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A rolling metal beast, a rollicking folk feast - 85%

amelanchier, August 30th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Massacre Records

Following the comparatively mellow, immaculately produced The Answer Machine? and eclectic Oui Avant Garde a Chance, Vintage Whine showed that Skyclad were still fundamentally in the folk metal business. This album is distinguished largely by its aggressive metal sonics, up-tempo riffing, vocally carried melodies, deliciously cynical lyrical wordplay, and, unfortunately, rather muddy production values. The songwriting is perhaps more consistently excellent on this album than on any other, but Martin Walkiyer sounds as if he is singing through a blanket, while the rest of the instruments are encased in a sediment of bassy reverb. There are quite a few interesting fiddle parts, for instance, but they are buried in the mix.

While the sound quality is far from perfect, the largely up-tempo, rocking songs are fun to sing along to, and Martin gives one of his better vocal performances. How can you not love "On with Their Heads" ('"On with their heads!"/Hear my royal decree/Shut your mouth, it could open your mind/What a change there would be/If some day we could see/One-eyed men in this land of the blind') or "The Silver Cloud's Dark Lining" ('So play today/Go make your hay beneath the warm sun shining/But bear in mind/One day you'll find the silver cloud's dark lining')? It's physically impossible not to tap your toe to these hard-rocking rhythms, and pretty difficult not to start belting out lyrics in your best Martinesque growl.

Beyond the fun there are more serious moments as well, like Martin's caustic critique of human nature in "Cancer of the Heart," featuring an intense, cri-de-coeur chorus backed by one of Kevin Ridley's filthy NWOBHM-style guitar riffs. There are also quieter moments provided by the mid-album palate cleanser "No Strings Attached" (a rather sweet ditty about an old show-puppet come to life) and the musically light and bouncy "Little Miss Take." For my money, the best track of all is "Something to Cling To," which leads off with a classic guitar riff that forms the central theme of the chorus. It's none too complicated, just straight-up, stomping British metal with a folk veneer.

Skyclad didn't make songs this easy on the ears in their early thrash period, and they just don't quite have the vocal and lyrical edge that Martin gave them today (though I understand Martin was a bit of a cancer to work with). Vintage Whine might be the very best Skyclad album if given a proper remaster. At any rate, it is essential folk metal for any fan of the genre.