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Clandestine Pagans of Mother Nature - 92%

elmet, September 23rd, 2008

At the dawn of the final decade of the twentieth century the pagan world must have stood still to bear witness to the birth of the greatest folk-metal band ever to play on this earth. Reading the first sentence it may sound like it’s going to be a biased review, but you should first hear some of their music of sheer brilliance which I consider to be definitely some of the best metal ever. Skyclad is one of those rare few bands that doesn’t go with the stream, but instead goes where there is no path and leaves a trail, a track in the wilderness. (“Only dead fish float with the stream”)

“The Wayward Sons of Mother Erath” is truly a trail blazer, a torch burning like a never-ending flame saluting from an era when the whole metal scene was stupefied by a fledgling new direction of music called grunge totally devoid of any artistic value. While being the least diverse of their entire back catalogue and probably one of the weakest Skyclad offering, this debut album is still the most special one for me. It’s not a flawless album, even suffering a tad from immaturity, the addition of the fiddle yet to become omnipresent, the choruses not as memorable as they are on later efforts, but it sure has its shining moments overall. It may not be a good starting point for a new Skyclad listener, as it is quite different from its successors in many respects. But this is an innovative album that stands alone as a beacon for myriads of followers not only in the folk-metal genre but generally in the whole metal scene for many years to come. Great bands from different walks of metal music like Elvenking, Falconer, Korpiklaani, Mago De Oz, Cruachan, Ensiferum, Turisas and many more must have drawn certain inspiration from Skyclad in some way or another.

When I first got hold of this album in 1992, a year after its release, knowing the legendary legacy Martin Walkyier left behind with the British masters Sabbat, which had put out two legendary masterpieces, “History Of A Time To Come -1987” and “Dreamweaver - Reflection Of Our Yesterday -1989”, that were then highly acclaimed as ground breaking records and now desperately mourned after by many intelligent metal music lovers all over the world, I was in great anticipation of what was in store for me. At that time I wasn’t familiar with Steve Ramsey’s virtuous past with the band called Satan (by the way, he is the genius behind “Trail By Fire” covered by Blind Guardian). As I would later find out, it seems they took the best from their former bands just to come up with amalgam of material distincly uncommon in their previous endevours. An amalgam that was going to be my cup of tea in the following years as Skyclad persistently continued to release quality albums in succession almost every year changing like chameleon, but getting better and better.

This 47” long masterpiece kicks off with the mighty beginner “The Sky Beneath My Feet” showing us what this album is all about. For some untamed ears this piece of music may sound like speed metal with certain thrash elements thrown in, but this would do no justice at all as it is a harbinger of a totally new direction in metal music that can be defined only as Skyclad’s own. With its most controlled and masterfully woven riffs this song paves the way brilliantly, both musically and lyrically. No reviewer of any Skyclad album can do without mentioning the ingenious poetry of the lyrics; you just can’t stand indifferent to the pure art they convey. Needless to say that prolific Martin’s master of poetic English is no less than Steve’s music played with deft touches. His words can be sharper than the sharpest knife, sweeter than a gorgeous wife, giving you feelings as old as time yet eternally new. This symbiotic marriage of music and words is always prevalent in the rich fabric of this band’s very existence executed by an extremely careful weaver.

Track two, “Trance Dance (A Dreamtime Walkabout)”, comes as if a sequel to the first one where you can almost miss the interval in between, despite the gently sliding drum intro. It continues more or less in the same vein as the precious one with a classic Green-Peace motto ‘Man is just a part of nature--not the other way around.’ As for Martin’s voice, a charming roughness from Sabbat years penetrates our ears throughout the song.

“A Minute's Piece” is a nice interlude serving as a preparation for the forthcoming fourth track “The Widdershins Jig” where from the very first start to the end you can almost picture the most inconceivable creatures strolling and dancing through the dark of the night in the pagan forest. Here the dominance of the violin is much stronger than anywhere else in the whole record. This is something which was later going to be the most ingredient part of Skyclad’s musical definition and the group’s unique sound as the band released gem after the other.

The next one “Our Dying Island”, as the title suggests, is one of the two songs whose lyrics are penned out of Martin’s concern about England. Musically not much different from the first two tracks where they do what they set out to do.

Hearing the pagan man’s spoken words of the track “Intro: Pagan Man” makes you feel the force to peer into the faith matters that made the pagan Martin wrote those words, which for me are more savage and terrifying than the pagan Christianity of the Dark Ages ever was: “I am the Pagan Man--I speak for all my kind, When I criticize your point of view--your hollow state of mind. You say that I'm an animal--well this at least is true, I’m a thinking breathing human being--what the hell are you?” And right after this short intro comes “The Cradle Will Fall”. A plethora of galloping riffs is what you will get here. Thematically, anywhere in the world nature is always an enemy until subdued by the hand and intelligence of man is the gist: “…But like a child who tries to run before it learns to crawl--he'll go crying to his 'Mother' when he sees the cradle fall.”, words that make you feel the undeniable truth that in the end nature will always win.

The next one is the s/t “Skyclad”. This one takes us to a time of chivalry that’s gone forever in history’s bloody pages drawing comparison with all the mother-fuckers who care more about money than human beings. To be honest I’d expect a better composition for an eponymous track, but it is in perfect flow with the rest of the album and does its job with a military precision.

The second last track “Moongleam and Meadowsweet” deals with Martin’s love for his Green England in a way like a new born child loves its mother’s heartbeat. It starts with a balladesque mellowness eventually bringing up the tension where Martin declares his love “Everything I'd sacrifice--If my lady you would favour me. Far brighter than the stars your smile, You hold the richest sunset in those eyes--You are England.”

The last track “Terminus” starts with an intro called 'Megeddo's Gateway', which sounds quite promising at the beginning till it sinks into a pointless funeral march-like sluggishness, moving on at snail’s pace before it all rages again. For me, it’s the only track that doesn’t fit the picture perfectly and not a good closing track, either.

Digressing a bit from reviewing the album there are some other things I’d like to reflect upon. Quite often I used to wonder how on earth a band like Skyclad, after having put a quality album almost every year, haven’t achieved a huge international success selling hundreds of thousand records. Where has all the good music gone? Who else cares and craves about the art that makes us see beyond the unseen? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It doesn’t…But then again wasn’t it the philosopher Martin who wrote the satirical lyrics of Penny Dreadful going like: ‘If we'd played this riff more punk, than may be we'd have had a million seller. But this piper's tune is not for sale, (I'm glad to say I'm not that kind of fella)…’ It doesn’t take a genius to discover Skyclad’s exceptionally intellectual approach to music but sure it takes to appreciate its value

As I put an end to my review there is one last thing I’d like to say; after all these absolutely amazing and clever albums the amicable separation of Mr. Martin Walkyier back in 2002, the only person all the metal scene can unanimously bow that he is a shinning intellectual next to the rest of the lyricists, made me feel like Skyclad is the last example of something beautiful which will soon be gone from the world because there is no longer any time or place for it. And now in 2008 I’m still sad about Martin’s departure but at the same time glad to see this band still drugged by the urge to fight to the bitter end, driven by pure love for the grace of music. And then if fate defeats their English doggedness it deserves to win.

'They are as sick that surfeit with too much,
As they that starve with nothing.'
William Shakespeare