Sunday Old School: Skyclad
It’s interesting that in well over a hundred columns, Sunday Old School has barely touched on the folk metal sub-genre, (unless you include Primordial and Bathory.) This week we will be rectifying this by examining one of, if not the first folk metal band, Skyclad. Skyclad was formed in 1990 by vocalist Martin Walkyier, who had recently left his position as lead vocalist of the thrash metal outfit, Sabbat, and former Satan guitarist Steve Ramsey, with the intention of forming the "ultimate pagan metal band," which initially included such ideas as costumes, though thankfully these were soon ruled out. The original lineup was completed by drummer Keith Baxter (later of Northern Irish alternative metal group, Therapy?) and bass player Graeme English, who had worked with Ramsey as part of Pariah. They soon signed with Noise Records, a surprising choice considering how they were alleged to have treated Sabbat and released their first album, "The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth" in 1991.
They added to their ranks after a tour with New Jersey thrash metal legends Overkill, when they recruited Fritha Jenkins to perform keyboard and violin duties and released their acclaimed sophomore record, "A Burnt Offering of the Bone Idol," the next year, in what was to be the first of several album titles involving what appears to be Walkyier’s love of puns, something brought up again on the third album, "Jonah’s Ark," on which they had replaced Jenkins with Cath Howell. Their next album was to be entitled, "Prince of the Poverty Line," which according to some members is their biggest selling album to date and is loosely a concept album, dealing with a decaying Britain left after the Thatcherite reign. Special editions of the album included a number of tracks from the groups, "Tracks From the Wilderness" EP, including a faithful but unique cover of "Emerald" by Thin Lizzy. Skyclad soon faced difficulties in keeping a stable lineup. After replacing Howell with Georgina Biddle for their fifth album, "The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea," both Pugh and Baxter decided to leave the group, though the band were still able to support Black Sabbath on their 1995 "Forbidden" tour, albeit as a last minute replacement for Tiamat, as well as releasing another album that year named, "Irrational Anthems."
Two more albums followed quickly afterwards. "Oui Avant-Garde á Chance" in 1996 and "The Answer Machine?" a year later. Eventually they were able to find a permanent drummer in Jay Graham and a second guitarist in producer Kevin Ridley, who recorded as part of 1999s, "Vintage Wine" lineup, as well the brilliantly named, "Folkemon" in 2000. A year later, the band would be rocked by the news that founding vocalist Martin Walkyier was leaving the group, citing various issues including what he saw as a lack of commitment from other members, so Ridley became the new vocalist of Skyclad. They marked this change by recording two covers of "Swords of a Thousand Men," one recorded with the original writers, Ten Pole Tudor and one without, as well as an album of "Irish pub versions of Skyclad songs."
A battle ensued after these releases however, with Walkyier and the new formation of Skyclad entangled in a dispute over copyright and royalty issues, but in 2004, the group were finally able to release their first album of all new material since the departure of Walkyier, "A Semblance Of Normality," (taken from a line in the song, "Parliament of Fools.") The album was well received and was finally able to grab the attention of English speaking music fans, who had largely ignored the band previously. Since the release of their latest album, "In The… All Together," in 2009, news from the band has been somewhat scarce, with the band performing only a handful of shows each year, mostly at festivals. Whatever the future may bring, no-one can deny that they were an incredibly important part in the blueprint and subsequent explosion of folk metal which is becoming rapidly more popular the world over.
Skyclad - "Thinking Allowed"
Skyclad - "Inequality Street"
Skyclad - "Building A Ruin"
Skyclad - "Swords Of A Thousand Men"
Skyclad - "Parliament Of Fools"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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