Old Skyclad Vs New Skyclad

Anyone who knows me well enough, knows that one of my favourite bands is British folk-metal progenitors Skyclad. I considered doing a full post on just reviewing them as a band, taking their entire catalogue as a whole. I then thought that might be a little lengthy and uninteresting - it'd be me bashing on about how great they are, and not a lot else. So I thought I'd look at the contrast between "classic" Skyclad and "new" Skyclad - defined by the 2001 change of vocalist from Sabbat's Martin Walkyier to Kevin Ridley.

When Skyclad began, it was as a continuation of Walkyier's vision of where Sabbat should have been heading. Thus, much of their early work has a bold emphasis on the thrash-metal sound and pagan themes, with the music being very similar to the later Sabbat material. However, it progressed from these beginnings and began to incorporate a more folk feel, with greater prominence given to the violin and a change in the lyrics towards a more folk-esque prosody. The content, too, moved from generally pagan to generally socio-political themes.

Martin Walkyier's vocals are distinctive, not so much for their talent or range, but for the obvious passion with which they are sung. It is clear that many of his lyrics come from his own experience, much of which is less than pleasant. The greatest examples of this are in tunes such as "Inequality Street" and "Penny Dreadful"; the latter containing a line which I think sums up Walkyier's style and attitude to his work very well:

Stand your ground behind the times,
and refuse to follow fashion.
Write your poetry with anger,
and then sing it with a passion...

In contrast, Ridley's vocals and lyrics are far more conventional, his themes less controversial. This is no bad thing in itself - the band under Ridley has a wider appeal, and while he may not deliver the vitriol of Walkyier, he is able to handle the whimsy in a far more convincing way.

The best place to look for contrasts is the 2002 release No Daylights... Nor Heeltaps, a compilation of some of the band's best-known songs from the Walkyier years, re-recorded with Ridley at the helm. At one end of the scale, The Cry Of The Land, a passionate song with a strong pagan theme in the area of anti-industrialism, is delivered by Ridley in a sadly lacklustre way when compared to the raw passion of Walkyier's vocals. At the other end, A Great Blow For A Day Job is far more enjoyable in Ridley's rendition: being a track with heavy leanings toward humour and parody, Walkyier's passion is left without a justification and the listener is left with only his vocal talent (which, as alluded to previously, is not outstanding).

As a personal preference, I am more of a fan of the earlier works in which Walkyier provides the vocals; the passion is something truly rare to find in contemporary music and is something to treasure. This won't stop me listening to the later works with Ridley, however - it's still Skyclad, and it's still folk metal done with great proficiency.



Gladiator is, in this blogger's humble opinion, one of the best movies ever made. It's full of historical inaccuracies as only Hollywood can provide, but taken as a fiction rather than a history, this is a weakness it easily escapes. One of its truly outstanding features is, without doubt, its award-winning soundtrack: a collaborative effort between composer Hans Zimmer and vocalist Lisa Gerrard.

Zimmer's greatest specific triumph has to be the "battle theme" from the opening scene. It captures perfectly the conflicting aspects of civility and barbarism that were at the heart of the Roman empire: civilisation through brutal, bloody war. It is not necessary to understand how this is achieved in order to appreciate it; such is the beauty of its composition.

Lisa Gerrard is, simply put, one of the most talented vocalists in the world; able to convey deep, soul-felt emotion without use of words. If you have never experienced Dead Can Dance, do so as soon as possible. The sheer vocal ability of the woman is otherworldly. If you can watch the scene in which Maximus discovers the crucified bodies of his wife and son and feel nothing, you are, I am sorry to have to inform you, bereft of a soul.

Soundtracks are an under-appreciated area of music in many ways, and it was truly gratifying to see this win the Oscar for best original soundtrack. It was after Gladiator that I truly began to pay attention to the music in the background of everything I see and hear. It's definitely a worthwhile endeavour.


Serj Tankian - Empty Walls (Video)

As you may be aware, Serj Tankian of System of a Down fame has launched his solo career with a new album called Elect the Dead. The first single from this release, with accompanying video, is Empty Walls, and it's this that I want to ramble on about today.

