Theigns & Thralls – Theigns & Thralls Review

Theigns & Thralls—incidentally, very much how AMG Industries’ editors regard their relationship with the rest of the writing staff—is the brainchild of Skyclad vocalist Kevin Ridley. Formed originally as an outlet for some of Ridley’s back catalog and other material, it quickly mutated into something much more as the pandemic put an end to Skyclad‘s touring plans. Seemingly formed of five principal members, Theigns & Thralls‘ eponymous debut features contributions from some twenty-five musicians from bands such as Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Cruachan, Waylander, Celtibeerian and Metal De Facto, as well as solo musicians, ranging from drums, bass, guitar, violin, whistles, bagpipes to hurdy gurdy and vocals. With that many moving parts was Ridley able to keep a leash on his thralls, or was it a case of too many theigns spoiling the ale?

Theigns & Thralls is a … heady mix of Celtic speed-punk, outright folk, folk metal and classic rock. These influences wax and wain according, I assume, to which of the various contributors are involved at any particular moment. The front half of the album leans more heavily into the folky punk sound, while the middle section hits a more classic rock stride before Theigns & Thralls lapse briefly into folksy mien, including “Over the Hills and Far Away.” It’s hard to say whether I was disappointed or not when I discovered this was not a Led Zeppelin cover but rather a cover of a traditional song, the best-known version of which is probably John Tams‘, used as the theme song for British TV classic Sharpe.1 As a whole, the package feels somewhat uneven, with the changes in mood oftentimes jarring, as Theigns & Thralls ricochet from rollicking punk-adjacent folk-rock (the self-titled title track and “Drinking”), to folk-rock (“Strive” and “Lord of the Hills”) to just folk (“Flora Robb”).

Added to the mixed bag of styles and slightly erratic pacing of the album, are some painfully awkward lyrics. After the instrumental folk intro track, “Procession,” the record launches into the title track, which includes gems like: “from Magna Carta to the age of reform, suffrage is still not the norm for one and all, still theigns and thralls.” Next track, the raucous folk-punk number “Drinking (Theigns Mix)”,2, majors in chanted shouts of “drinking” and is not nearly as much fun as it sounds (“the sea itself which one would think should have little need of drink, drinks ten thousand rivers up”). It’s largely downhill from there.

For all the stellar associations of its contributors, Theigns & Thralls is a poor album. It feels rushed in all respects, from writing, through structuring and pacing to production. While Ridley’s vocals for  Skyclad have never really done it for me, I can get on board with them in that context. On Theigns & Thralls, however, they often feel flat and strained, with the title track a particular offender. The rest of the performances are solid enough but, overall, the whole contrives to be significantly less than the sum of its parts. While not completely devoid of decent moments, even the better bits come with their challenges. Ominous bass and fiddle-driven shanty “Strive” is enjoyable enough but then its menace is stripped away just as thoroughly on the album’s acoustic version, as Darth Vader’s menace was by Revenge of the Sith. Similarly, the classic rock stylings of “The Highwayman” are good but, to enjoy of that, you have to first get through a cringe-inducing spoken word passage and then do your best to absorb the solid vocals without actually hearing any of the lyrics. The production does very little to help the situation, often feeling thin and crushed—DR10 notwithstanding—and placing the emphasis too heavily on the vocals.

Ridley has said of Theigns & Thralls‘ debut that, “because of lot of the album was written and recorded in a fairly short space of time, there is certain feel and continuity to it.” I am afraid I have to disagree. The record is rushed and, although there are decent moments to be found, they are scatted across it. As we at AMG Industries delight in doing, I am also here to tell you that, at just a few minutes shy of an hour, Theigns & Thralls is too long. This is not a case of too much of a good thing (as it was with Meshuggah) nor is it a case of needing a few minutes shaved off. It could stand to lose at least “Today We Get to Play,” “Life Will Out” (both versions of it) and “The New Folk Devils,” with the rest being restructured. This would not make it a good album but it would be better. I think.


Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rockshot Records
Websites: theignsandthralls.com | facebook.com/theignsandthralls
Releases Worldwide: April 8th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Yes, I own DVD boxset and yes, I’ve watched the extras.
  2. The ‘Thralls Mix’ comes later and adds nothing worthwhile.
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