|Musical Style: Melodic Doom Metal||Produced By: Victor Griffin & Travis Wyrick|
|Record Label: Exile On Mainstream||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2006||Artist Website: Place Of Skulls|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 45:52|
With the rumors of its demise greatly exaggerated, Tennessee’s Place Of Skulls returns with an excellent third full length album entitled The Black is Never Far on Exile On Mainstream Records. The band is actually following up its 2003 Southern Lord effort With Vision, a very fine work which saw founding member Victor Griffin (Death Row, Cathedral & Pentagram) join forces with doom legend Scott “Wino” Weinrich (The Obsessed & Saint Vitus) to create one of the strongest releases of the year. Subsequent to recording With Vision, Place Of Skulls put out a four song EP on Outlaw Recordings entitled Love Through Blood that was made up of outtakes from its 2000 full length debut Nailed. Word got out at around this time, however, that Place Of Skulls was calling it quits, but this news proved ill founded in that the band regrouped in 2005 and completed the recording process of The Black Is Never Far in time to release it in the spring of 2006.
While With Vision is certainly a tough act to follow, Griffin and company have without a doubt topped that effort in creating a versatile slab of doom-laden metal and hard rock that comes across every bit as melodic as it is bone crushing heavy. Versatile might be the key word here in that the album takes the plodding riffs and down tuned low end heaviness characteristic of the doom genre and fuses them with elements of stoner rock and groove, old school heavy metal, classic rock and the blues. Yes, a bit of variety, but what rises to the surface in the process is a high degree of creativity and passionate melancholy which is best reflected on tracks such as a “Sense Of Divinity”, “The Black Is Never Far” and “Lookin’ For A Reason”. Ultimately, what we end up with in The Black Is Never Far is the perfect amalgamation of doom-like aesthetics and memorable songwriting with good old fashioned and in your face guitar driven attitude.
Victor Griffin proves the driving force behind the band, contributing a smooth sounding but soulful vocal delivery giving rise to just the right amount of gut-level emotion that stands in perfect complement to the moody music here. As a guitarist, he adorns the album from front to back with his ardent and at times bluesy leads, his playing standing out best on “Masters Of Jest” and “Lookin’ For A Reason”. Tim Tomaselli continues to remain a monster of a presence on drums, while Dennis Cornelius furnishes the bass lines to seven of the albums tracks with former bassist Lee Abney filling in on three others.
Production values - crisp, clean and allowing for all the instrumentation to stand out in the mix - are done to near perfection.
Lyrically, The Black Is Never Far proves quite the moody effort, its lyrics born from pain in reflecting thoughts of doubt, weakness, loneliness and confusion- all the while the band making no secret of its faith but not to the point of hitting you over the head with it.
A more melodic aspect to the bands songwriting skills are put on display on the upbeat and groove laden hard rocker “Prisoners Creed”. Subsequent to a quickly moving but catchy riff carrying the song through its first and second verse, it breaks for a minute long instrumental section carried by a nice bluesy lead guitar break. The catchy riff returns, nevertheless, in time to take “Prisoners Creed” through its third and final verse. “Prisoners Creed” deals with the issue of human compassion:
Brother from the gutter
The wheels came off your ride
Grace don’t see no losers
Compassion I feel for your strife
The pace tapers off a bit with the slow and driving feel that “Sense Of Divinity” brings to the table. The drum solo opening the song gives way to a plodding wall of rhythm guitar, a foreboding atmosphere put in place as it strives to labor through its first verse and the catchy chorus that follows. Another extended instrumental section begins slowly only to pick up in pace for several seconds of fiery lead guitar work.
The acoustic guitar carrying “Darkest Hour” forward from the start holds sway over its first verse before a monster of a riff crashes in and shores up its sweeping pre-chorus in a prevailing manner. Gaining further momentum, the song peaks upon attaining an emotionally charged chorus with an overriding melodic feel. “Darkest Hour” returns to an acoustic based direction as it transitions to an instrumental passage showcasing a lengthy stretch of the albums best blues flavored lead guitar work. Beautiful song.
The albums first interlude, all ten seconds of it, is carried by a quietly played guitar line.
“Apart From Me” takes off to a burdensome riff driven over a down tuned and heavy low end, a nice catchy melody resonated as the song picks up in pace for its first and second verse prior to slowing for a brief but memorable hook filled chorus. An instrumental section shored up by a grit-laden guitar solo takes the song through its final minute and a half.
