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Fainter than before - 69%

robotiq, May 5th, 2020

"Tracks from the Wilderness" is a good little EP. Back in the day, this was much easier to find in record shops than the two albums preceding it, I'm not sure why. It was therefore one of the first Skyclad records I owned. The front cover was intriguing enough for a young teenager taking tentative steps into underground metal.

This is a typical 'mini CD' of the period. It includes a cover song, two non-album tracks and some early live tracks to pad the running time. So far, so throwaway. The live tracks are fine for what they are. I can't argue with the song selections which are all Skyclad classics ("Spinning Jenny", "The Declaration of Indifference", "Skyclad"). It is interesting to hear how the band approaches these songs live (I never saw them live unfortunately). Of course, the studio versions of all three songs are better, so there isn't much point in ever listening to these live versions.

The two new originals are great, though not quite top-tier Skyclad. The production is different to either of their preceding albums. It has the heaviness of the debut with the clarity of the second album. This EP was released a few months after "A Burnt Offering to the Bone Idol", but these songs fit better with those on "The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth". I wonder whether they were offcuts from the debut, or maybe songs that did not fit the conceptual vision of their albums and were thus included here. "A Room Next Door" is like "Alone in Death's Shadow" from the previous album. It has that same soft section/loud section dynamic (part-ballad, part-thrasher), and lyrics that deal with death. "When All Else Fails" is a triplet-riffing thrash song, not at the level of "Cradle Will Fall" or "The Sky Beneath My Feet", but worth a listen.

The cover of Thin Lizzy's "Emerald" is the main reason to listen to this EP. The original is an amazing song, an all-time rock classic and certainly my favourite from "Jailbreak". The instantly recognisable melodies from this song must have influenced Maiden and countless other NWOBHM bands (probably including Satan). I cannot think of a song which Skyclad were better suited to cover. Their version is exactly what you would expect. It sounds heavier and nastier than the original, with added violin, and with Martin Walkyier rasping over the top. Skyclad make this song their own, and it is fucking brilliant.

Get it for "Emerald" - 65%

Sean16, May 19th, 2009

If Skyclad must have released around one hundred and fifty songs (I’ve never cared for the exact number), only five of them are covers – nothing more, nothing less; and only one is worth a mention: the very first of those, Thin Lizzy’s Emerald, stuck at the head of the British band’s first EP. The fact is, it’s also the only really valuable track on said EP, but as I highly doubt anyone not specifically looking for it would accidentally stumble upon it, there’s consequently little chance anyone may waste some money there. To put it less whimsically, unless you’re an incurable ‘Clad fan just download Emerald.

That Skyclad covered a song from a well-known Irish band shouldn’t surprise anyone a tad familiar with this act, especially knowing the lyrics here deal with resistance to oppression and reconquest of the motherland. While this present version may not be better than the 1976 original, the guys nonetheless did a pretty good job turning a classic, great-though-still-a-tad-elementary hard-rock tune into a more powerful, metal number. The pace has been slightly sped up, the lengthy ending solo has been shortened, the drums have been emphasized and Martin Walkyier’s rough voice sounds of course far more aggressive than Lynott’s. However the most personal addition, the real stroke of genius, probably consists in having left this so-crushing riff, this main pillar of the song, to the violin, thus turning it into a genuine Skyclad work without losing anything from the original songwriting’s strength. Many years later, the band-supported History Lessens compilation won’t feature any song older than the Prince of the Poverty Line album (what is, by the way, a totally cretin decision), with the sole exception of Emerald, proof that the guys still held it in high esteem – as if it indeed were one of their very own products.

As already suggested the rest of this EP unfortunately doesn’t live up to its opener, even if it might still be of some interest to the completist given it features two tracks impossible to find anywhere else, A Room Next Door and When All Else Fails, probably two offcuts from the debut album given they’re both devoid of any violin or keyboard. The first one is mostly clean singing and acoustic guitars, with the exception of the heavier middle section, and sums up to a pretty bland semi-ballad like most of Skyclad’s slow tracks, while the second is a pure thrash song, again of average quality and limited imagination. Indeed, had Skyclad remained a thrash band, it’s highly dubious they would’ve lasted so long...

The last three tracks are live renditions of songs taken from the two first full-lengths and, while there’s of course nothing to say against monsters like Spinning Jenny or The Declaration of Indifference, both amongst the first ever true folk metal tunes, those versions are still far from mandatory as of a lesser quality than the studio recordings. Don’t get me wrong, the sound is good for a live take, and hearing Walkyier addressing the crowd in German with his broken voice undoubtedly bears its particular charm, but this again doesn’t justify tracking this record down (through the wilderness of course, to echo the band’s own pun). And finally about the “this song is for you motherfuckers who care more about money than about people” – alright we all know that’s what Skyclad’s eponymous song is all about, that’s what a lot of Skyclad songs are all about actually, but there were times you were a tad more subtle, right?

Highlights: Emerald