Album Review: Band of Skulls – By Default

Band of Skulls’ rise in the industry has been slow yet well deserved, from the garage rock present on their first record ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey’, to the near stadium anthems present on ‘Himalayan’, their unique take on American Rock ‘n’ Roll has made them one to watch. However, in this modern age it’s getting harder and harder to keep the tried and tested blues rock sound interesting. Any band that assigns themselves to the genre automatically seems to dig themselves into a hole of comparisons, with the likes of heavyweights The Black Keys and The White Stripes often being mentioned, which is why after three albums, Band of Skulls need to pull off something special if they want to keep their latest release sounding new and relevant.

From the first few snare hits in opening track Black Magic it’s clear we’re listening to a far more produced record than what we’ve heard previously. For this record the band took on legendary producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Pixies) whose influence is clear across the album, easily making it the tightest Band of Skulls record we’ve seen so far. However, despite the tight production, there are songs on the album that lack ingenuity, making them rather average efforts compared to their previous works. This is particularly obvious on Back of Beyond that sees the band try and manufacture a chirpy rock song complete with a poppy sing along chorus. So instead of getting the gritty rock and roll sound that we’ve come to love, we are actually greeted by something that ultimately sounds like a cheesy 90’s sit-com theme.

It’s not all bad news though, lead single Killer does sound, as it were, killer. It’s not a massive departure from their previous style, but they do it so well it’s hard to not love. With a brutal chorus and excruciating riffs, the song makes for a fun listen, not to mention the ‘woops’ and ‘ah’s buried in the background. Little Moma also demands attention with opening lyrics from Frontman Russel Marsden leading into a suitably large drop. ‘I believe that you and me are gone’ he sings, before the muddy guitars come roaring in. The verses are complemented by frontwoman/bassist Emma Richardson’s harmonies as well as subtle vocal stabs seeping through from the background. All of this culminates in a searing guitar solo that contrasts with the slick production of the rest of the song.

Whilst it’s clear that Band of Skulls are trying their hardest to inject some new life into a vastly overdone genre, they do often fall into the trap of achieving what can only be described as ‘dad rock’. Songs such as Tropical Disease and So Good try hard to differ from their usual blues rock sound, taking inspiration from samba and 80’s disco respectively, but still don’t manage to steer away enough from the band’s staple sound to garner any real interest. In Love by Default however genuinely surprises, with a fast paced middle eight section thrown in that differs significantly from the groove of the rest of the song. Does it work? Maybe. Does it surprise? Almost definitely.

Overall the production on this album is tight, but the attempts from the band to experiment with the blues rock genre whilst keeping it radio friendly don’t always hit the mark. This paired with the production and ‘dad rock’ song writing make the end result sound like a compilation of songs you might hear playing in a particularly edgy Peugot advert. It’s not a bad album, but certainly not an amazing one. Unless of course you’re over the age of 40, in which case you’ll probably love it.

By Matt Austin

The Verse Staff

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