Tuesday, February 10, 2015

…the endless road turns dark: THE SKULL – ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’

With pedigree and history in mind, The Skull have managed to deliver on the almost unthinkable promise of rekindling the flame of classic era Trouble. While ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’ may not—due to both nostalgia and overall execution—quite eclipse Trouble masterpieces ‘Trouble’ (aka ‘Psalm 9’) or its doomier follow-up, ‘The Skull,’ it would sonically fit comfortably between ‘Run to the Light’ and their 1990 self-titled release for Def American Recordings. The Skull have essentially picked up where Trouble left off twenty-five years ago, but with a warmer, more mature approach to songwriting.

Despite the obvious stylistic similarities between the two bands, The Skull can stand on its own two legs, particularly due to front man Eric Wagner’s voice. While Wagner still tackles themes steeped in spirituality, existentialism, and internal struggle, his voice has deepened with age. While this may reign in some of the youthful aggression and desperation found on Trouble’s early releases it yields a weathered, sage-like wisdom to the Skull’s compositions.

Though Trouble’s Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin stand as two of the great guitar duos in metal, Lothar Keller and Matt Goldsborough give them a run for their money, particularly on the album standout “The Touch of Reality,” a doomed ode to misery. Holzner anchors the tune with just one of many beguiling basslines and Keller and Goldsborough take their shredding to sprawling heights. With “The Door,” another album highlight, The Skull have composed the gloomiest song that Trouble never recorded. It is a bass-heavy track carried along on waves of creepy organ courtesy of Jeff Olson interspersed with haunting roars of distortion and Wagner’s ruminations on inner turmoil.

At this point it may be impossible to separate The Skull from Trouble’s legacy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Wagner clearly is still thematically inspired by seeking answers to the unknown, loss, guilt and forgiveness, and spirituality or mysticism—timeless themes that lent early Trouble much of their appeal. Despite the similarities, The Skull are on the road to forging their own identity. ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’ has easily surpassed expectations and proven to be one of 2014’s highlights. It’s unfortunate that Jeff Olson has amicably split from the band as his drumming was a distinctive feature of The Skull’s sound. Fans of early Trouble and traditional doom will not be disappointed by this killer debut…


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