How far have they come?
The trio from Southampton, England – comprised of two singers Russell Marsden, Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward – have been plagued with comments of how they sound too much like this or that, since the very beginning of their career.
Because they do. They sound like many bands. Great bands, actually.
But despite what critics may argue, Band Of Skulls have an uncanny ability to make a familiar style sound fresh and irresistible and their new producer Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire) has ensured to capture that and more.
Sure, they haven’t had much chart success, but you don’t get to support bands like the Black Keys, Muse, The Dead Weather or the Queens of the Stone Age unless you are unique. And if you do get to tour with bands of this caliber, it’d be stupid not to learn a few things from them.
Himalayan stylistically shoots off in many directions from the get-go, even more so than their previous efforts. The songs are like puzzle pieces that seem like they belong to different pictures – but once you put the pieces together, you are rewarded generously.
Band of Skulls have always managed to sound big even as a three piece band, but they went even bigger on some of these tracks. Himalayan (the song) is as monumental as the title suggests, the intro could be a James Bond opening theme. I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying begins with a bit of surf-rock that progresses into a big Muse-like chorus that ends with a scorching high octave solo.
Tracks like Hoochie Coochie, Brothers and Sisters and lead single: Asleep at the Wheel; are all outstanding tracks that are heavier than anything they’ve done before without compromising their sound. With brash stuttering guitars throughout these tracks it sounds like there’s been a Queens of the Stone Age influence here.
Then to balance it out, they’ve written some great ballads with gorgeous melodies. You are all that I’m not has a great melancholic guitar that glides and rivets over the beat like some of the more atmospheric songs by Kings of Leon like Cold Desert – accompanied nicely by sweet gospel back vocals.
Heavens key and I guess I know you fairly well are the classic Band of Skulls tracks that start off soft until it gets to the heavy chorus that crackles with energy – their signature song structure.
The one weak track is Get Yourself Together. It’s cheesy lyrically and the music: even more so. It has some good arrangements but it ends up sounding like a generic 90’s alt-rock track.
The dizzying shifts in style are probably due to the fact all three members play guitar and are very involved in the song writing. As a result, they’ve all got their hands on the wheel trying to drive the songs in different directions. Like they suggest in Asleep at the Wheel: “Where we are going is anyone’s guess.”
The vocal interplay between Russell (guitar) and Emma (bass) are immaculate as usual, but Russell breaks new ground by using layered guitar riffs and playing more solos than in their previous albums. The lyrics can be simplistic at times, but they’re evocative and sincere. But ultimately, the true strength of this album is in the over all blend of sound.
When the guitars aren’t serenading you, they sound like they’re raucously carousing as the vocal harmonies dance alongside hopping and skipping across psychedelic, surf, desert, blues and garage rock. Although there are still room for improvement, Himalayan is a great album that will no doubt keep rock music fresh and relevant for younger generations and older alike.
– Sion Weatherhead
Top Image, Album Cover.