|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Victor Griffin & Travis Wyrick|
|Record Label: Veritias Vinyl||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 80%|
Is it doom metal, or is it hard rock? Since its founding in 2000 by former Death Row and Pentagram front man Victor Griffin, Knoxville, Tennessee based Place Of Skulls has fielded the same question from music fans and critics alike. The group’s earlier material, encompassing its debut Nailed (2000) and sophomore release With Vision (2003), strayed towards the former with a rawer, metal based sound firmly rooted in down tuned low-end heaviness and the slow paced riffing to match. On The Black Is Never Far (2006) Place Of Skulls started drifting towards the latter in taking a more melodically driven and acoustic laced heading while still staying true to the passionate doom-laden melancholy of its past. Maintaining a similar penchant is As A Dog Returns (2010), with its focus on lengthier songwriting distinguished by quieter passages and instrumental jam sessions merged with the groups established slower and weighty sensibilities.
Griffin’s most recent project, In-Graved and its spring of 2013 Veritas Vinyl self-titled debut full length, is certain to also face the question as a result of drawing upon all aspects of the Place Of Skulls back catalog. No, it would not be fair to label In-Graved “doom metal”, but you will encounter much of the heavier set and trenchant particulars inherit to Nailed and With Vision, albeit on the lighter and more tempered side of things. Mixed in are also the traces of the outlaw biker rock, stoner groove, classic rock and bluesy hard rock that made The Black Is Never Far and As A Dog Returns such solid releases, keeping in mind In-Graved is not quite as dark as the two.
Those interested in a traditional doom-laden sound need look no further than “Digital Critic” and “Thorn In The Flesh”, two thick as a it gets maulers combining equal parts stalwart guts and engaging emotion. Slower pieces “Fading Flower” and “Love Song For The Dying” play up a somber and reflected milieu entrenched in the blues, while “What If…” takes the more 70’s influenced rocked up and groove driven approach. You will also encounter three covers on In-Graved, including re-recorded versions of two songs from Griffin’s 2004 solo release, the biker rock of “Late For An Early Grave” (of which was the title track) and anthem based “Never Surrender”, and lighter but catchy Jethro Tull classic “Teacher”.
Repeat play reveals that in order to understand In-Graved one must first understand the musical evolution of Place Of Skulls. It is a matter of putting things in proper perspective in that In-Graved represents the next logical step for Griffin, with the upshot being how the album plays up a “like” sound in that it would not seem out if place if it came out under the Place Of Skulls moniker. That being said, what separates In-Graved is the manner in which it makes use of Hammond Organ (courtesy of Jeff Olson of Trouble) in lending a perfect 70’s flavor to the trudging backdrop. So the best way to look at things would be to say that In-Graved presents with a “whole lot different a whole lot the same” type scenario.
The lone mainstay remains Griffin, who continues to bring a soulful and heartfelt vocal presence that gives rise to just the right amount of gut level emotion- and perfectly adapts to the at times gloomy and at others uplifting nature to the music at hand. He also remains a riff driven monster on guitar, knowing when to flex his muscles on the albums heavier pieces but instinctive enough to temper things on its quieter moments. Bluesy but sophisticated would be the best way to describe his soloing, with lengthier tracks “Fading Flower” and “Love Song For The Dying” reflecting a bluesy side to his abilities and more focused pieces “Digital Critic” and “Thorn In The Flesh” a grittier flair.
Heavy footed Pete Campbell (also of Place Of Skulls) effectively handles timekeeping skills, while a host of bass players guest throughout the albums eight tracks.
Production brings a crisp and clean feel in allowing all instrumentation to breath in the mix (proper production is a trademark to past releases from Griffin). Also of note is the 4-panel digi pak with a multi-page booklet featuring lyrics and a host of tastefully done vintage photographs.
While I might hesitate to label In-Graved a Christian album, its lyrics are reflect of Griffin’s faith, most notably on “What If…” (asking the ultimate question about what follows this life) and “Thorn In The Flesh” (persevering and maintaining the faith in the face of failure). Other topics include dealing with the struggles of life and finding ones place in the process (“Late For An Early Grave”) and a strongly worded discourse regarding online music reviewers and their qualifications (aptly entitled “Digital Critic”. See the track by track for further detail). The overall feel at hand is Christian art presenting a Christian perspective.
In-Graved might be a bit short in featuring just 8 tracks, but each song works well together in giving rise to a logical front to back flow. No filler or skip buttons are encountered as a result. Some reviewers have complained about the inclusion of the two tracks from the artists solo album; I beg to differ in that said album was so obscure that most will more than likely have never heard them to begin with. And those that have agree the two get the much more full and satisfying treatment here. In the end In-Graved has a great deal to offer those into the doom, stoner, groove, classic rock and bluesy driven genres. So let’s hope that not only do we hear more from In-Graved in the future but that Griffin also develops a soft spot in his heart for us “digital critics” of the world!
