The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth(Noise - 1991)
A strong debut album from this unique and talented band, but it only contains traces of the extremely unique and heavily folk-tinged, melodic music that was to come. This one is a mixture of thrash and heavy metal (some would call it power) and if I had to describe the music in comparison to other bands, I would call it a blend of Megadeth and early Savatage with a generous sprinkling of Maiden and Iced Earth. But this doesn't adequately delineate the tight blend of these elements and the interesting composition, nor does it cover the folk elements and the fiddle. Yes, this is the famed and one of the most talented uses of a fiddle in any metal band, but it only makes three appearances on this debut. As for the vocals, they consist mainly of a spitting and coarse, angry bark. Otherwise, this is a wide ranging album with a fun, folk-like metal jig, a ballad, some acoustic guitars, a couple of fillers and great guitar solos. An extremely good and solid release that is deceptively ordinary.
A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol(Noise - 1992)
Here Skyclad progresses more towards the folk sound with a much bigger role for the fiddle. The music is still mostly thrash/power though with increased aggression, yet a little less focused and interesting this time. Production is fuller with a new 'hall' effect, and some keyboards are used for atmospherics. This release is slightly darker and stronger, yet even though it is well executed, it lacks the many memorable riffs and captivating compositions from the debut. The fiddle shines here again, accompanying the music with springy hops and twirls one minute, and sad tunes the next. As with the first release, a non-commercial and pleasant, soft ballad is included. Maidenesque bass lines, acoustic guitars, more good guitar solos, and general instrumental skill all decorate this album, yet sadly, as I mentioned, this one remains mostly mediocre except for about 3 or 4 tracks. Not a waste of time at all, but an emotional element is lacking and the momentum of the songs isn't carried as well as in the debut. Fans will enjoy this one, others should check out the other albums first.
Tracks from the Wilderness MCD(Noise - 1992)
One Thin Lizzy cover, interpreted with lots of violin and hard hitting riffs, yet not quite so interesting. Two studio tracks: a boring semi-ballad and a strong, decent, Megadeth-like thrashy number. These first three tracks are now included in the Prince of the Poverty Line LP. Then come the three live tracks, of which the first two are off the Burnt Offering album, and not the best ones at that. The last live song however, is the superb 'Skyclad' from the first album, the live energy only increasing its great, strong qualities and making this by far, the best track on the MCD.
Jonah's Ark(Noise - 1993)
With this release, Skyclad achieve a full integration of the folk and metal elements, discarding most of the harder, thrashy sound for more melodic and appropriate heavy metal. The songs either chug along at an energetic pace or dance to some folk rhythms, experimenting with different paces and arrangements in between. You'll find yourself tapping your toes many a time to the heavy and contagious riffs, the tuneful fiddle and the folk melodies that sound traditionally English, Spanish and even more Eastern at times depending on the song. No repetition is evident between songs - which is very good and keeps things interesting, and the composition is tight and original. Martin eases back on the barking slightly this time, even using clean vocals on a couple of tracks, but his voice adds a lot to the energy of the songs and carries the softer ones with it. Stand out great tracks are 'Schadenfreude', 'The Ilk of Human Blindness' and the sad, acoustic 'It Wasn't Meant to End This Way'. In truth though, almost all the songs stand out in their own way. Great stuff.
Prince of the Poverty Line(Noise - 1994)
Surprisingly, Skyclad didn't continue down the softness slope here, but I can't really call this a complete regression to the thrashier days either (although there are some very thrashy moments). It's heavier mainly due to the consistently angry, and roaring guitars and the perfect, full production. A new violinist joined the band with this release but I couldn't detect any significant changes there other than a slightly weaker sound. The fiddle is wonderfully merged with the other instruments as before, and it is used as a strong prominent instrument rather than just as an accompaniment. As with all their albums you will either love it or hate it. Keyboards are used somewhat differently here, with some sounds that are usually associated with pop music, but this is rare and the much stronger guitars put them in their place as an effective enhancement. Stand out songs: 'Land of the Rising Slum' - with an extra drum electronic layer and cowbells, an electric piano and a Deep Purplish interlude all mixed with the usual heavy guitars, drums and vocals. It may sound weird but it's actually one of my favorites from this album. Also 'A Dog in the Manger' - a pure Megadeth thrashy number if not for the violin, and 'Womb of the Worm' - a slow sonic assault of a song with reverbrating guitars that sometimes sounds like I Mother Earth. Although I usually don't bother reviewing lyrics, Skyclad deserve special mention in this regard, with devilishly clever wordplay and song titles (this lyrical talent appears on nearly all their albums). Martin doesn't 'experiment' here, he knows exactly what he wants to do and goes straight for the throat. Their most solid and least varied album so far, making this a little less interesting, but other than two clunkers this is good power/heavy metal.
