Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Place Of Skulls - As A Dog Returns
Musical Style: Doom Metal Produced By: Travis Wyrick & Victor Griffin
Record Label: Giddy Up! Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2010 Artist Website: Place Of Skulls
Tracks: 9 Rating: 85%
Running Time: 55:12

Place Of Skulls - As A Dog Returns

When discussing the best kept secrets in the traditional doom metal scene, Place Of Skulls is one of the first that comes to mind.  The group, drawing its moniker from Golgotha, the hillside in early Roman times where Christ was crucified, remains the brainchild of guitarist Victor Griffin, who gained renown for his work in legendary doom bands Death Row and Pentagram during the eighties.  A decision for Christ the following decade, however, led Griffin to form Place Of Skulls with the goal of making music reflective of his new spiritual outlook.

As A Dog Returns finds Griffin recording for the first time with original members Lee Abney (bass) and Tim Tomaselli (drums) since the groups 2002 Southern Lord debut Nailed.  Musically, the album fits well with the Place Of Skulls back catalog, which also includes With Vision (2003) and The Black Is Never Far (2006), in staying true to the doom metal and stoner rock genres.  The band, for instance, delivers its share of bluesy laid back riffing not unlike Black Sabbath and Pentagram but can also touch upon the power and heaviness that is Trouble and Candlemass.  You will encounter the trademark Place Of Skulls penchant for versatility as well, reflected in influences ranging from old school 70’s classic rock, straightforward hard rock to Southern rock.

If I were to invite a comparison, As A Dog Returns lacks some of the up-tempo hooks and more accessible feel of The Black Is Never Far in straying towards the gloomier, moodier and more swarthy side of things.  But is this a drawback?  By all means no in that the group has switched gears in creating a work characterized by songs that are slower and lengthier with added time and tempo changes and occasional penchant for the ballad-like.  The end result is an album that might take several spins to grow into - at least that was my experience - but is well worth the investment in time and effort.

While Place Of Skulls remains rooted in doom, As A Dog Returns delivers its share of diversity, including, melodic doom (“The Maker” & “Breath Of Life”), worshipful doom (“He’s God”), acoustic doom (“As A Dog Returns”) and epic length jam-based doom (“Dayspring”).  The group, at the same time, is not hesitant to throw the occasional curve ball, as can be found in the ballad flavorings of “Though He Slays Me” and “Psalms” or hints of the progressive on “Timeless Hearts”.  Rounding things out is the traditional blues based doom of the Steppenwolf cover “Desperation”.

Victor Griffin continues to bring a soulful and heartfelt vocal presence, his penchant for the poignant helping to lend to the albums feel of “doom and gloom mixed with optimism and faith” (as one reviewer put it).  Speaking of faith, lyrics find Griffin wearing his beliefs on his sleeves in no uncertain terms (most lyrics come with direct scripture references).  If anything, As A Dog Returns is by far the most forthright and bold release from Place Of Skulls to date, at least since the 2004 EP Love Through Blood, which includes the 4 songs rejected by Southern Lord (for the Nailed debut) due to their uncompromising lyrical content.  Griffin best sums things up in a recent online interview: “It’s really just how I feel about my faith, what I’ve been dealing with regarding my spiritual life, and how I see my relationship with God. How it’s grown, how it’s not grown, and where I’ve failed in those kinds of things too.”

As A Dog Returns is nothing less than a guitar dominant release, which is testament to Griffin’s plodding and brooding riff emphasis, but he can also lighten the mood with periodic acoustic elements (this is where that previously referenced Southern rock influences comes into play).  I also appreciate how the band makes numerous excursions into extended jam band territory (such as on the ten minute “Dayspring”) that allow Griffin to showcase his blues styled but sophisticated soloing abilities.

The foundational bass lines of Lee Abney (check out his work on “Desperation”) joins with heavy footed drummer Tim Tomaselli (he is at his best on “The Maker”) to reinforce the Place Of Skulls rhythm section.

Track By Track

“The Maker” is one of the albums catchier and more up-tempo pieces.  Characterized by its stalwart riffing and technical drum fills, the song brings a subtle but persuasive melody that with repeated listen – the key words here – will remain with you for some time.  Holding everything together is a two minute instrumental interlude upheld by a caustic lead guitar.  Lyrics deal with abortion:

Foundations of time from the first earth age
You breathed life into each and every soul
Before the child conceived, the plan was secure
A life no law of man can claim or hold

In the end our human will won’t be done
Though thru time we deceive ourselves to believe
And the blood that we spilled, the dreams that we killed
In those fractured wombs we’ll one day grieve

A similar direction is taken on “Breath Of Life”, albeit at the somewhat slower tempo.  A mournful and emotional six minute sigh, the song also delivers a subtle melody – chorus is very catchy (by far the albums finest) – while highlighting an extended run of Griffin’s gritty lead work.  “Breath Of Life” represents a cry out to God:

Restore to me Lord the joy of Your salvation
Please don’t take Your Holy Spirit away
These broken bones can’t take another night
For You alone are the Breath Of Life

Will You pass my way again I pray
Mercy underserved, light again my days
Apart from You, only hopelessness abound
Give me strength to live and be found

“Though He Slays Me” is as close as it gets to a doom-metal ballad.  The song slowly drifts through its verses to a quietly played guitar, not picking up impetus until reaching a brief but taciturn chorus reinforced by a staunch rhythm guitar.  The moving feel to the music fits the lyrics at hand:

My flesh is weak, my soul is frail
But in my weakness Your love never fails

Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him
This passing world, all in vain, still tugs at my heart
With all its desires and promises, it can never impart

Obedience over sacrifice
Is Your desire, not by my own device

More ballad touches can be found on “Psalms”.  The song begins its first two and a half minutes calmly with rolling drums in the backdrop.  Initiative picks up to the more forthright tempo as the rhythm guitar steps forward, pushing things through an extended instrumental outing prior crawling through a final vitriolic verse.  Closing things out is a minute long stretch of soloing.  “Psalms” is aptly entitled:

But with You is forgiveness
That You may be feared
So I expectantly wait
And put my hope in Your Word

Like a watchman for morning
Even more so I wait
And hope In Your Lord
For there Your mercy redeems

“Dayspring” is the albums longest at just under ten minutes.  The song reaches its length due to being half instrumental, including an extended rhythm guitar romp at the halfway point and another several minutes of soloing that closes things out.  In between, “Dayspring” gradually trudges through its weighty verses and an every bit as hulking chorus.  A statement of faith is made here:

Have you scratched the surface of light
Staying bound in darkness, doin’ your time
Well, God Almighty has a future and hope
These thoughts toward you He wants you to know

Trust in Him, not how you understand
In all your ways, He will direct your path
At this pace there’s peace you will find
Guard your heart for it flows the issues of life

“Timeless Hearts” invites some progressive elements.  The song, starting to a still instrumental opening carried by harmonica and ethereal guitar feedback, takes off at once as the rhythm guitar slams in.  A more decisive tempo is put forth as the first two verses are explored but just as suddenly the harmonica and guitar feedback return as I Corinthians 13:4-7 is recited:

Love is patient, love is kind
Does not boast, rejoices in right
Love bears all, believes all things
Hopes all things, and never ends

An extended instrumental passage ensues.  Incredible show of creativity.

The worshipful doom of “He’s God” takes the more straightforward heading, drifting between slower, bass heavy verses and a guitar based chorus steeped in majesty and emotion:

He’s God, forever and a day
He’s God, He is the only way
He’s God, He’s the King on high
He’s God…

Momentum picks up exponentially for a hard rocking instrumental interlude sustained by some complementary radiant lead guitar.  Again, lyrics reflect a worshipful slant:

In the storm of our lives
When it seems we can’t bear
The pressure each day
Sometimes it’s so hard to care
And our souls cry out
We’ve got to take a stand
Put our trust in Him
He is the Beginning and End

“Desperation” is doom but steeped in traditional blues.  Laid back, downtrodden and just plain heavy, this one plods its length as Griffin shines with his blues drenched licks and chops and a gritty vocal presence that aligns perfectly with the musical happenings at hand.  Some Hammond B-3 in the backdrop adds to the dogged scene.

The albums title track highlights some acoustic elements.  By far the albums lightest piece, the song brings the more positive and uplifting feel but can flex its muscles as well with some focused guitar flavorings.  The chorus, in particular, is delivered in quite the heavy hitting fashion.  Things close the way they started- to a touch of acoustic guitar. “As A Dog” focuses on temptation:

The tempter found one little crack
In my armor I thought I patched
Then took me places I shouldn’t have gone
I found myself much too far from home

All the kingdoms pleasure for a season of time
But the glass ain’t clear till you drink the wine
Now in stride I climb the steps from deceit
What the world offers brought me to my knees

As A Dog Returns adds up to another quality doom outing from Knoxville, Tennessee’s Place Of Skulls.  If you are a fan of the groups back catalog then the album – staying true to the doom metal and stone rock genres but with a bit of variety – will be certain to appeal to you.  That being said, the album did take a bit of time to grow on me, but as already reinforced, it is well worth the investment in time and effort.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “The Maker” (5:05), “Breath Of Life” (6:08), “Though He Slay Me” (4:52), “Psalms” (5:29), “Dayspring” (9:55), “Timeless Hearts” (7:44), “He’s God” (4:54), “Desperation” (5:34), “As A Dog Returns”, (5:28) 

Victor Griffin - Lead Vocals & Guitar
Lee Abney - Bass
Tim Tomaselli – Drums

Guest Musicians
Michael Crawley – Harmonica
Julius Blue – Keyboards
Travis Wyrick - Synthesizers


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