Griffin’s ardent vocal delivery helps put the albums haunting title track over the top. The acoustic guitar that creates an emotional setting during the songs first and second verse highlights the fleeting chorus that follows in inauspicious fashion. After a crisp rhythm guitar briefly moves to the front of the mix with just the right amount of edge, “The Black Is Never Far” returns to an acoustic based direction for its third and final verse. The lyrics to “The Black Is Never Far” come across moving in their delivery:
I got a beautiful woman who stands strong at my side
And a mighty God in Father Yah, still my reasons just don’t rhythm
A little pill supposed to kill and let my anger subside
But if I slit a wrist or connect my fist, would an innocent face survive
“We The Unrighteous” immediately pulls you in with its catchy hook. As the song moves forward, it jumps back and forth between passages driven at an upbeat tempo by a hard hitting rhythm guitar and others that move in a quieter direction to a blend of acoustic guitar and spoken word delivery. However, it is not just the music that sets “We The Unrighteous” apart but also its lyrics, addressing issues ranging from racism and judgmental-ism while betraying an overall feeling of anger. For example, the songs passages carried by a rhythm guitar almost come across biting and caustic in delivery- but purposely so in order to drive the message in question home:
We got whitey, a cracker agenda
We got redskins on reservations
We got hymies excelling in business
Aryan nation to keep them in check
But those driven acoustically, on the other hand, draw their lyrics from Matthew 7:1-5 in providing a warning against judging others:
Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others it will be used to measure how you are judged. And why worry about a speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own?
All in all it proves a very effective contrast that effectively conveys the songs message in no uncertain terms.
The albums second interlude, similar to the first, features a few seconds of quietly played guitar.
Getting underway to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar, “Masters Of Jest” settles down to an in your face guitar riff that immediately pushes it to a sweeping chorus with a message that comes across in the form of a warning:
There’s a way that seems right until mankind
But therein lies the ways of death
It takes a lot of trying to keep on denying
Paupers and peasants, masters of jest.
Maintaining its guitar driven momentum during its first verse and second chorus, “Masters Of Jest” closes out its final minute and a half to an instrumental section in which Griffin delivers some of the albums best biting work on lead guitar.
The albums third and final interlude features thirteen seconds of slowly played blues flavored guitar.
An almost mournful tone is taken as a saxophone solo helps propel “Lookin’ For A Reason” during the minute long instrumental section covering its introduction. Picking up in pace, an angst-laden rhythm guitar takes over and compels the song with just the right amount of catchy-mid-tempo energy through its first and second verse. The saxophone returns to open a nice extensive instrumental section only to soon give way to a scratchy guitar solo that cannot help but bring to mind Stevie Ray Vaughn. “Lookin’ For A Reason” closes out its third and final verse in the same catchy but mid-tempo manner.
“Relentless”, a reworked version of an old Pentagram song, gradually fades in before taking off at an upbeat tempo to a fast paced but groove-laden riff. Advancing through its first and second verse with an abundance of hook-filled energy, the song transitions to an edgy rhythm guitar driven instrumental section prior to closing as its title is repeated twice in good catchy fashion.
After an acoustic guitar takes the doomy semi-ballad “Changed Heart” through its first and second verse, the rhythm guitar arrives at the front of the mix in time to buttress a strong emotionally charged chorus. “Changed Heart” can best be described as a musical interpretation of the book of James:
Let no man say he’s been tempted by God
There’s no evil in Him to tempt anyone
But we’re all tempted when we’re drawn away
By our own desires we give way
And when that desire has been conceived
It gives birth to our sinful disease
So lay aside all our filth and woes
And accept the Holy Word which saves our souls
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Prisoner’s Creed” (2:51), “Sense Of Divinity” (4:13), “Darkest Hour” (6:00), “Interlude” (:10), “Apart From Me” (4:41), “The Black Is Never Far” (6:02), “We The Unrighteous” (2:38), “Interlude” (:13), “Masters Of Jest” (4:10), “Interlude” (:13), “Lookin’ For A Reason” (6:27), “Relentless” (4:28), “Changed Heart” (3:40)
Victor Griffin – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Dennis Cornelius – Bass
Lee Abney – Bass
Tim Tomaselli – Drums
Chastity Brown – Saxophone
Also Reviewed: Place Of Skulls – Love Through Blood