The first time I saw this video was on the television, probably either Kerrang or Scuzz. It struck me as typical Serj - intense, creative, mad and compellingly charismatic. Then, just recently, I downloaded the uncensored version. I don't recall the differences as such, but it certainly struck me in a completely different way this time around. Put simply, and without exaggeration, it is a crime to censor this video.

The imagery is simply superb throughout, with children acting out the events of the Iraq war in a "kindergarten" setting. While the song is a little repetitive, it never becomes a true weakness; and the ending is extremely moving. Anyway, it's one of those things that is best left to speak for itself, so I'll now stand aside and let it do so.


Autumn Tears

Anything that can be classified as "genre-defying" immediately gets my attention. If Autumn Tears could be squeezed into a genre without cutting off any of their musical appendages, the closest match would be something like "ambient gothic". If you don't know Dead Can Dance, firstly, go out and learn about them. Secondly, I'll be without a reference point for describing Autumn Tears. If you do know DCD, I'll start from there. Take Dead Can Dance, and bash out some sort of regular sound (omitting the more abstract and ethnic pieces). Tinge them slightly darker, and you'll be approaching the sound of Autumn Tears.

The instrumentation and sheer musical ability are quite astounding, hence the comparison with Dead Can Dance. And for someone like myself, who occasionally tires of Dead Can Dance's eclectic mix of sounds, it is truly gratifying to hear a full album which holds together in this respect. The vocals are just as talented and captivating as those of Dead Can Dance, and one would be forgiven for thinking Lisa Gerrard herself had lent her voice to the project in the song The Beauty In All Things, for which someone has built [this slideshow] on YouTube. In fact, the Tube is full of Autumn Tears goodness, so get yourself there and check out the highlights. Here's another from the Eclipse album, entitled "Ophelia's Crown". Dead Can Dance fans, I defy you to fail to see similarities.

Pure, dark, beautiful poetry. All about the Bragi.



Say what you want about Tolkien, but the fact remains that the world of Middle Earth that was his creation is one of the biggest, most detailed and elaborate fictional worlds ever conceived. Included in this world were whole languages, cultures with thousands of years of rich history, stories, poems and songs.

It is not surprising that the works of Tolkien have inspired a wealth of musical tribute, from Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth concept album to Howard Shore's soundtrack for the recent movie trilogy. However, in this writer's humble opinion, there have been few better adaptations of Tolkien's work than the music of the black metal group Summoning.

As is often the case when reviewing an artist's whole catalogue, one must be careful not to generalise work which is varied and progressive, evolving and adapting as it goes. Suffice it to say on this topic that their debut offering (1995's Lugburz) can be broadly classed as black metal with the standard orchestral touches about it; this progressed through to their 2006 release Oath Bound, which is a far more symphonic offering.

A typical Summoning track will be (on average) around six minutes in length, and will borrow the majority of its lyrics directly from the text of Tolkien's work itself, be it prose, poem, or song. Many will also have audio clips from the BBC radio recording of The Lord of the Rings, and other such sources. For the most part (from 1999's Stronghold onwards), the guitars are such a background part of the music that one can easily forget that it's "technically" black metal playing. The symphonic/orchestral element becomes far more pronounced, and it's rare (in my admittedly limited experience at least) to find a sound that quite matches that produced by Summoning in their finest moments.

There are some free mp3s available on their website, and all are fragments, I can highly recommend the short version of "Land of the Dead" (direct link), which was released as an album sampler for Terrorizer Magazine's Fear Candy cover CD.

While their thunder is limited by their predominantly symphonic sound, and debauchery is barely seen in their catalogue, it is Bragi who wins the day; the sheer brilliance and beauty with which they adapt Tolkien's superb work is more than enough reason to lend this Austrian duo your ears.


The Clan Destined - In the Big Ending...

But first, a note on the format this blog is likely to take over the next few posts. At present, it is my intention to waffle on about virtually anything; but under the category of either artist, album, song, genre, video, or similar. Naturally, to be awkward, my second post on music itself will be one which falls into two of the above categories (and to be honest I have plans to do a similar thing with the next). For today, good readers, I am going to tell you of The Clan Destined.

