SKYCLAD - Irrational Anthems('96) - 3.5/5
I've been a huge fan of Skyclad for many years now, initially getting turned onto them by a friend who went on and on about the terrific lyrics and unique sound. Well, I first picked up "Wayward Sons of Mother Earth", then shortly after "A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol", and I was instantly hooked.
The often humorous, usually pagan,and always masterful lyrics of main man Martin Walkier(ex-SABBAT), the Celtic influence in the music(fiddle!?!?), and the hard hitting thrash all combined to provide something fresh and exciting for me to listen to in a dire time for metal music. I was and am a fan.
So it was with great expectation that I awaited each and every subsequent release, eventually picking up "Jonah's Ark", "Prince of the Poverty Line"(my personal favorite), and "The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea". Every release satisfied, and maintained the quality that was present from this great bands inception. I did notice a gradual slide away from the bands heavier beginnings into a more folk-like type of sound, but I was never even remotely disappointed by any of their albums. So naturally, when "Irrational Anthems" came out, I was excited to hear it.
At the time, I have to admit, I was deeply disappointed. It was their largest step away from metal and into folk rock, and quite frankly, the songs just weren't as strong. To me at least, the album was the first real dip in the high standards in which I held the band. I mean, Walkier's lyrical powers were in full effect, but the music itself just didn't work for me on the same scale as the previously mentioned platters.
So it was with some reservations that I accepted the review for said disc, as I had remembered not really being enthusiastic about it first time around, and I honestly had not heard it in a very long time. The same cannot be said about the rest of their discography.
Well, what a pleasant surprise!
It was a much better listening experience than I had remembered. Perhaps my ears and heart have softened to it over the years(ironic considering that my musical tastes are heavier than they have ever been), but I couldn't help but notice that my foot was tapping quite often.
Some of the problems that I initially had are still existing, chiefly on the lack of metal and some less than memorable songs. The band certainly were going for a more "sing-songy" type of affair, with shorter, simpler songs and less progressive elements. And I think this works to the detriment to the overall album. There are still times when my interest lulled, and Walkier's vocals seem strained and less controlled than in the past. And I still find the instrumental "Spiral Starecase" to be a bit of a bore.
But this time around, the songs that I found OK the first time I heard them really stood out and shone.
"Inequality Street" is still a lyrical triumph, "Wrong Song" is a thrashy power chord monster of high kill factor. Personal fave "Snake Charmer" is permeated with an early punk/goth vibe and Middle Eastern color that is well, umm, charming! "Penny Dreadful" is another lyrical winner with great fiddle work accompanying the chug-along riffs. Instrumental "Sabre Dance" is a quirky romp, and another of my favorites, "I Dubious", is a bitchin' cruncher that wipes the floor with any and all pretenders to the mighty SKYCLAD throne.
A short mention about the production which is full blooded and adequate. With that said, I do wish the guitars had a bit more pow to them, but still, quite good.
Overall, I am grateful to have rediscovered this small gem of an album, but still feel it is the weak sister to the rest of this esteemed bands catalog. My respect for what the band was doing remains, and they certainly had a huge influence on the folk metal scene as it exists today. And many more great albums were to come. So in closing, not the tower of greatness that is a large portion of their releases, but a valuable and worthy addition to your collection.
Recommended Tracks - Snake Charmer, I Dubious
By J. Costigan