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Most Valuable Diamonds Are Flawed - 88%

Sean16, April 28th, 2009

Most valuable diamonds are flawed... and so is what is probably Skyclad’s most valuable release. But would have perfection made it better? That’s all but certain. First, because no-one knows what is a perfect Skyclad album; that one still has to be recorded. Then, because to fully appreciate the gems concealed here you probably have to compare them to both the electronic nonsense of Jeopardy and the liquid cheese of A Stranger in the Garden. Guys, what are you trying to prove with these keyboards and flutes anyway? After five albums you should well know you don’t need any flute, pipe or mouth harp to sound folk-ish - all you need are those damn folk rhythmic lines, this little touch of acoustic guitars to top the electric ones and, of course, a violin.

Well, speaking of this infamous violin... Kate Howell had departed almost as soon as she’d arrived, and will anyway be remembered more for her atypical performance on keyboards than for her fiddling abilities. Now as a replacement has already entered Georgie Biddle, Miss Skyclad herself, and with her not only the so called classic Skyclad core lineup which had to least for another six albums will henceforth be complete, but the violin will acquire a then unmatched importance in the shape of long, uninterrupted lines doubling or competing with the guitars (though there will always be a couple of fiddle-lacking tracks in this and every subsequent ‘Clad album). Besides, even when soloing, Skyclad’s violin has never especially sounded like a funny after-taste of a late Irish pub evening, but far more like a medium-pitched plaintive cry, in perfect harmony with the darkly, satirical lyrics.

Every ingredient was thus here for the British band to record some of their most unforgettable anthems ever. The overall pace of the album is pretty fast and lively, leaning towards rock in some places like the misanthropic Just What Nobody Wanted, and even totally falling into punk in the (what a coincidence) politically-heavy Desperanto (A Song for Europe). Some other songs like Brimstone Ballet, Another Fine Mess or the short-but-intense Turncoat Rebellion are more in the slower marching tune fashion while, odd exception, The Present Imperfect is an acoustic-heavy, keyboards-heavy, almost atmospheric track.

The number of catchy songs here is just incredible, and the word shouldn’t be understood in a bad sense as their interest doesn’t lessen a single bit even after numerous listens. It’s just impossible to resist Martin Walkyier’s raspy, half-drunk voice he’ll keep in most of the album for what is probably his best performance in the whole ‘Clad history, to resist the chorus of Still Spinning Shrapnel (oh, and the rest of the song as well), to resist the disillusioned litany of just what nobody wanted I’m just what nobody wanted I’m just what nobody wanted, the medievalizing main riff of Brimstone Ballet, or the immortal shouts of HE’S AN ART-NAZI! which punctuate the song of the same name – that’s just to highlight a few.

Indeed, in comparison to some other Skyclad works this one is rather simple, even simplistic. Another Fine Mess, Walkyier’s semi-autobiographical account of touring, disillusioned, penniless musicians’ hardships, may feature a quiet, slightly awkward piano intro before suddenly unveiling its hidden metal qualities, but it’s an exception. Still Spinning Shrapnel, Art-Nazi or Turncoat Rebellion (the list could go on) all abruptly, almost too abruptly begin in full metal fashion and power, to sometimes equally abruptly end (Turncoat Rebellion). No, this is definitely not what I’d call a subtle album. But it works so efficiently one could hardly blame the band for it. Folk music isn’t subtle. Folk metal doesn’t have to be subtle. What doesn’t mean it has to be totally cretin, of that this album is the living proof – until the last two minutes.

Because if sparks of genius are glowing all along its fifty minutes, the ultimate one might well be looked for in its very end. While Skyclad could easily release a best-of by simply compiling all their opening tracks, the vast majority of their closing tracks are on the other hand amongst the worst they’ve ever written, but ladies and gentlemen here’s the exception: the infamous Dance of the Dandy Hound! If this tune could be objectively described as an instrumental polka, it just has to be the most stupid, most grotesque, most lunatic polka ever written. Why the hell did they choose to end their masterpiece on this brilliantly executed piece of idiocy instead of the previous sad, melancholic, tragically ethereal The Present Imperfect? Given the overall message the band has been carrying over the years it’s pretty clear: we’re nothing but lobotomized morons dancing to the sound of politicians, military instructors, preachers and (art-)Nazis of all kind. In other words this work’s last statement is nothing but a big: FUCK YOU!

Indeed. Fuck you Finntroll, you’ve made my day more than once but you’re just too goofy. Fuck you Mägo de Oz, with all your flutes and keys you just forgot how to write a proper metal song. Fuck you In Extremo, Rammstein at least doesn’t need three pipers to play approximately the same shit. Fuck you Korpiklaani, I just wish you’ll all drown yourselves in your damn beloved beer one of these days. Half of what has to be known about folk metal is on The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea. The other half is on Subway to Sally’s Bannkreis.

Highlights: Still Spinning Shrapnel, Just What Nobody Wanted, Art-Nazi, Another Fine Mess, The Present Imperfect