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Falling to sophomore blues - down but not out - 84%

Gutterscream, April 18th, 2005

“…close your eyes, look in to your mind, see yourself as you really are…”

Whenever a band releases a pivotal debut or any strong lp for that matter, I’m always leery of the next step in their evolution. We all know of bands that unload one killer album where just about every song has your head spinning, then for follow-ups the creative bank seems to run dry and meaningful songs flow like roofing tar = disappointment. Admittedly, these were feelings I had during the months between Trouble’s debut and the unveiling of The Skull.

While I feel The Skull isn’t at all the monument that the debut is, it’s not the band’s tombstone either. Unfortunately, some of their renown doom influence has subsided for more mid-paced or faster speeds, their overall power seems more reserved, and I'll tell you isn’t exactly what fans were expecting. What hasn’t changed over the year is the lineup, nor have their Christian ideals been abandoned and even includes a Bible passage on the back cover. This signifies that despite lyrics saying to “beware the son of Satan”, “share the love”, and other things traditional underground metal fans of ‘85 would consider cuddly and gay, those fans still take to their vibe like a bat to a flying beetle. With the debut, hardly anyone was rolling their eyes to the band’s ideals because they were busy being flattened in their sockets by their music. With their sophomore effort, whether it be Christian or the clashing messages in Hell Awaits, Infernal Overkill, Feel the Fire and other ’85 releases, the music still retains enough sledgehammer delivery to slake the one year thirst. Stryper were more image oriented and glammy, plus they weren’t helping themselves with the gaudy and inane yellow and black attack ticket.

The lp and “Pray for the Dead” rises quickly and dramatically from silence with the commanding riff that would later back the chorus and is a fine song to kick off the project. Anyone who complained the vocals were buried on the debut would be pleased to know they’ve been unearthed here. Leaving behind the doom influence for a bit is “Fear No Evil”, one of their adventurously fast tracks, but shortly afterward “The Wish” stirs with many soft-spoken acoustical interludes that accentuate the surplus of momentums and wailing solos roaming this 11+ minute epic.

Side two’s “Truth is – What Is” incorporates a pretty conventional riff, doom-tinged yet somewhat predictable before throwing the velocity into top gear. “Wickedness of Man” builds more epic proportions that fortified their debut, meanwhile mid-tempo quickness dominates “Gideon”. The title cut is more your customary epic, mingling many moods, and is something one would anticipate to finish off an lp: satiny acoustics supporting saddened vocals, heavy lethargic tragedy, anger, drama, and a forceful ending of two-toned guitar.

As a reader of this, you may be thinking that my description of these tracks is a bit lacking, perhaps even somewhat disinterested. Unfortunately, that's the way I feel about The Skull. Would I have heard this initially instead of the debut, perhaps the atmosphere of this review would've been more vibrant, but I can't help but listen to this and wonder if the band were attempting to discard some of the doom for more of the driven or spare themselves the Sabbath fingerpointing and forge a sound more their own despite the success of the debut.

It would be two years before Run To The Light sees the horizon. Tune in next time.