Place of Skulls - The Black Is Never Far
Exile on Mainstream Records
Doom Metal/Rock
13 songs (45'52")
Release year: 2006, Exile on Mainstream Records
Reviewed by Alex

The name, Place of Skulls, has a lot less to do with seemingly emanating menace and more with the Christian beliefs of the bandleader Victor Griffin, the legendary guitarist of the Pentagram fame, who also assumed vocal duties with Place of Skulls. The name is a meaning of the Hebrew word Golgotha, the hill in Jerusalem where Christ was crucified, also known in Latin as Calvary. Having missed Victor’s cooperation with Wino on With Vision, I am glad Place of Skulls has given me another chance with The Black Is Never Far, making a comeback of sorts after some internal soul-searching.

Famous for its bluegrass, Knoxville, Tennessee, is capable of giving the world a metal band. We all heard of funeral doom, deathdoom, stoner, but how about the warm and fuzzy feeling of bluesdoom? You betcha’, it exists and The Black Is Never Far is a perfect proof to that effect.

Place of Skulls delivers a certain number of heavy rockers on this album (Prisoner’s Creed, Relentless), but most of the time the music flows like thick molasses, Victor Griffin’s guitar strings probably tree trunk thick. This classic doom guitar sound, rooted in Pentagram and Trouble, as well as Dennis Cornelius’ rumbling bass, somehow manages to be gentle in the hands of Place of Skulls, yet never losing an ounce of heaviness. Place of Skulls has a ton of melody on The Black Is Never Far, and even the songs where I was not completely hooked up with it (Apart From Me, the statement song We The Unrighteous), I was sold purely on sound alone.

Almost hand-clapping rhythms of Prisoner’s Creed, its simple structure and melodic lead set things up, a Neon Knights-like opener. The album’s signature, however, would be cuts like Darkest Hour, where Victor’s crooning supported by acoustic guitar and percussion work by Tim Tomaselli in the verse becomes a distinct grumbly riff flowing alongside the drum roll in the chorus. And do not forget a bluesy solo jam. Another introspective track, Lookin’ for a Reason, features one more tear-jerking lead, with saxophone adding a beautiful touch.

Semi-acoustic numbers like the title track and the closer Changed Heart bring a new meaning to the term of manly sorrow and sadness, no small thanks to Travis Wyrick’s production. Here is the lesson to many modern metal crooners who manage to destroy such songs, you don’t have to become whiny to be mellow, you can be sad yet remain a man.

Situated somewhere between heavy rock and doom metal, The Black Is Never Far is both classic and classy, you could hear Masters of Jest fitting on Paranoid, blues overtones and all. Yet, this album is distinctly American, and, even more specifically, Southern in its nature. Deep and honest, the songs will be perfect for a live setting, should there be one. It is also an interesting and understudied phenomenon why many American bands (Trouble, Pale Divine) chose to bring their beliefs into the realm of “white” doom metal.

Old school and tuneful, the album is perfect meeting grounds for both American doom veterans as well as new fans, even those who might be teetering on the borders of heavy music in general.

Killing Songs :
Prisoner's Creed, Darkest Hour, The Black Is Never Far, Masters of Jest, Lookin' for a Reason, Changed Heart
Alex quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Place of Skulls that we have reviewed:
Place of Skulls - As A Dog Returns reviewed by Khelek and quoted 83 / 100
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