Skyclad: Martin Walkyier (vocals); Steve Ramsey (guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar); Dave Pugh (guitar); Cath Howell (violin, keyboards); Graeme English (bass); Keith Baxter (drums).
One of Skyclad's strongest efforts, 1994's Prince of the Poverty Line saw Britain's leading (OK, only) pagan-thrash-folkers flying at maximum broom-warp thanks to the now symbiotic songwriting partnership between enigmatic vocalist Martin Walkyier and guitarist Steve Ramsey. No longer the stuff of questionable arrangements and clunky transitions (often the case on early efforts), album highlights such as the requisite energetic opener, "Civil War Dance," the violin-infused, metallic quasi-jig "Sins of Emission," and the stunning, even more fiddle-dependent power ballad "The One Piece Puzzle" all attain the highest creative caliber with unprecedentedly fluid proportions -- yet do so without breaking away from previously established Skyclad modes. So fluid and familiar, in fact, that it almost goes unnoticed that longtime violinist Fritha Jenkins had been replaced by one Catherine Howell (who would herself be gone within the year), or that these tracks were still, in essence, very odd, bizarre, and original. As usual, though, it's Walkyier's lyrics taking the cake in this regard. As has become an inimitable trademark over the years, his inscrutable tales of fantasy, feigned (or real) insanity, and even silly humor are spun into surprisingly topical and realistic dissertations, if one actually takes the time to dissect them. As for other mentionable moments, there's the added keyboard layers embellishing standout tracks "Cardboard City" and "Land of the Rising Slum," an unexpected choral backdrop contrasting nicely with the hard-charging "Gammadion Seed," and, with Ramsey and fellow six-stringer Dave Pugh holding court, there's not a wasteful guitar solo in sight. Simply put, one of Skyclad's best. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia