Skyclad - 'A Semblance of Normality' - 4/5
[Link purposefully not included - Author Request]
Of course when people think of Skyclad the first thing on their mind is probably ‘that folk metal band with Martin Walkynier’ however this album is not one of Walkynier’s. In fact this album was with Kevin Ridley on vocal duties and the influence from him is very clear. Sadly, this album has been greatly overlooked since the decline of popularity of Skyclad and the departure of Walkynier.
The first thing that becomes clear from the start of the album is how experimental and wild it’s actually going to be. Though the pipe solo at the start is fairly generic it soon explodes into the first song and surprises the listener for the rest of the album. This album has clearly been influenced more heavily by the folk side of folk metal and rather than seeming like metal with folk above it, it appears to be folk songs played in a metal style which is highly unusual in folk metal. The rhythms are often awkward and stiff which, although it can block the flow of the song, provides an interesting base for the tune played above.
What strikes me most positively about the album is not any particular use of instrument or song writing skill but instead how well the band appears to understand each other. The ideas that Skyclad have tried to put through are well executed and direct with no confusion between band members. There is a heavy use of polyphony in almost every song which creates an interesting aura. This is particularly prevalent in the song ‘A survival Campaign’ in which the violin and the vocals intertwine. This is just a simple example of how fine tuned the musicians are, to go through all of them would take a long time. This of course will have come from experience within the band but the newcomer fits in incredible well and it feels like he has always been in the band.
Individually the instruments are not phenomenal. The vocals are clearly very interesting. There are times where you will love the vocals (particularly during strong harmonising) but there will be times where you will hate them to the extent that they are unbearable. The folk influence from Kevin Ridley is unmistakable. Whilst Walkynier contained the heavy metal/thrash metal vocals, Ridley uses folkish vocals which add a light touch on top of what is actually a very heavy album. The guitars are very heavy and, although the riffs are fairly boring, they are played very well with some excellent electric guitar solos throughout the album. The rhythm guitars add a distinct folk touch to the album. They are played in a very typical folk way instead of the generic acoustic guitar, plucked interludes that are so common in folk metal. The keyboards and violins are really well done. Instead of the fairly sloppy, relaxed way that they are normally played they are played majestically with thorough thought of harmonisation and melody. They are often contrapuntal to the vocals which adds an exciting layer above. Neither the bass guitar or the drums really do much although they are played essentially flawlessly with clear focus on the rhythmic structure at the time and the tempo changes in songs like ‘another drinking song’ are well handled.
The lyrics are actually very well done. They actually put a lot of Martin Walkynier’s Skyclad lyrics to shame with their message and clearness. They are written so that they fit perfectly into the instruments and are almost poetic like a folk song.
Overall, this is a very well done album. The songs can become very repetitive and some parts are very difficult to get through but it provides a unique listen that cannot be found in any other band and the musicianship is very professional yet free in the song writing sense.