By Gruesome Greg
Victor Griffin is a doom metal guitar legend, having forged the heavy riffage of Death Row in the ’80s, which would become known as Pentagram for commercial purposes. On Place of Skulls, he also takes care of vocal duties on what could be considered his pet project. As the album opens with the down-tempo strains of “The Maker,” I can certainly hear some parallels to the classic Death Row material. There at least a handful of riffs on this record that capture the “Sound of the Swamp” better than Bobby Liebling’s Maryland Doom Metal All-Stars do these days—when Griffin isn’t playing with them, that is.
Yet Griffin bears little vocal resemblance to Bobby, sounding more like the alt-rock crooners of 90’s bands Collective Soul and Brother Kane. This actually suits the music quite well—an ominous sign, and it ain’t no “Sign of the Wolf,” lemme tell ya! The album exudes a laid-back, mellow vibe, Griffin clearly distancing himself from the doom metal scene—except when he decides to toss in a couple heavy riffs, just for the hell of it. This makes for a Where’s Waldoesque game of “Spot the Doom!” that becomes somewhat frustrating for certain slow-motion headbangers such as yours truly.
“Though He Slay Me,” despite its evil-sounding title, has the lyrical content of an infomercial for Contemporary Christian Rock 3! The next song title, “Psalm,” says it all. Alas, tis not an evil warning of hellfire and brimstone a la Trouble’s Psalm 9 from the get-go, but a mellow, laid-back sermon with bongo drums—that is until a truly Pentagrammic riff kicks in prior to the guitar solo at the three-minute mark with an Eric Wagernian wail from Griffin in the following verse.
“Timeless Hearts” throws another multi-instrumental twist at us, opening with a harmonica solo, followed by a doom-metal guitar riff, in what seems
like straight-ahead rocker, with even a touch of Liebling in Victor’s voice—until another harmonica ushers in the slow, swirling riffs and whispered lyrics that plague the album throughout. “Desperation” sounds like an honest-to-God attempt at a power ballad through doomy blue lenses. Actually, it’s a Steppenwolf cover, which isn’t as badass as… wait, does anyone over 15 consider Steppenwolf to be badass anymore?
Let’s put it this way: if you’re expecting a true doom record from one of the masters, you will be disappointed. And I’m pretty disappointed in this record.
(Giddy Up! Records)