"As A Dog Returns"

by Earthdog

Place Of Skulls, one of the legends of Doom Metal to doom fans everywhere and one of metal's best-kept secrets to everybody else, are back after 4 years with the new album "As A Dog Returns". The main man Victor Griffin is one of the true masters of the heavy riff and such a iconic figure that he can put in the same category as Tony Iommi and fellow ex-Place Of Skulls guitarist Wino. He is maybe best known for his work in the very iconic Pentagram, but with Place Of Skulls he pushed his place in Doom Metal history to even greater heights with classic, timeless albums such as "Nailed", "With Vision" and "The Black Is Never Far" and that is where this review begins. "As A Dog Returns" in some ways continues where the last album finished off, expanding on the direction that album was heading both musically and maybe more importantly, lyrically. I will get to that in more detail later. This is without a doubt their most most creative and diverse album to date but it's also noteworthy because drummer Tim Tomaselli and bass player and vocalist Lee Abney are back in the band and this is their first recording together since since Southern Lord put out "Nailed" in 2001.So what about the music then? Well, you still have the patented Sabbath/Trouble/Pentagram influenced bluesy groove you would expect from a Place Of Skulls release but the addition of some Southern Rock balladry makes this the least metal album the band has done so far. It's still good, just different from what you might have been used to. The balladry side of the band is all over this album, "Though He Slay Me","Desperation" and "Psalm" are pretty much all power ballads while the Southern Rock influence is also a major part of the album as on "Timeless Hearts" which features harmonica solos and the title track with its acoustic sections. While there isn't as much of the heavy on "As A Dog Returns", when it does take center-stage, it still shows Griffin at his masterful best. However, it seems to take a more traditional rock approach as oppose to his usual Doom Metal roots. What is also a bit different is there is more of a focus on his guitar solos and they are all sophisticated, tasteful and breath-taking musical treats to the ear.

 The album is extremely well-rounded so picking favorite cuts is difficult but the almost 10 minute "Dayspring" would be a major highlight and "Breath of Life" isn't far behind but now we get to the lyrics and this will be an issue for some listeners. It's no secret that Victor loves Jesus, "The Black Is Never Far" saw a big increase in the Christian lyrical element but this album is a 100% Christian Rock album and I have never liked albums that focus on one lyrical subject. I must point out that I am a Christian myself and I have no problem with Christian Rock music,..some of my favorite bands feature Christian lyrics so that is not the issue at all. The problem here is, it's overkill to put it nicely so if praising Jesus is something that bugs you, this will make you feel very uneasy. Griffin has sung some of the best lyrics in Doom Metal over the years so why he is limiting himself to just one subject for a entire album is a bit disappointing from my opinion. I think it's great that Griffin wants to share his love for his Christian beliefs but it gets a little tedious after a few songs. This has always been a big part of Griffin's writing though. Not many people know that Nailed's nothing new but it will turn people off this new album and that is unfortunate.

Conclusion: This is a great rock album but not a great Place Of Skulls album, it needs to be judged on its own merits alone which I am doing here. It's lacking that extra dose of heaviness though and the lyrical perspective is very one-dimensional compared with other Place Of Skulls albums but that is a small issue for me. The album is classy, solid and creative, the musicianship is second to none as Griffin is in top form, Tomaselli delivers a stellar performance on the drums and the bass playing of Abney is spot on. It's just not the Place Of Skulls masterpiece I was hoping for and i'ts going to disappoint some but I am sure will delight others. I had a hard time coming up with a rating for this album as its a album that you get the feeling will grow on you over time but for now, it's my least favorite album from Griffin and POS. 7.5/10