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And let there be... FOLK METAL? (hardly...) - 70%

Sean16, April 26th, 2009

Truth isn’t usually as poetic as people would like it to be. Just for one moment I’d like to imagine, back in 1990, a gloomy, drizzly night in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. The small hours. The last open pub, all filled with sweat and smoke (t’was at the time it was still allowed to smoke inside, y’know), with three shabby, shaggy, hairy men around a small, wobbly table.
- What we gonna do now, would’ve sighed Steve in a tired, atonal voice.
- Thrash, would’ve yawned Graeme.
- Drink, would’ve grunted Martin.
- Listen! would’ve suddenly exclaimed Steve. Let’s just play good ol’ heavy-thrash metal, but let’s stick a fuckin’ fiddle upon it. We’ll call the shit “folk metal” and in fifteen years, this will be all hype and trend!
- Hell, ye’re drunk.
- In fifteen years I’ll most probably have left this cretin band anyway. You guys are already pissing me off like fuck! (guess who’d have pronounced this last sentence)

...

In fact, Skyclad’s debut not only has little to nothing to do with the all hyped and trendy folk metal from nowadays, it also has little to nothing to do with anything folk-related. Had the band split up after this only release, it would have left nothing but the taste of a honest thrash metal act, which only originality consisted in environment-concerned lyrics and the novel idea of introducing a violin on a couple of tracks. Not to say this album has no interest whatsoever. To the Skyclad fan it at least serves to prove Rome wasn’t built in a single day and, more generally, it features a handful of solid tracks most metalheads should be content with.

Granted, for a thrash album the riffs aren’t the most unforgettable ever written. I’m not that familiar with Ramsey’s and English’s former band Pariah, but I happened to listen to their Blaze of Obscurity album once and, as far as I can remember, on a pure thrash perspective that latter one was more interesting, and better – but I’ll leave the case to specialists. The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth remains nonetheless the only ‘Clad album with real headbanging moments, especially in the eponymous track. If the British band will later record a good load of lively, punchy tracks, none of them are headbanging-inducing by any mean, as for this purpose nothing will ever beat a good thrash/speed riff. Trance Dance, Our Dying Island, The Cradle Will Fall, Skyclad: four good ways of get rid of some ill-welcomed neck rigidity, in wait of something better.

Actually, everything seems like Skyclad was at that time already willing to mix some folk elements with metal, but pretty insecure about the right way to do so. For instance to go back to the soon-to-be iconic violin, the only track where it plays a more-than-nominal part is The Widdershins Jig – the only genuine “folk” moment here – and this song is totally devoid of any thrash influence. The same goes with Our Dying Island, a pure thrash track until 4:45 where the unexpected arrival of the violin (the second and only other moment it will appear on the album) induces a complete change in pace and rhythm before at 5:30 the guys switch back to pure thrash again. The closer Terminus alternates thrashy parts with bizarre, muffled down, plodding bass-and-drums-driven parts which don’t really get well with each other and, as for the eponymous track, it surprisingly ends on a totally incongruous acoustic arpeggio.

Precisely, talking about acoustic instruments they, of course, are scarce as well, and carefully circumscribed to definite areas – no way of mixing them with electric guitars, as the ‘Clad will do so often (and, often, successfully) on their ulterior releases! There’s the gentle, but not very original to say the least, interlude A Minute Piece, and the charming ballad Moongleam and Meadowsweet with its lute solo and Martin Walkyier’s first attempt at totally clean vocals. If it’s no Isle of Jura it’s nonetheless one of the best ballads the guys ever crafted, but given the overall sea-level of their ballads this isn’t stunning performance. Lyrics to the glory of England could sound surprising at first coming from someone who’ll later write such texts as Civil War Dance or Think Back And Lie Off England but, given the high pagan-oriented mood of the album it’s obvious Walkyier is here addressing Britannia as his personified motherland rather than the people happening to rule it.

The slight use of keyboards might be mentioned as well even if it’s nothing special, as there are only punctually used as an orchestral, background instrument to add a bit more density to some strategic moments (it’s not before Jonah’s Ark the ‘Clad will begin considering keys as a genuine contribution to the music anyway). But would the immortal, timeless, haunting arpeggios opening The Sky Beneath my Feet have sounded exactly the same without the chanting backing keyboard? Would have the very first line in the so-lengthy Skyclad catalog already sounded like one of its most glorious moments ever? Just listen, this is where everything begins -

O come ye young of Hamlyn – you who know my tune so well,
Where it beckons you must follow – be it Heaven (be it Hell).
Forget your mothers grieving as I pipe you down the street,
With a shilling in my pocket – and the sky beneath my feet.


The rest is History.

Highlights: The Sky Beneath my Feet, The Widdershins Jig, Moongleam and Meadowsweet