards or piano are all but uncommon, and even on their previous release Jonah’s Ark there was already at least one track where keys played a predominant, atmosphere-building part (A Word to the Wise). Furthermore, compared to bands like Moonsorrow and their numerous followers of the nowadays folk metal scene keyboards on this album are a joke – they aren’t even mixed up or whatever. However, no Skyclad song had, and no Skyclad song will ever sound like the two gems that are Cardboard City and Land of the Rising Slum, and why? Hell, this is mainly due to their out-of-nowhere keyboard, between harpsichord and electro – both tracks even featuring even more unusual keyboard and Hammond organ solos, respectively. Farther the less spectacular A Bellyful of Emptiness also relies on the same wicked electro sound which could almost be labelled as the trademark of this album, so does Gammadion Seed, though in this last case it’s the whole songwriting which seems wicked in some way. The aforementioned Womb of the Worm completes the list of keyboardized tracks.

This new part allocated to keys will have another consequence. Outside from the Steve Ramsey/ Graeme English core Skyclad’s lineup underwent so many changes through years discussing them in detail would be of little interest for the casual listener; however the member in charge of keyboards, whoever she may be (yeah, it’s a girly job), has always been in charge of the violin as well. Thus if there are very few ‘Clad songs featuring none of these instruments, there are also very few featuring both, meaning on our present album there will be less fiddle and violin than on any other Walkyier-era album – apart from the thrashy debut, and (maybe) Folkemon. Now no one knowing this band a single bit would deny the essential part the violin has always played in Skyclad’s sound, and that an album suffering from severe violin deficit will necessarily have a different vibe. Amusing coincidence, this album will be the only contribution of then music student Catherine Howell not only to Skyclad, but also (as it seems) to the whole metal world.

The derelict feeling of the release will only get worse when one pays some attention to lyrics. Granted, Skyclad has never been the funniest circus band ever but, at least, there’s usually some slice of bitter humour to be expected. Not there. From social distress in run-down urban areas (Cardboard City, Land of the Rising Slum, A Dog in the Manger) to depression (Sins of Emission, The One-Piece Puzzle) or wicked politics (Gammadion Seed, The Truth Famine) offering revolution as the only alternative (Civil War Dance), there really isn’t anything laughable, all the more texts are explicit to the point they sometimes border on bad taste (a line like I ask my doctor his advice, this is what he says/ "Get yourself some cancer boy, before you die of AIDS." ... well...). Scary.

It’s thus not very surprising the most “standard Skyclad” moments are for once also the least interesting. They just don’t fit into the concept. As soon as the listener has more or less consciously accepted the fact this album has a nasty twist, perfectly sane songs look weak. The Truth Famine is a pretty flat closing track, all the more it’s completely crushed by the immediately preceding Womb of the Worm which would have worked far better at its place. Sins of Emission is the shortest, but also the least original piece of work here, while The One Piece Puzzle only serves to remind us the ‘Clad should avoid writing ballads altogether, as one would have enough of a single hand to count those of genuine interest (let me guess... Constance Eternal, Isle of Jura... and there must be a couple of others).

Beware. Prince of the Poverty Line is a poisonous album. There’s no real Skyclad anthem here, but some of the most haunting tracks the guys ever recorded. And if I sometimes feel like I really love this work – it’s of a sickly, twisted, tainted love.

Highlights: Cardboard City, Land of the Rising Slum, Gammadion Seed