It was a day of Skycladian surprises when this one arrived for review the other day. There’s the ever-recurring disbelief I have when I see how many years a band have been going whose debut I went out and bought and seems like only a few years ago – and yes, old-fartdom was re-enforced this time by the realization that Skyclad were formed way back in 1990. Another surprise was that founding member and former-focal-vocal Martin Walkier has been out of the band since 2001! Where does the time go? The line-up has actually been stable since then (with the only addition being the band’s early 90’s live guitarist Dave Pugh being invited back into the fold a couple of years ago), and yet (surprise number 3…) this is their first album since 2009!
What have they been doing? Well, Skyclad are an utter force live and it’s clear this is where there heart lies – their music just comes alive on stage, buoyed by a receptive audience, it’s an experience not to be missed. Though in the studio they are none too pedestrian either, and like any long-lived band, people will have their favourite album, period or even style, but Skyclad’s folk metal mantra remains a constant on every release. Obviously, “Forward Into The Past” continues that legacy. You know what to expect from Skyclad, the forefathers of Folk Metal, and every time they deliver.
Anyone who has heard Skyclad before knows what to expect musically, and the only particular difference from the sound of their albums of say, fifteen years ago is current vocalist Kev Ridley against the aforementioned Martin Walkier. Mr. Walkier’s voice is so distinctive that it’s a hard act to follow and fortunately Kev hasn’t tried to plagiarize or copy, he just does his own thing – a very British NWOBHM style with a strong flavour of Dark Heart in the phrasing and a bit of The Levellers in delivery – it all fits well and works just fine. Granted, the vocals are just the topping on another feast of Skycladia that sets out to spoil the listener with it’s varying drum rhythms (no two songs the same!), showcases perfectly George Biddle’s excellent violin work, and which in turn transcends the fabulous musicality of Ramsey/English – as it has done for so many years now to such great effect.
There’s plenty of different tempos, levels of aggression/groove/complexity and lots of memorable moments. If you’ve ever liked a Skyclad track in the past, there will be something to enjoy for you on “Forward Into The Past”. Further analyzing basically just boils down to personal taste, as it so frequently does, but I feel worthy of note is that aptly named title track, which has a noticeable energy and pace that harks back to the bands early couple of albums, yet fits perfectly among the current crop. “Unresolved” is 54 seconds of beautiful acoustic guitar and utter gorgeousness and I love the whole feel of “Words Fail Me”, a mid-tempo Metal anthem with catchy sing-along chorus.
For me though, if you have to hear just one track that not only encapsulates Skyclad now as well as emphasize their excellent pedigree it has to be “Change is Coming”. It’s fast, insistent drum line sets the scene with an energetic descending riff crispened with fiddle, that rises once more in a fabulous chorus…it’s hard to explain, but if I heard this track in 1997, 2007 or 2017 I would immediately recognize it proudly as Skyclad. It couldn’t be anyone else, and that’s what makes the UK’s very own Skyclad unique, enchanting and special. And of course, after this release the band will have even more songs to try and work into that ever-bulging set list ready to unleash on more rapturous audiences all over the world.
(8.5/10 Andy Barker)