Just looking at the current and former members of Place of Skulls should be enough to indicate what an amazing band they are. Consider this list of acts: Pentagram [US], Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, Trouble, Spirit Caravan, Novembers Doom, and others. Place of Skulls has been around for quite some time, and despite being a die-hard doom metal fan, The Black Is Never Far is my first introduction to them. This is their third album.
Place of Skulls is led by former Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin who handles also the vocals on the album. Griffin is accompanied by the ferocious bassist Dennis Cornelius from Oversoul, another kick-ass doom band. And Tim Tomaselli is responsible for the drumming. The trio have created an amazing piece of work, with varied soundscapes and dynamic arrangements. The album makes a safe start with “Prisoner’s Creed” that recalls St. Vitus with its relentless old school riffs and slightly blues-tinged solo. Griffin’s vocals fit right in as he proves he is as expressive a singer as he’s a guitarist. The band’s deeply Sabbath-rooted musicality is displayed on cuts like “Sense of Divinity” and “Apart from Me”, both of which boast crazy soloing from Griffin. Actually the former is a lot more experimental than most of the Sabbath reportoire; it’s a song that moves from sludgy build-ups to frenzied solos to tense silences. It is a very dramatic song and helps set the grey tone for the rest of the album.
Expanding on Griffin’s love for the contrast between really heavy and soft passages in songs, the trio experiment with this approach on “We the Unrightous”, a song whose lyrics address corrupt politicians, with the softer parts helping the band to convey their messages. However, there are also entirely acoustic numbers on the album: “Darkest Hour”, my personal favourite, begins with gloomy acoustic guitars, employing some rhythmic variations, and even Opeth-like breaks. The solo by Griffin on this song sends chills down the spine; I love this one so much that I even thought this may be the most moving lead I’ve heard all year. Each note is there to make a point and the fluidity in his expression is stunning. The title track is also mostly acoustic-based, but they do highlight some of the darker moments with forceful guitar attacks and the song is finalised with another nice lead solo.
By the way, it is worth mentioning that three out of the thirteen songs on the album are just short intros that are usually below the 20-second mark. One of these pieces, simply titled “Interlude”, serves to heighten the very bluesy and, dare I say psychedelic, “Lookin’ for a Reason”. What a song indeed. Painful acoustic guitars are strummed slowly as a forlorn saxophone theme soars above the piece and Griffin ventures into a bluesy solo that is a bit like Jerry Cantrell’s earlier work in Alice In Chains (a similar pattern is followed on the heavier “Masters of Jest” by the way). Again the soloing on this song is beyond my abilities to explain. This album, while holding oldschool treasures, is also a perfect amalgamation of unique riff construction, poignant melodies, and spiritual lyrics.
Place of Skulls have released a very powerful doom metal album, which ranks up with the best works of their former bands and will appeal to fans of other amazing groups such as Cathedral, Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass, and of course 70’s Black Sabbath.
Doom shall rise.