Rarely has an album title been more apt than their debut offering, In the Big Ending...; for not only was it their first offering, but also, it seems, their last. Their lead-man, former Sabbat and Skyclad vocalist Martin Walkyier, is the main reason for this: the album was an epic slog the like of which, if widely known, would surely be accepted as one of the greatest and most challenging of all time. Suffice it to say that Master Walkyier has retired from the world of vocalising, and possibly music-making in general, as a result. This is a Sad Loss indeed.

But on with the blatherings regarding the album itself. Broadly stuffed into a genre, it would best be described as "pagan metal", the former word referring to the subject matter, the latter to the style in which it is performed. It is a highly politicised album, pulling no punches and throwing its message at the listener in such a blunt style as to render said message entirely unmistakable: humanity is in deep trouble, but not so deep that we can't get ourselves out of it if we really tried. The message is most clear in the first and last tracks, and certainly there are a few in there with very little in way of political message, but it is clear enough that the views put forward form one of the key elements in this short album/EP.

It is not preaching paganism to convert the masses, except insofar as paganism advocates the breaking down of interpersonal barriers and extending co-operation as far as is possible. It is, naturally, anti-establishment, but not with the mindless anarchy of the punk tradition, but rather in the way of illustrating the problem and pointing out that there are deceptively simple answers out there.

Musically, it's not outstanding to be fair. While certainly on the heavy side of the scale (heavier than Skyclad, but lighter than Sabbat), it's kept at a level that allows the vocals to send the message across powerfully. Walkyier's never had a great voice, but there's a compelling charisma to it that demands your attention; no doubt this is a product of his complete belief in what he's singing about, and his desperation to be heard and understood.

One way or another, this is an album worth listening to. The message does not push the music back into a supporting role, so even if you fail to grasp the purpose of this record you may well still enjoy listening to it. It is probably fitting that my first full album review on this blog should be of an album that falls into not one, nor two, but all three of the vague headings after which the blog is named. It brims over with debaucherous fun in places (particularly Devil for a Day); it is truly poetic throughout (with the highlight of this being in A Beautiful Start to the End of the World); and oh does it ever thunder. The opening and closing tracks (Swinging like Judas and More Than War) are powerful pieces in which the music pounds through like a sledgehammer with the vitriolic lyrics etched upon it.


Fear Candy 45

This is to be the first of many posts, cropping up once a month or so, regarding the Fear Candy sample CD. This is the free CD included with every issue of Terrorizer, an extreme music magazine. The quality of tracks varies greatly, but there is generally a good mix of styles represented, and is a great way of discovering new bands - which is exactly what it's helped me do over the last year or so, since I first bought myself a copy.

This month, Terrorizer has begun a 3-issue special investigating the phenomenon that is progressive rock. This caused me to get a wee bit excited, I must admit. Appropriately enough, the CD contained more than the usual ration of music which would fall broadly under the heading of "progressive".

Here are the highlights:

Amorphis - The White Swan
(from the album Silent Waters)
From the start, my immediate reaction was "Opeth. Very Opeth." The similarities are hard to ignore, but attempting to do so yields some enjoyable differences. The vocals are given greater dominance, for example, and this is definitely the right move; while the growling parts may not be to everyone's taste, most would find it difficult to deny that the vocalist has huge talent, and this track demonstrates this wonderfully. If you want a description, the best avenue is comparison: think recent Tyr vocals, in the mood of My Dying Bride, with occasional hints of Turisas' stylings. The instrumentation, too, is subtly different from the majority of Opeth's work; this feels like less of an effort to make an audio painting, and more of an effort towards the songwriter's art.

This is recommended listening for anyone who loves Opeth, and anyone who thinks Opeth could stand to be a bit more down-to-earth.

Epica - Chasing the Dragon
(from the album The Divine Conspiracy)
Less of a progressive track, from less of a progressive band. Undeniable talent on the part of the vocalist, and quite a relaxing chill-out feel to the track; by no means a heavy offering. Without listening to the lyrics, one is left with a feeling of "OK, I had in mind something more in the mood of 'chasing' and 'dragons'", but you could do far worse than give this a listen.

