Skyclad - In the... all together 3.5/5
1. Words upon the street
2. Still small beer
3. The well-traveled man
4. Black summer rain
6. Hit list
8. Which is why
9. Modern minds
10. In the... all together
There is a very vocal faction of Skyclad fans for whom the band perished the day Martin Walkyier packed up his forked-tongue wit and vacated the premises. I am not unsympathetic to that viewpoint, given Walkyier's immense talent and his integral creative contributions to Skyclad's amazing run of 90s inventive folk-metal brilliance. But to adopt the absolutist stance that Martin Walkyier *was* Skyclad is unfairly to marginalize the other gifted band members. Without minimizing Walkyier's role in any way, let's give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge the importance of the songwriting acumen of guitarist Steve Ramsey, the remarkable fiddle of Georgina Biddle, and the bass ballast and writing of Graeme English to beloved CDs like 'Irrational anthems' and 'Vintage whine'. So if these other members (plus rhythm guitarist-turned-frontman Kevin Ridley) want to soldier on under the Skyclad banner despite Walkyier's defection, I'll not reflexively brand it heresy, but will instead lend it an ear. I'll not cast aspersions should you choose otherwise, however, because I do understand your reservations about the viability of Skyclad in the post-Martin era.
All of that said, the band's 2004 comeback CD, 'A semblance of normality', was kind of a mixed bag, with the sometimes-awkward introduction of the orchestra, the diminution of the characteristic fiddles, and the distressingly too-smooth, too-calm vocals of Ridley eliciting an ambivalent reaction from me, despite the capable song material. Half a decade later, Skyclad are back with 'In the... all together', which, while imperfect, is unquestionably a step in the right direction. The orchestral elements have been jettisoned, Biddle's gorgeous fiddle has been cranked up in the arrangements and the mix, and Ridley occasionally utilizes a rougher, more bilious voice that's much better suited to the vinegary anthems of disenfranchisement and biting social commentary that remain Skyclad's stock in trade.
Best of all, Ramsey and Ridley (why doesn't Graeme English write songs anymore?) have come up with a varied, interesting and entertaining batch of tunes. Want a high-speed fiddle-dominated drinking song? Cue up "Still small beer". How about a catchy uptempo track with a nifty Eastern melody? Look no further than "Superculture". An uplifting, deep-thinking semi-ballad? "Well-travelled man" is for you. A crunchy, mid-paced guitar-driven tune? The answer is "Modern minds". Not every song is a gem, and the excitement factor drops while the filler quotient rises towards the end of the CD, but the good outweighs the mediocre. From a lyrical standpoint, Ridley follows in the style of Walkyier, turning clever phrases and invoking obscure references on behalf of society's downtrodden, albeit without the wicked flair and twisted genius of his predecessor. Still, it's good to see Skyclad making a concerted effort to preserve the character and sophistication of their texts despite the absence of metal's preeminent wordsmith.
Is the Newcastle pint glass half full or half empty? That depends on the listener, I suppose. If you go into the 'In the... all together' listening experience expecting a cutting-edge folk metal tour de force, you're likely to end up crying in your beer. But if your measure of success is a perfectly competent, mostly enjoyable, sometimes cerebral, sometimes experimental 40-minute folk metal CD from arguably the inventors of the genre, then 'In the... all together' will leave your thirst slaked each time you push play for another round. Drink deeply, my friends.
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