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I am in two minds about this album. I bought it for two reasons, the first being that I have enjoyed a lot of the Southern Lord releases & secondly it features Scott “Wino” Weinrich. Although I’m not generally much of a traditional doom fan, the projects Wino is involved in are generally pretty cool. There is more than a nod to classic Black Sabbath, but perhaps more consistency. I have a few of the other bands this guy is involved in including The Hidden Hand, Spirit Caravan & Saint Vitus all of which are great examples of how trad doom should be played.
Although I feel I should not judge a bands merits by their personal beliefs, I have been lead to believe that the two main members of Place of Skulls besides Wino have Christian beliefs. I just can’t get this out of my head when playing the album. OK, so it shouldn’t really matter, I know, but as generally I follow satanic black metal bands it just feels wrong somehow to put such conflicting items in the same CD collection! So therefore I don’t feel quite so wrong feeling this way. It also seemed strange that Southern Lord signed this as they have been moving in circles far closer to black metal. Anyway….
For now I will try to put this out of my mind to write about the album. As always, Wino is on top form vocally, so no complaints there. Sometimes, he can have the tendency to over-exaggerate his performance & become a sort of parody of himself. Thankfully, this album does have the positive element that Wino’s voice varies in tone, but yet maintains a high standard throughout with effortless cool. For those who are familiar with his voice, it still has that timeless quality. Of course, a certain Ozzy Osbourne comes to mind, as even now ‘Sabbath does not lose its appeal. On many occasions Wino has been compared with Ozzy vocally, though I find Ozzy has a voice which can grate after too long (however good it is). I have tended to think that Wino-era Saint Vitus is a worthy alternative for those who cannot handle owning ‘Sabbath since all the shameful “Osbournes” MTV crap. Place of Skulls is basically a good choice for those who do not link music so much to lifestyle & just wish to hear some heavy riffs.
Throughout there are loads of, dare I say it, groovy seventies style riffs. The guitar is very bassy as you would expect, but it is incredibly clear as is typical of trad doom. There are elements of blues, heavy metal & rock’n’roll, which make the album more interesting to listen to. There are also lots of solos mixed in with the generally slow paced riffs & plodding drums. It’s pretty much packed with the sort of tunes you would expect to hear in a biker bar. Heavy but strangely relaxing & with a retro feel. That is one thing I find appealing about trad, is the genre’s ability to take the imagination towards the past. Later in the album, the songwriting isn’t too far from latter day Cathedral, though not so extreme. There are also some quieter acoustic moments which add an edge to “With Vision”, instrumental tracks which alter the mood somewhat & are on the brink of being sombre pieces. Despite the dubious religious beliefs of certain members, this is not actually a bad album, though a little generic in places.
I would recommend this to diehard fans of trad & obsessive collectors of the genre. To be honest, there is nothing which actually draws any attention to religion too obviously or forcefully, the lyrics are quite interesting & seem to deal with themes of times past, breaking free from the modern World & death amongst other things. “With Vision” basically seems to be a project which has a pretty solid outcome. The album could be compared to Mirror of Deception, Penance, (early) Grand Magus, & Lamented Souls.
Although I find this quite easy to recommend to others, I am still undecided myself. I have given the album 50% as my personal pros & cons for the album are about equal. Place of Skulls are obviously talented musicians & experienced in writing some heavy tunes, but I’m not sure this is for me.