Album Review: Band Of Skulls – By Default

By Default

Band Of Skulls By DefaultReleased May 27th 2016

Words: Nick Jacques

Band of Skulls return with their fourth album By Default on the BMG label. Formed in Southampton back in the haze days of 2004, the band have gradually developed a strong and impressive fan base which has seen them secure slots at top festivals the world over and also tour all of its exotic corners. Their touring schedule this year sees them in high demand with shows in New York, a slot at Glastonbury, shows in Spain, Austria and then a big tour across Canada and the USA so there’s little to stop the Band of Skulls increasing their popularity and on the evidence of their latest offering they will deservedly win more accolades.

By Default kicks off proceedings in impressive fashion with Black Magic. A swath of crunching riffs and walloping drums reminiscent of the Dead Weather/The Kills. Its production and arrangements are slick and impeccable. But Band Of Skulls have always it seems prized themselves on high end production and this doesn’t seem to let up here at all and ensures they’re playing to their strengths.

The majority of By Default sees Band Of Skulls sticking to what they know they do best rather pushing boundaries or experimenting with fads. There’s no drastic style departure but more of a declaration of reassurance to their audience that they still have the right mix of clever ideas in their locker to play with and expand on. Past favourites like Asleep At The Wheel and Hoochie Coochie from their previous album effort Himalayan may be tough to better but I think Band Of Skulls give it their all and do their credentials no harm here at all. The glam/T-Rex style stomping beats of Back Of Beyond is a good example of this with a statement of fresh infectious pop-rock which they play with such effortless cool.

Body rocker track Killer shows a sense of unrelenting enjoyment which Band Of Skulls play with. It’s a great example of what they’re all about; edgy clear production, clever incisive percussion, building anticipation, epic swarms of riffs. The track is anything but short of yes… a killer!

This is a band who are sounding fresh, re-energised and clearly glad to be back in the fold of things. You can hear that in the impassioned vocals; expressive, strident and compelling. They seem to be intent on not letting up after a pulsating opening but on both Bodies and Tropical Disease they take a more measured hip-swing approach but nevertheless provide us with an intriguing direction. The latter has an all-consuming and dizzying mid-section which impresses as well as beguiles.

Lead single from the album So Good is a peach of a track which consists of a foals-ish build up and a chorus underpinned with an irresistible riff. This shows the depth Band Of Skulls have, and the fact that they’re able to switch vocals with Emma Richardson taking over and delivering a lush sultry display, is an even bigger tool to have at their disposal.

Most of the songs zip by in no more than 3 and a half minutes and this works well for them as they’re able to get across their songs with impact and keeps you stimulated throughout. The usual combo of interchanging vocals between Russell Marsdon (Guitar) and Emma Richardson (Bass) shows that they still maintain a refreshing sound about them. This works particularly well on the alluring and titillating number Little Mamma. Complements of screeching guitar wails and a grinding production combine well too. Overall, there is so much going on in all the songs here and Band Of Skulls achieve this with an assured sense of cool. Each song is built on layers and sections which consist of varying elements. This keeps the record from fading and leaves little room for any fillers.

Embers marks for more a departure in their latest outing of energetic hard-edged gritty rock. The vocal performance on here and as well as the rest of By Default demonstrates that at times they’re just as impressively delivered as their razor tinted guitar deliveries. I was enticed by the harmonies produced on Embers and the same goes for the track Love By Default which has a strong soulful presence coupled with a simple but effective piano that resonates well.

Band Of Skulls are not a band with one-dimensional intentions to play it safe and produce crowd-pleasers at every turn. They have the ability to make moving and intriguing songs as well as letting loose and amping it up when they want to. They are in control of musical prowess and have shown yet again that they’re capable of this.

Something, the last track on By Default, is probably one of my favourites as things take a tone down from the glossy guitar riffs and instead conjure up a sublime piece of sultry and meditative bliss that closes the album in pleasing fashion.

The album serves as a reminder that Band Of Skulls still very much have a strong and relevant voice in their field of music today. I’m sure their army of skull lovers will continue to grow stronger and in fact why not add another skull to that band’s progression and as a result go from being an understatement to a well-respected and reputable modern rock band. On this evidence, it should happen, by default.

Listen to By Default here:



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