The year was 1991. The band was Skyclad. The album was The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth. And thus was born a thrash metal gem, and also the genesis of Folk Metal.
I reckon this album slays. Back in the day, I was drawn to this album through my love of UK Thrash legends Sabbat. After they broke up, their vocalist (and lyrical genius), Martin Walkyier got involved in a band that was able to make an impact at a time when Metal in general was being beaten into submission by Grunge.
From this interview on website Metal Covenant, Walkyier had this to say on his transition from Sabbat to Skyclad: “It was kind of a natural thing really. I think the two are closely linked together. A love of nature, really, when you start thinking about it, causes you to look at the mess we are making of the planet. The way things are going wrong, the way governments behave, and treat the general population; not to mention social problems. It’s sort of my lifetime philosophy to open people’s minds to what’s really going off. The desert religions as I call them (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), all kind of preach that this planet, and everything was made for our benefit, and belongs to us. This leads to the capitalist outlook on life, you know, take, take, take!“
I cannot understate how brilliant Walkyier’s lyrics are … here are some from the song Our Dying Island:
“If we think the world is our oyster we’ll surely choke on the pearl,
It is ours for a while to respect not defile–but minds drunk with
power still whirl.
The lands we dispute are not ours to pollute–neither the air that
But how will we ever see reason when we can’t see the wood for the trees.”
This album is a riffing banquet, with many highlights, including the very start of the opening track, which introduces a fiddle. Then there is the song Skyclad, which has a little bit of Ozzy’s Crazy Train to it in feel, but takes off with some genuine thrashing, swirling, melodic joy. The drum work is more complex and musical in the way it adds to the songs, in comparison to Sabbat. The guitar work in general, including the solos are top level, and the production is on point. The bass tone is really standout, and the folk instruments and non-metal elements are mixed with great intuition to brilliantly fit the style of the music on show.
The folk elements in a Metal sense was a big talking point. Sure, some Doom Metal bands had started to introduce violins and ambient elements (My Dying Bride, for instance), but Skyclad had song elements that were pure shanty. Listen to the classic, and the most pure folk song from this album, The Widdershins Jig, and it is clear to see how much of an influence this was, not only on how Skyclad evolved, but on Folk Metal in general.
On the folk elements, and the idea in general of being inventive with one’s musical outputs, in this interview here Walkyier had this to say: “I think it’s really good when people try and mix different types of music together ’cause innovation is what music is all about. People should always try to break new ground. I admire anyone who tries to do something different with music nowadays and experiment. I’m not too fond of bands that follow trends and jump on bandwagons and follow what is fashionable at that time. I like those who take chances … If weird means actually trying to pass a message off with your music, a very important message about what it means to be a human being in the turn of the millennium and in a world where we are racing onwards faster than our minds can grasp, then I’m proud to call what we do weird. We are trying to make unique music, a modern metal band trying to use traditional instruments, and just be proud of where it takes us and the heritage of where we came from. You have to embrace your heritage or it will be forgotten.”
Folk elements aside, for me, the real strength of this album is Walkyier’s lyrics. He always has so much to say, and in such a perfect way, that I find myself being distracted at certain times by his words, and the music becomes foundational and almost background, as I replay his words in my mind, given the depth of his phrases. Now this may be just me, but that is my reflection on this album and it adds so much more to it as an experience, and elevates the release as a classic that deserves appropriate recognition.
From Sky Beneath My Feet:
“Follow me, follow and I will lead with truth that hurts like stick and stone
When rats their scuttled ships departed, birds of a feather sought their own
The goose that lays the golden egg, I’ll sacrifice and bury it
If you don’t believe me watch me as upon its grave I spit
Worldly treasures have no worth but self-respect is beyond price
And Hell’s the best alternative when faced with your fool’s paradise”
It’s a tough call, but my favourite song on the album is the track I mentioned earlier, Our Dying Island, which is about the environmental destruction of the planet (nothing has changed there unfortunately). Again, extremely powerful lyrics, and you can hear the pleading, the anger, the desperation and despair in the lyrics, the vocal performance and the music.
If your experiences to date with Skyclad are purely the later Folk Metal, go for a trip back in time to 1991, when other albums released from that year included the Metallica Black album, Human by Death, Arise by Sepultura and Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden, and listen to this album … do so on a good set of headphones and be imbued with a masterclass of Thrash, lyrics (poetry) that speak genius and the birth of Folk Metal.