Noise Records / BMG are raiding some quality back-catalogue at the moment, digging out fistfuls of classic albums for re-release. As well as reissuing the first three Tankard albums on vinyl and CD towards the end of the month, waiting in the wings are the first five releases from seminal pagan metal band Skyclad: The Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth, A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol, Jonah’s Ark, Prince of the Poverty Line and The Silent Whales Of Lunar Sea. All are due out on October 27th on CD and coloured vinyl and pre-orders are available via Pledge Music.
This is one collection that I already own, but they’ve sat gathering dust in the CD cupboard for some time. I took the chance to obtain some nice quality MP3 copies and revisit my early 20s with a blast through all five.
Kicking off with Wayward Sons… you can imagine first-time listeners back in 1991 discovering something genuinely original at the time. The opening of “Sky Beneath My Feet” is rock/metal enough, but after a minute we have a violin and Martin Walkyier’s trademark vocals, familiar back then to Sabbat fans. The album is definitely a work in progress as far as what the band became, but it definitely has that Skyclad touch. A gentle one, but it’s there. “The Widdershins Jig”, metal’s answer to morris dancing, is perhaps the closest link to what was to come.
Barely a year later and Burnt Offering was released – ah, for the days when albums were released so frequently and with such quality! “Spinning Jenny” is still a belter of a track and the cleaner, more melodic sound throughout shows the band shedding Walkyier’s Sabbat roots for something more suited to burning wicker men to. The addition of Fritha Jenkins on violin and keyboard and a second guitarist in the shape of Dave Pugh really rounded the sound out. This album nailed their pagan colours to the flag where they would remain – despite line-up changes – to this very day.
The following year – they really did just chuck these out, didn’t they? – saw Jonah’s Ark birthed into an increasingly upsetting world and Skyclad were there to protest against it. Starting peacefully enough with the plucked strings and violin of “Thinking Allowed”‘s intro, the heavier guitars blended quickly and perfectly to ensure that nobody forgot that there was metal to go with the pagan stylings. The track continued a band tradition of puns and plays on words in song titles that they have also kept going (“A Minute’s Piece”, “The Declaration of Indifference”, “History Lessens”, “Vintage Whine”, “Inequality Street”…). Jonah’s Ark is, on the whole, quite an angry album – something that was definitely in keeping with the band’s image.
The first album I encountered, and the one being promoted when I first saw them play live, was 1994’s (yes, only a year again) Prince of the Poverty Line. I loved revisiting this album and it’s back on rotation on my MP3 player. From the pounding rhythms of “Civil War Dance” to included bonus track “Brothers Beneath the Skin”, this is still a brilliant album. Dark, twisted, revolutionary. This release also includes two live tracks – “The Widdershins Jig” and “Cradle Will Fall”, both of which are decent enough versions. I’d be hard pushed to pick a favourite from the baker’s dozen – “A Bellyful of Emptiness”, perhaps? Or “Gammadion Seed”? Maybe “Sins of Emission”? Too many to choose from.
Skyclad made fans wait another whole year until 1995 for what is the last of this batch of releases and their last on Noise Records, The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea. Incidentally, they released two albums in 1996! Silent Whales definitely sounded different in terms of production from previous albums. The music, though still chock full of twists and turns, is edged every so slightly into the background while Walkyier’s voice is pushed slightly to the fore. To be honest, I’d never really noticed until I played all the albums through. When you do, the difference is very apparent and it does jolt a little. In its own standing, though, it’s as good as any other album they’ve ever released with plenty of variety. Personally, I love the very punk-influenced “Desperanto” which just explodes with violence and venom from beginning to end.
This is a collection of albums that has stood the test of time very well, and you will be able to get them on coloured vinyl and CD in case you missed them first time around on 27th October!