Let's get this out of the way up front – PLACE OF SKULLS are Christian. Their themes are rooted in Evangelical Christianity. Their faith, and the testimony thereof, are overt. Yet they have impeccable Doom pedigree, having been formed by Victor Griffin (PENTAGRAM), and counting among its members, past and present, Scott “Wino” Weinrich (SAINT VITUS, ex-THE OBSESSED, ex-SPIRIT CARAVAN, and countless others.), Lee Abney (ex-DEATH ROW), Tim Tomaselli (ex-PENTAGRAM), Greg Turley (PENTAGRAM), and Ron Holzner (EARTHEN GRAVE, ex-NOVEMBERS DOOM, ex-TROUBLE). Those fans who would write this band and this album off because of thier faith orientation can bugger off, while the rest of us enjoy some real old-school Traditional Doom.
“As A Dog Returns” opens with killer riffing in a fantastic, fuzzed-out tone akin to the desert sounds of KYUSS, and it is this sound that makes this album special. Gritty and emotive, the sound coaxed from the amplifiers here gives the music the punch that elevates this album from Sunday morning TV preacher cliché to a personal statement about trial, failure, and redemption through spirituality.
Strengthening the gritty realism of this album are the vocals, courtesy of Mr. Griffin, who delivers with a somewhat gravelly tone that implies years of hard living. “Breath Of Life” in particular brings the wearied sounds of both the guitar and the vocals into perfect juxtaposition, creating an angst that is palpable, and giving emotional heft to the song.
Given the thematic thrust of the album and the geographical base of the band members in Knoxville, Tennessee and Chicago, Illinois (the former known for its location within the American Bible Belt and its proximity to the Grand Ole' Opry; the latter known as the center of the Urban Blues tradition), it is unsurprising that both Country and Blues music have strong influences on the music here. “Though He Slay Me” plays like a Doomed-up Country ballad, while the harmonica on “Timeless Hearts” carries a strong Blues vibe. “Desperation” is the dirtiest-sounding track, made all the more heavy by the presence of a Hammond Organ. The only time that this formula fails to deliver is on “Dayspring,” which comes across sounding like a Doom version of downtempo BOB SEGER.
This is a really good album, displaying the work of inspired, experienced musicians. Those who enjoy Doom, as well as the uniquely American styles of Country and Blues, will find something here to like.
(Online August 12, 2011)