Band Of Skulls 'By Default' review

Band Of Skulls maintain a decade in fine form on their fourth studio offering - Brad Lengden reviews.

Ben Smith

Date published: 31st May 2016

Image: Band Of Skulls

Since their formation back in 2004, Band of Skulls have become one of finest guitar driven bands around, creating an instantly recognisable sound that's stood the test of the last decade. Now they're back with the follow up to 2014's incredible Himalayan. 

The precedent is set in the opening few seconds of the record, with the building slam of a snare drum that kicks off the opening track 'Black Magic' - a staple of the whole record that becomes prominent throughout.

It's an incredibly strong starting point, instrumentally sounding typically over the top: the thumping bass drum, the scratchy huge guitar riffs are all of the qualities that have provided them with so many great tunes over the years.

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'Back of Beyond' takes a slightly different direction though. The second track has a real Iggy Pop – 'Real Wild Child' feel about it. It's something more poppy, thankfully not commercial pop, but more bouncy 80s guitar pop. Pretty different, still excellent though.

Three tracks in is probably the strongest moment. 'Killer' as the name may suggest shows that much more fang-glaring side to the band. It goes back to this feeling of a completely stripped down, no frills attached, proper rock and roll tune. It sounds intentionally rough, something that works well given the nature of the raucous track.

In a time where bands are experimenting with the endless technologies that are at their disposal now, which is obviously a great thing in itself, it's refreshing to hear something so primal.

'Embers' is another notable high point in a collection of high points. What sounds like a slow burning opening proves only to be a false start. Building into more explosions of screeching guitar through the chorus before a show-stopping finish of a solo that sounds more in the realms of a classic Black Sabbath album - which can only ever be a good thing.

Band of Skulls have always had this way of sounding mesmerizingly cool. Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson's voices compliment each other fantastically. Grouped with bluesy guitar riffs and Matt Hayward's simple yet so effective drumming all of these elements meet in the middle to stunning effect. 

'In Love by Default' is the ideal example of these things happening in the space of a single track. The first half allows intertwining inputs from Marsden's and Richardson's beautifully morphing vocals to take the spotlight with minimal instrumental backing. This before an unexpected electro twist, delves ever so slightly into a more psych rock direction before switching back to their classic style.

That bit of experimentation could possibly hint at a new curiosity for them, perhaps another direction to toy with in the next album? Maybe that's getting way too far ahead but it'd be an interesting avenue to hear the band go down. Besides they've obviously got the whole blues rock thing down to a tee now. 

Regardless of what direction the next album takes, what is important and hugely admirable, is that Band of Skulls have produced yet another stunning record. It's something they've done consistently for over ten years now, it does beg the question why they don't get as much recognition as they probably warrant.

But that's a completely different matter, hopefully this will be the one that pushes them higher up festival line ups and gain all the other benefits that come with.

Band of Skulls play at Kendal Calling over the weekend Thursday 28th - Sunday 31st July - find tickets

Read our interview with Band Of Skulls: It's loud, fast and so much more dynamic

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