In the opening track of the new Band Of Skulls album, Russell Marsden cries, ”’Cause where we are going is anyone’s guess.” But the U.K. band’s path is less mysterious than he asserts. Band Of Skulls struts down a well-trodden lane lined with blues and metal. Like a crunchier Black Keys or a less slithery Kills, Band Of Skulls tends to hang out in the darker corners of today’s rock scene, though they’re never too cool for a memorable melody. Imagining the band members sitting around when they were kids and listening to Black Sabbath records is just as easy as picturing them listening to T. Rex.
The trio comes out swinging from the get-go with “Asleep At The Wheel,” the drums hitting you straight on while the guitar and bass alternate left and right hooks. This is the best song on the album, so enjoy it while it lasts. The funkified swing of the title track follows, and then the band goes back to pummeling on “Hoochie Coochie.” Bassist Emma Richardson does far less tag-teaming with Marsden on this album, and she first lends her lead vocal during “Cold Sweat,” a psychedelic experiment that breaks its slow and sultry pace when guitars swirl up from the abyss in murky intervals of intrusion. The first half of the album closes with “Brothers And Sisters,” which opts for the hippy-dippy “We’re all brothers and sisters in the end” and sets the scene for the tamer, blander final six songs.
Producer Nick Launay has been at the helm of some pretty crushing albums, ranging from Public Image Ltd.’s The Flowers Of Romance in the early 1980s to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz! released in 2009. It’s surprising then that Himalayan doesn’t go as hard as it could. There are the obligatory guitar punches and metal-style squalls, but everything has been spit-shined and cleaned up. This is the band’s third album and first without Ian Davenport producing, and maybe his absence is to blame for the over-polishing. There’s no stomping “I Know What I Am” on this one, no sludgy “Sweet Sour.” The bottom line is, these guys have always just wanted to rock, and Himalayan is the first album that doesn’t let them.