ALBUM REVIEW: THEIGNS & THRALLS – Theigns & Thralls (2022)

The new project from Skyclad vocalist Kevin Ridley Theigns & Thralls sees the release of their self titled debut album and while it may divide Metal fans it’s one that should get Celtic-Punk fans very excited.

Theigns & Thralls is a new band formed by vocalist and songwriter Kevin Ridley. Kevin has been a long time member of the English heavy metal band Skyclad who always played with strong Folk influences throughout their music. The plan for Theigns & Thralls was to be a somewhat ‘occasional band’ for the times when Skyclad were inactive. With the pandemic though the idea took on a new lease of life and became a collaborative recording project. Calling on his many friends in the music scene across Europe, twenty-five musicians from bands like Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Cruachan, Waylander, Celtibeerian and Metal De Facto as well as a handful of solo musicians contributed. Everything from drums, bass, guitar, violin, whistles, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy and vocals were covered and the result was the first Theigns & Thralls single, ‘Drinking’, in February this year.

I think you can divide the album into three parts with the the first few songs leaning more into Celtic-Punk territory before becoming more Metal / Rock influenced while the last few songs, mainly the bonus tracks are more folky / experimental. The album kicks off with ‘Procession’, a short bagpipe intro that builds and builds and leads straight into album title track ‘Theigns & Thralls’

“from Magna Carta to the age of reform,
suffrage is still not the norm for one and all,
still theigns and thralls.”
which gives us a chance to explain the name ‘Theigns & Thralls’ which means masters and servants in Shakespearean era English. While many of the Metal style flourishes are left the pacing of the song is classic Celtic-Punk which ought to please fans of both. Kevin Ridley says about the song:

“I decided early on to have an eponymous album, so the album had the same name as the band, but I also thought to go one stage further and add a song with the same name. As it is the opening song, I wanted it to up-tempo and be anthemic as it also conveys some of the band’s underlying philosophy, in terms of its socio-political stance. Again, Dagda’s pipes helped to lift the song and I really enjoyed adding a bit of old-school harmony guitar here.”

As mentioned above it was the song ‘Drinking’ that really set things off for Theigns & Thralls. The album version is longer than the video and contains the ‘drunken guitarist’ intro. A anthemic song unlikely based on a 17th century poem by Abraham Cowley with a multitude of players on it, including Emilio Souto on guitar, Jonne Järvelä on mandolin and Dave Briggs on whistle. Band founder Kevin adds:

“I came across an old poem called ‘Drinking’, I thought folk-metal and drinking, what could possibly go wrong? Again, this song has a big chorus and I thought it would be good to ask all the people playing on the album to add some backing vocals and do a little video of themselves recording it so we could make it into a video.”

A great song that encapsulates the fun side of Theigns & Thralls. Catchy and with the most perfect pint / fist in the air chorus I’ve heard in a good while.

Next up is the first version on the album of the fiddle led ‘Strive’ with its thudding and ominous bass followed by ‘The Lord Of The Hills’ which has a 70’s English Folk ring to it. ‘Life Will Out’ is another song that has two versions her. This one significantly better than the one that closes things. Female vocal from guest appearances from Celtibeerian accompanies Kevin (using a voice transformer) with bagpipes and chugging guitar giving it a dark feel. ‘The Highwayman’ begins with a rather cheesy spoken word intro before tearing into a rockin’ version of the 1906 poem by Alfred Noyes. Set in 18th-century rural England, the highwayman is in love with Bess, a landlord’s daughter. Betrayed to the authorities, the highwayman escapes ambush when Bess sacrifices her life to warn him. Learning of her death, he is killed in a futile attempt at revenge. However, their souls reunite after death. Speaking of love, courage, and sacrifice, perfect themes for Theigns & Thralls. ‘Today We Get To Play’ is the most Celtic-Punk track here and actually reminds me of a handful of bands from the scene in it’s upbeat-ness!

‘The New Folk Devils’ touches on serious subject matter of judging people on their looks from Mods and Rockers then to immigrants today. Slow enough to take in Kevin’s vocals it’s followed by ‘Flora Robb’ an instrumental Folk number with excellent piping. The album part of Theigns & Thralls ends with ‘Not Thru The Woods Yet’ and a superb catchy song which brings to mind Flogging Molly. The first of the bonus tracks is ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ and ought to be familiar to people on this side of the pond due to it’s time being used as the theme song for the classic British TV series Sharpe starring the king of Yorkshire himself, Sean Bean. Performed again in that 70’s English style. ‘The Queen Of The Moors’ is, I think, the only Skyclad song here featuring on their 2017 album Forward Into The Past. To close out the album the last three songs are a a acoustic version of ‘Strive’ followed by the shorter video version of ‘Drinking’ before the curtain comes down with a Electronic / Industrial remix of ‘Life Will Out’ that I’m afraid didn’t interest me at all at first but I rather got into after a few plays!

The album seems to have divided fans of Folk-Metal in that many were expecting the album to be a lot heavier than it is. I don’t understand though why these folk would imagine the point of setting up another Skyclad when the original is still running! We on the other hand absolutely love it and why not it’s a steady mix of Celtic-Punk, Folk, Folk-Metal and classic rock! Saying that at just under a hour it is far too long and some of the bonus tracks are a bit unnecessary. Perhaps it might have been better to release them independently as a EP. Now that the album is out Theigns & Thralls have put also become a ‘touring band’ in their own right but as of going to press gigs are mainly in Europe excepting a short tour her in December taking in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Kent and Lancaster.

Buy Theigns & Thralls RockshotRecords

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