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.

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