The Skull has an origin story that’s weirder than most. A few years back, several members of doom legends Trouble found themselves out of the band, and decided to form a “tribute” to their former group. Besides the irony of a tribute band containing 3/5ths of the band they are tribute-ing, The Skull quickly proved their credentials onstage. At a packed hometown gig in Chicago, I witnessed the band deliver a set of long-unheard Trouble classics. Eric Wagner (vocals), Jeff Olson (drums) and Ron Holzner (bass) sounded predictably solid, while Lothar Keller and Matt Goldsborough handily replicated the guitar interplay of Trouble‘s recorded work.
But when the band announced an album of original material, I was skeptical at first. The last few Trouble records kind of sucked, in no small part due to Wagner’s half-assed contributions. And without their former band’s main songwriters, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, how far could these guys possibly get? On the other hand, Wagner’s recent Blackfinger album proved he still has the goods, while Franklin & Wartell’s current version of Trouble is nothing short of embarrassing.
Much to my relief, For Those Which Are Asleep1 is a record of well-written, authentic, old-school doom metal. Opener “Trapped Inside My Mind” opens with a foreboding doom riff à la “The Tempter,” making the band’s intentions crystal clear. “Send Judas Down” combines a chilling baritone vocal and a riff blatantly hijacked from Down (who would probably be flattered). Slow jam “The Door” is dark even by these guys’ standards, with Wagner literally saying goodbye at the outro while the music swirls around him like a rising whirlpool.
“Sick of It All” finds Wagner expressing precisely that sentiment over some Crowbar-grade sludge. And as if to make his point, he disappears for the second half of the song, leaving Holzner to lead an extended jam in his absence. The title track is an exercise in dynamics, with acoustic verses serving merely as a setup for a profoundly pummeling hook. Oh, and longtime fans will note that the final track is a faithful recreation of “The Last Judgment,” the first song Trouble ever released (way back in 1983 on a Metal Massacre comp).
Surprisingly, there’s not much of the infamous Trouble dual-guitar work to be found. Instead, the riffing style bears more than a passing resemblance to Pentagram (of which Goldsborough was briefly a member). Yeah, I wish there were more solos and guitar harmonies, but they’re not greatly missed, and the ones that are here are pretty tasty. Producer Billy Anderson, a doom legend in his own right, gives the band a warm, fat sound that their previous group never came close to.
Regardless of the name on the album cover, The Skull clearly took all of Trouble‘s sound and credentials with them. This is the work of a band that respects their fans, understands their own history, and still has their ears open to the current doom metal landscape. For Those Which Are Asleep fills the void that the “official” Trouble left wide open, while also bringing in enough new elements to be more than a mere throwback.
Editor’s Correction: The production was actually handled by Quentin Poynter, not Billy Anderson.