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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Place of Skulls

The Black Is Never Far

Review by Gary Hill

I don't think it would be a far stretch to say that these guys like Black Sabbath. While these guys definitely have their own sound, it seems that a lot of their music is built on a motif that's firmly based in a sound that owes a lot to Tony Iommi's guitar work in Sab. Frankly, Iommi has such a tasty tone to his music, that this is a great thing as far as I'm concerned. Personally, even if they were a straight clone of early Sabbath I would like them, but to their credit, that's not the case. A lot of this music does sound like that band, but they bring in other elements ranging from Alice In Chains to classic rock, progressive rock and even full on mellow jazz to the table. They mix it all to create a sound that's both diverse and grounded in traditionally strong music. There isn't a weak track on show here, and this one is probably a contender for one of the most interesting metal albums of the year. In the final analysis, these guys rock!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Prisoner's Creed
While this cut is basically a pretty standard heavy cut that leans on nu-metal, the killer (almost Sabbath-like) riff and some awesome guitar work in general make this one a strong opener, and a potent number in general.
Sense of Divinity
If the last track had a bit of a Sabbath sound to it, this one might as well have come straight from the guitar hand of Tony Iommi. Slower and oh so heavy, this one would have been very much at home on Black Sabbath's first few discs. It's incredibly tasty. The guitar solo is especially tasty. When they power this one into overdrive later, I think the Sabbath essence intensifies even more. The guitar solo on this segment is sort of a combination of modern metal and Iommi's style. Then they drop it back to a mellow segment that has a similar riff to Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused."
Darkest Hour
In a complete change of pace they kick this one off with an acoustic guitar sound and it is a classic rock ballad in its approach. It kicks in after the verse to a hard edged, but rather slow riff that again has those Iommi-like sounds - a bit like Heaven and Hell era Sabbath. They move through like this for the next verse, a rather powerful one. This also has a bit of a modern hard rock sound like Alice In Chains and such groups. Some instrumental work after the next verse chorus is more in line with Sabbath again, but then they drop it back to the mellower, more melodic for an intriguing guitar solo. This segment is extended and very juicy with loads of classic rock textures ingrained. After this runs through for quite some time, the main Sabbath-like riff returns for another round, but then gives way to a segment that seems to bring most of the song's elements together in one piece.
Interlude
This is just what it says, a very short, quite mellow interlude.
Apart From Me
With a sound that calls to mind Paranoid era Sabbath, this one is a slow grind. It doesn't change too much throughout, but some of the arrangement also brings in more modern progressive metal textures. They turn in a very prog rock like progression later to good effect. The guitar solo late in the number is especially tasty with its soaring progressions. This one is another extremely effective cut on a disc that is rife with them.
The Black Is Never Far
Acoustic guitar starts this one off in a mode that could easily fit into a progressive rock album. As the arrangement fills in a bit it feels more like modern alternative rock/metal bands. This mode is the one that serves as the backdrop for the first vocals of the track. They just keep building it up throughout this verse, then move out into an expansive sound for the chorus. The vocal performance on this one really steals the show, packed with emotion. The arrangement here is interesting because while at times it feels like they might be on the verge of exploding out into crunchy metallic fury, they simply power up this ballad like structure instead. It's a nice way to show that these guys are far from a one trick pony. They drop it way back to the beginning sounds at several points. The closest they come to metal on this one is an energized instrumental break that eventually fades down to end the track. I wouldn't really say it's metal, but it is metallic.
We The Unrighteous
Black Sabbath is back in the house on this stomper that feels more in line with the Master of Reality era of that band. The chorus on this, though, has more in common with arena metal (and bands like Judas Priest) than it does Sabbath. In a total twist around rather than stomp out after this chorus they drop it back to a sedate musical interlude. You have to like any band who doesn't take the obvious and easy route. The result here is an unusual, but very strong track. They do bring the Sab textures back for the outro.
Interlude
Much like the last one by the same title, this is just a short mellow musical break.
Masters of Jest
The opening of this one is fast and furious, then they drop it back to another slower Sab-like grind to carry it forward. That sound makes up the bulk of this one and the guitar lays down some seriously Iommi-like soloing. Not all of the solos here are in that style, though, but all of them have a serious classic rock sound to them. The cut is full of guitar soloing, too. This may well be my favorite on the album. It's just so tasty. They fire it out into a faster paced jam that still is full of Sabbathisms later.
Interlude
This is pretty much the same as the other two pieces that we've heard so far by this title.
Lookin' For A Reason
In the biggest change up of all on the disc, this one starts in a fairly mellow classic rock jam, then shifts to quite jazz oriented stylings for a time. After a time another classic Sabbath-like riff joins the fray, but then it twists around with the earlier sounds as if they are sparring for control. The result is something that almost feels progressive rock in nature. When it moves into the verse, though, those Sabbath sounds rule the day. They turn this later on into a full on bluesy mellow jazz jam that would again almost qualify them as prog rock. They eventually power it back out into Sab-like metal fury. This is the most dynamic cut on the album, and one of the strongest. It's incredibly cool. 
Relentless
The spirit of Tony Iommi is present here, on the fast paced catchy as hell riff that drives this one. This whole song really feels like it could have been done by Sab on Paranoid. The vocals here come the closest to Ozzy's sound and musically the only thing missing is Geezer Butler's trademark bass. The song's changes and approach are probably 95 or more percent classic Sabbath. They move it through a number of alterations, but on this one the Black that is never far is Sabbath. I really like this one a lot, though and the faster paced groove later is quite tasty.
Changed Heart
Starting with a progressive metal ballad mode, this one eventually pumps out into more charged metal sounds, but it continues to return to the mellower sounds. Considering the music on this disc, the lyrical content is a bit of a surprise as this is without question a blatantly Christian song. The funny thing is, looking back at the rest of the titles (my copy doesn't have the lyrics) it seems likely that the whole album might have such themes, but they are only obvious on this one due to its approach. The tune is a tasty one, but perhaps not the best closer they could have chosen. I suppose maybe this concept of praying for a changed heart is what they wanted to leave the listener with. I just think that musically it doesn't scream, "play me again," like a final cut should. Still, that's my only quibble with this disc, and it's a minor one.  

 
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