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Essential folk metal release - 95%

kapitankraut, September 15th, 2007

Skyclad's "Prince of the Poverty Line" is one of the strongest albums by a group credited as one of the originators of folk metal. That in itself should justify a 95% rating, but there's so much more on offer here than one simple sentence can sum up.

The first thing I noticed on hearing this album was the seamless integration of the folk and metal aspects. So many bands out there play what can be described as "folk metal" and arrive at their sound by replacing a guitar riff here with a bagpipe tune there or by playing old folk standards at a frenetic pace and with a deliberate choice of the more offensive variants of the lyrics. Sure, that's folk metal if you do it for long enough, but it frequently ends up as a one-trick pony. Skyclad doesn't do that at all.

What we have here, instead, is an honest-to-goodness metal outfit in something of a thrash tradition who just happen to feature a violin every so often and have their songs played in jig-time into the bargain. Additionally, the songs they perform are original compositions but written from a folk perspective. The best folk music, as we know, is heavily political and always looking out for the little man. That's what these songs tend to be about.

Musically, this album can stand with the best of them. There are catchy melodies and tasty guitar riffs almost everywhere you listen, and just like the folk songs they're inspired by you'll be humming them or whistling them every chance you get. The aggression of the thrash tradition is also present in spades, as the band seems just able to control itself before bursting forth into some kind of wild rage.

Of course, no review of a Skyclad album in their early golden period would be complete without mentioning the genius of Martin Walkyier. Without his distinctive vocal presence, this would still be a strong album, but without his uncanny ear for lyrics, the band would be as nothing here. From the moment he delivers his bile-filled lyrics on the opener, "Civil War Dance", through to his working-man's perspective on things on "The Truth Famine", his presence is utterly spellbinding. For me, one of the real standouts is "A Dog In The Manger", with its cheeky description of "A ticket to ride on the poverty line", but I'm sure every listener will find their own favourite lyrical gem buried somewhere in this album. Unlike so many other albums out there, where the lyrics approach the level of brilliance every so often, this one features brilliance as a given.

Overall, an utterly superb release. A pleasure to listen to, and an album which yields more each time it's played. I can't wait to get my hands on more of the Walkyier-era work of this band.