Skiltron - Beheading the liars 4/5
2. The beheading
3. I'm what you've done
4. Praying is nothing
5. Calling out
6. The vision of blind Harry
7. Hate dance
8. Signs, symbols and the marks of man
9. Let the spirit be
10. Fast and wild
Back on the unsigned circuit after a typically brief flirtation with Underground Symphony, Argentina's own would-be Scots Skiltron have nonetheless wasted no time in issuing their 2nd full-length CD, 'Beheading the liars'. With an almost-complete band now in place (a full time violinist is still missing) and without as much reliance on session musicians as their debut release, this follow-up is a more developed and intricate affair from a band with the potential to be a real force on the power/folk metal scene.
One key change to the line-up from the first CD is the hiring of vocalist Diego Valdez to replace Javier Yuchechen, who filled the role on 'Uniting the clans' as a guest member. Valdez' voice is actually quite similar to that of his predecessor (Skiltron were probably looking to change things as little as possible), but is stronger overall and a mild raspy edge to his singing is a better fit for the music.
One of the strengths of the debut CD was the crunch retained in the guitar department that can often lack in this subgenre - indeed, if the folk instruments were stripped away from the songs, a sturdy if colourless power metal CD would still have been left in its place - and while this has not changed, the traditional instruments are used in a more refined fashion, and 'Beheading the liars' sounds like more of a fully-blown folk metal CD than its predecessor.
As was the case with the session members on the debut, bagpipe player Pablo Allen and whistler/flautist Diego Spinelli generally take it in turns to have their contribution at the forefront of the songs, but there is a greater interplay between the assorted folk instruments than on the first CD, as they weave in and out between the guitar lines than without either heaviness or conciseness being sacrificed.
The opening track, "Skiltron" is a particularly strong cut, starting with a narration by Seoras Wallace of the Scottish pipe band Clan Wallace (and, from a personal point of view, what a pleasant change it is to hear a genuine Scottish accent being used in this way instead of one of the band's friends doing their Groundskeeper Willie impression) before leaping into a pulverizing bagpipe-accented speed metal song anchored by a truly triumphant chorus.
Also on the faster side of proceedings, "Hate dance" is a deceptively-titled little instrumental, a madly upbeat 2-minute campfire dance featuring some great mouth harp and mandolin action. But mixed with speedy numbers like this and the fist-pumping "Fast and wild" there are also 3 excellent, calming ballads to be found.
"Calling out" and "Let the spirit be" are cut from the same soft cloth, but still feature a reasonable contribution from the heavier instrumentation, with a shining guitar solo brightening up the former. The closing track, "Crides", is in fact just an almost fully-acoustic reworking of "Calling Out" that sees the band forgoe the Scottish fixation to have the CD gently fade out in the Occitan language. The rearrangement is in fact so successful, with vocal and instrumental contributions from members of Stille Volk, that the 2 versions sound almost like unrelated songs.
A couple of other songs also see a few notable guest musicians making a contribution to proceedings. Jonne Järvelä has somehow managed to find the time between Korpiklaani's relentless recording and gigging (I swear those Finns must have a portable studio that accompanies them on tour) to take part in a duet with Valdez on the song "Praying is nothing", and his gravelly tones add an extra dimension to the whimsical, fiddle assisted tune.
More unexpected guests are to be found on "Signs, symbols and the marks of man", which actually features almost as many members of Skyclad as it does Skiltron - Georgina Biddle plays fiddle, while Kevin Ridley takes over vocal duties and Steve Ramsey contributes a typically astute guitar solo. Ridley's rough-around-the-edges vocals add a little extra variety, and while the other members of the English legends were probably roped in just because the opportunity was there, the song is another fine example of the celtic folk metal Skiltron are putting out.
Definitely an improvement over what was a very good debut (which in retrospect I probably over-rated by half a mark in my review of it), 'Beheading the liars' sees Skiltron continue to grow and develop their craft. It hopefully shouldn't be long before another label comes sniffing and gives the crew of kilt-wearing South Americans the chance not only to get the recognition they deserve for what is a superb CD, but also to be able to continue doing so for years to come.
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