The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea(Noise - 1995)
It's back to increased melody and variety with a new hodgepodge of songs and styles. Dullness creeps into the songwriting here however and a lot of the songs are either slow going, lacking interest, or stale. The variety of moods is astounding though, ranging from soft and dreaming to heavy and pounding, from bouncing cheese to dancing jigs, and from melodic hard rock to punk. The melody is effusive, and even Martin hardly barks anymore although his voice is still a coarse semi-melodic yell. A new violinist was drafted for this release and so far I think he is the most precise of the lot. Less keyboards, but also less emphasis on roaring guitars to the point where it's hard to call this metal at times, and more entertaining and tricky wordplay (just look at the album title for an example). With such variety and practically every song standing out, I should review it track by track, but it really isn't worth it. It has its moments and good songs (Still Spinning Shrapnel, Jeopardy and The Dance of the Dandy Hound), and diehard Skyclad fans may want to check it out, but all the rest of you should avoid this one and buy their earlier superior albums.
Irrational Anthems(Massacre - 1996)
Exit metal, enter softer singing by Martin that is at times throaty or just plain clean. My first thought was that this is Skyclad 'gone Megadeth' in the sense that they moved on to rock with heavy metal influences and elements. But the variety prevails over this trite description and we cannot forget the ever present folk sounds and the violin that is stronger than ever in this release. Now, I am not against going softer and I actually prefer Megadeth that way, but the composition here suffered a major downfall I'm afraid. Dull or annoying, the songs just slip by without hardly ever grabbing me, and the increased sharpness and instrusiveness only come off as obnoxious. I blame this latter effect mostly on the vocal lines that sound dead in a typical punk style. The best tracks here are like the worst on previous albums. The good news is that Martin sounds like he took singing lessons - his voice sounds clearer and stronger than before, and the violin here is at its peak of precision and talent when compared to any previous Skyclad album. But these facts and the general instrumental talent displayed here cannot overcome the bore. The album leaves me with an empty feeling of pounding and disjointed sounds rather than structure or melody.
Oui Avant-Garde Á Chance(Massacre - 1996)
Not a 'real' LP but more of an experiment or a really long EP. Included are seven new songs, one remade into an instrumental, two older songs redone or remixed, and two covers - altogether 12 tracks clocking at 54 minutes. The general musical path of this release is one of increased celtic elements, acoustics, violin and ballads with some heavier moments and songs. The metal is definitely gone here except for some heavy riffing on the interesting cover of New Model Army's 'Master Race'. The other cover is a terribly out of place and a (horror!) faithful rendition of the 80's pop hit 'Come on Eileen'. Of the new tracks, there are three heavier ones: the superb and catchy 'If I Die Laughing, It'll Be An Act Of God', the mediocre 'Bombjour!' that was recorded a second time as a superb instrumental with contrapuntal viola and violin melodies, and the boring 'A Badtime Story'. There is also a really enjoyable jig ('Great Blow for a Day Job') and three ballads of which only one is really good. The two redone tracks are taken off Irrational Anthems and both are much improved and very enjoyable: 'History Lessens' - slowed down somewhat and completely acoustic, and 'Penny Dreadful' - remixed well with more violin and a nice accordion solo. As you can see, this is a confusing potpourri of tracks and you should only try this out if you aren't looking for metal and don't mind such a mixed bag.
The Answer Machine?(Massacre - 1997)
A violin, accordion, acoustic guitar and drums open this album, enhanced by a wonderfully warm production and melody. But fret not, the distorted guitars join in later and there are faint offshoots of their metal roots at times even though this is not quite a metal album. Skyclad achieve a very developed blend of hard rock and celtic music here, and turn out a safe and mature album. The question is, have they machinated their music into something too safe and dull? The answer, I believe, is that it may not be as exciting anymore, but the talent is obvious and the composition is solid and quite interesting. The range of styles here is surprisingly small for Skyclad and this makes it a consistent release. But within each song, changes are plentiful and one's interest is preserved. Often, the musical style, and especially the vocals, remind me of Midnight Oil. Martin sings better than ever with a strong and actual singing voice instead of a yell or a bark. This album grows on you; its only fault, which is actually a boon as well, is that it is very laid back. But it is quite enjoyable in a mature way and I found myself playing it a few times at first, but it didn't age very well. Worth a try, though, if it sounds like your thing.