Not an oustanding track, but worth a listen if you're a fan of Epica or any of Nightwish's more laid-back numbers (think Sleeping Sun, for instance).

Centurion's Ghost - In Defiance
(from the album The Great Work)
A more heavy offering, with a driving bassline. Echoes of rock and roll, with some fairly generic "angry" vocals; and, oddly, some guitar work reminiscent of black and heavy metal. Indeed, this is where the main appeal is in this track, for me: the music itself is very varied in style throughout, and acts as a good showcase of what this band is capable of.

A litle generic, but intriguingly eclectic at the same time.

Alcest - Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde
(from the album Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde)
Heard this, and had to have it. I would be loathe to class this as metal, so I'm not going to; it has electric guitars making the customary noises, but it's so ethereal in effect that the only headings under which this could conceivably fall would be "ambient", and "progressive". Hauntingly beautiful, with echoes of Opeth in their "Patterns in the Ivy" moods; this is one to put on and let it carry you away from grim reality for an all-too-brief sojourn in this compelling "Other world".

Listen to it. Listen to it now.

Sepia Dreamer - Capitulation [edit]
(from the album The Sublime)
Starting with a very Tool-esque bass intro, this track then goes in a less expected direction with the addition of strings, turning it towards a 5-minute instrumental that simply screams "progressive" (bearing in mind this is the edit version). It is both moving and undeniably talented, but I must admit to being left with a feeling of incompleteness. I presume this is either because it's an edit, or because it's intended to be a part of a larger work and is best appreciated (as with the majority of progressive music) in the context of the album itself.

Very much worth a listen, as a taste of what this band can (probably) deliver in a full album.

Ride the Sky - A Smile From Heaven's Eye
(from the album New Protection)
Power metal with an admittedly bizarre 80s electronic twist. In the main, this track gives us what every other power metal offering does, and very little more. The production doesn't quite feel right either, with the main backing riff sounding a little staccato for my tastes. If you can get past these, though, it's another name to add to your list of power metal practitioners. If, however, you're like me and that list is quite long enough already thank you very much, this band is unlikely to make you go out of your way to snap up what they've brought to the table.

Generic (mainly), but add it to your list if you're short of power metal.

And thusly, we draw to a close this review of the highlights from Fear Candy 45. For more information, head on over to the Terrorizer magazine website.


This is the inaugural post in my new blog, entitled (as no doubt you are aware) "Bacchus, Bragi and Thor". Unlike my personal blog, which can be found here, this particular corner of the magical ether will have a purpose and a mission. Granted, this mission is more a personal one than anything in the vein of public service - which means that I'm the only one who has to approve of what I'm doing. This is always Dead Handy.

Mission statement, then:

"To document my personal travels and travails through the World of Musics, and to humbly offer my own opinion on various works in this field."

Nice and open, don't you think?

Now, to the naming of the blog. I have very little in the way of restrictions to what I will actually sample as far as music is concerned; my main criteria are talent and originality, without forgetting the essential component of the effect the music has upon the listener. There are few ideas in the world which represent the emotion and irrationality of the human spirit more effectively than that of gods. While considering what sort of music affects me most deeply on an emotional level, I came to realise that, broadly speaking, they fall into three categories: fun, beauty, and sheer power. By no means are these black-and-white boxes into which music can neatly be slotted; shades of grey abound.

Before signing off from this historic first post, I feel compelled to add a qualifier to all that is to follow: if I were ever forced to pigeon-hole my taste in music, or name a favourite "genre" (no doubt my love-hate relationship with genres will become apparent), I would most likely go for something along the lines of "progressive", and, if pushed, would probably add "metal". I enjoy the fact that virtually anything displaying imagination can be classed as progressive, and in general (though by no means exclusively), I tend to listen more to that which is classed as "metal" than any other genre.

So it is without further ado that I present to you messers Bacchus, Bragi and Thor.

Bacchus, the (Romanised) God of intoxication and general debauchery, who bringeth the funs.

Bragi, the Nordic God of poetry, who bringeth all things of grace and beauty.

Thor, the Nordic God of thunder, who bringeth the Big Fuckin' Heavies.