Track By Track
The old school doom of “Digital Critic” gets things going. With its extensive low-end and stalwart riff action, the song walks a fine line between the caustically driven and somberly conceived. A satisfyingly stretch of gritty lead guitar helps make this one of the albums finer tracks. On “Digital Critics” the artist takes his shot at online music critics:
Wired to the world, a loaded gun in hand
Your profiled image, is power you’ve never had
On the keys your king, in wired life you reign
And no credentials to speak of in your digital domain
Face reflecting pixels, you plan your next critique
And rape the powerful pen,
Perfecting your technique
Senseless evaluations of an artist’s heart
Where you’ll never get what you judge in their art
My thoughts? In its most legitimate form record reviewing is a position of service rather than one of power- keeping in mind responsibility lies in the hand of the reviewer. Regardless of form, a review compares favorably to a knife in that it can used for both constructive (in the kitchen) and destructive (as a weapon) purposes. James 3:9-10 sums things up best:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
“What If…” maintains the stalwart penchant. This one comes across hulking in its groove driven capacities, with Griffin’s passionate vocals setting the persuasive tone and airy keyboards reinforcing the trenchant scene. The acoustic guitar at the end lends an airy touch focusing on eternal matters:
What if your last breath was just what you said
And the last thought you had when the clock strikes you dead
You cease to exist in body, mind and soul
And the time that you spent on earth was just a show
What if you are right and this is all there is
So what if you died and your blood just turns to mist
But what if you’re wrong, and a new world awaits
And death lost its grip in life beyond the grave
A more up-tempo direction is taken on old school rocker “Late For An Early Grave”. The song muscles front to back, spirited and vibrant in capacity but tempered at the same time with the albums weighty mindset upheld in all its heavy hitting form. Chorus proves indelible and lead guitar every bit poignant.
Steeped in traditional blues, “Fading Flower” plods and crawls its distance - by far the slowest of the tracks here - but exudes equal doses of heartfelt emotion and passion. Yes, bluesy but radiant at the same time- and very listenable. A lengthy stretch of mournful soloing helps take things past six minutes.
“Thorn In The Flesh” represents another doom influenced track. The same brawny mindset makes its presence felt, guitars grind and plow front to back and low-end is weighty in form, as Griffin’s impassioned vocals again play the defining role. Keyboards roar in full fury, while entrenched soloing celebrates the backdrop. This one is aptly entitled:
By nature’s desire, I’d pluck it to the wind
My jar of clay is treasure when I’ve nothing to give
Let my weakness be what makes me strong
Let this thorn keep me, hold my pride down low
Without it I’d reap what my flesh would sew
So brother carry on even if we fall
Even when we bleed, from the mud we crawl
Jethro Tull cover “Teacher” highlights a commercial vibe. This comes in the form of the catchy chorus (almost radio friendly in capacity) but can also be located in the upbeat milieu: At least in comparison to much too much of the material here (observation and in no way a critique). Either way, the song stays true to the In-Graved heavy hitting formula while also adding a lighter 70’s influenced tone to the album.
“Love Song For The Dying”, another lengthy piece at just under seven minutes, reflects a darker and more somber mood. The song plods every bit as much as “Fading Flower” but heavier, driven and steadfast with guitars in full force and attitude approaching the sullen. Despite the angst melody stands out crisp and clean, fully embracing the moody In-Graved downtrodden penchant. Lyrics need no further explanation:
Generations come and generations go
But only the love we give will be what lives on
The seeds that we plant today will grown in hearts beyond
So soon our rising sun will be settling at dawn
Remember how we once were brought low
Don’t forget the image in the mirror we saw
Our only desire, a compassionate face
A Man of no repute to absolve us with grace
“Never Surrender” takes the catchier and more upbeat heading. The song starts to a drum solo prior to rollicking the rest its way, with animated riff action and mirthful aura in abundance putting in place what amounts an uplifting atmosphere. Hook driven would be the best way to describe what is going on here.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Digital Critic” (4:29), “What If…” (5:05), “Late For An Early Grave” (4:38), “Fading Flower” (6:14), “Thorn In The Flesh” (5:28), “Teacher” (4:01), “Love Song For The Dying” (6:47), “Never Surrender” (4:02)
Victor Griffin - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Jeff Olson - Keyboards
Pete Campbell - Drums & Percussion
Mike Puleo - Keyboards
Anne Griffin - Bass
Ron Holzner - Bass
Guy Pinhas - Bass
Mary Swaney - Bass
Dan Lively - Bass
Greg Turley - Bass