Place Of Skulls
As A Dog Returns
posted on 10/2010 By:
I've never really considered Place of Skulls to be outright "Christian metal," despite the candidly pious slant to the lionshare of their lyrics. Sure, there's plenty nods to theologic affairs, but it's always been the band's kindred pursuit of Peace of Mind that I've truly connected with from one release to the next. The undeniable shroud of contrition and misery that permeates beneath the extolling salvation on their road to inner peace -- it's something I find quite consoling. I bring this up not in hopes of spurring some sort of pontifical debate, but because I sincerely believe those non-religious (and irreligious) folks out there who pass on a record such as this simply because they cringe at the thought of Lordly shout-outs jumping from their speakers are really missing out on one of doom's greatest resources. Sorta like a pack of burly born again bikers in a bar, Place of Skulls might honor and hail Jesus, but you'd have to be thick in the fucking head to poke fun at them.
Beyond the pleasing sense of atonement cruising these tunes, there's also the obvious pedigree behind founding member Victor Griffin that makes the music of Place of Skulls something I'd positively regard as essential listening for any fan of soulful traditional doom music. And what's particularly intriguing to me is the fact that even after spending ample time with the seminal Death Row, the venerable Pentagram and now this three-piece, the well of heavy riffs and fiery leads at Victor's disposal still shows zero signs of scraping bottom, even after three decades of playing. Suffice to say, this man stands amongst a handful of other heavy metal guitarists who seem as though they'd face some sort of exploding consequence if they didn't vent their energy by firing lightning across a fretboard for our pleasure.
As a Dog Returns is a remarkably good album -- certainly well worth the four year interval since the amazing The Black is Never Far. And as strong a bond I felt with that 2006 release, this offering has already hit me harder in a shorter span of time. The breezy, summery haze that touched the corners of the previous record has been extended this time around, so those particularly taken by tunes such as "Lookin' for a Reason" will definitely find plenty to enjoy. Opener "Timeless Hearts" and "Psalm" ply a relaxed hook through their use of harmonica and hand percussion, while "Daybreak" and the closing title track rely mostly on Victor's polished shimmery leads to ease a smooth, relaxed feel before eventually dropping those familiar PoS buttery doom riffs accompanied by Lee Abney and Tim Tomaselli's belting rhythm.
Place of Skulls' more somber, rueful face is well represented here as well. "Though He Slay Me" breaks out with the album's most ecclesiastic feel with Victor's pleas to Jesus accompanied only by a gingerly strummed electric, but it eventually slips into a very satisfying grip of remorseful jamming by its hefty midpoint. And the record's personal highlight, "Breath of Life", darkly slays with brooding, bluesy riffs before Victor rips a staggering lead straight to the very marrow at its 4-minute mark.
Honestly, there's nothing I can think of to complain about here, apart from the promo skipping one of the songs ("He's God"). The more direct, walloping "The Maker" harkens the hefty Nailed days, and the exceptional version of Steppenwolf's "Desperation" further solidifies the fact that Place of Skulls is damn-near unparalleled when it comes to delivering their take on a swinging cover tune. Tack on Victor's soulful voice as a perfect accompaniment to the band's smooth, syrupy brand of classic doom and you've essentially got one of the best albums to surface from the genre since...well, since the release of The Black is Never Far.
So, based on my score and the obvious exaltation of my words, it probably comes as little surprise that I count As a Dog Returns as a very serious contender for my album of the year. And despite the fact that I think any fan of heavy metal should find the music on this record moving, I'll admit it will be MOST rewarding to those of us who've been anticipating its release since the day we first caught wind of it. Longtime Place of Skulls fans, you will be very pleased: As a Dog Returns is yet another pensive, very personal look into one of doom metal's greatest gems, and the results are mighty, mighty impressive.
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