It’s confession time: I am a nerd. Yeah, I ride a motorcycle, watch sports, and am a big, mean-looking dude, but at heart, I’m really just a nerd. Most of us rivet-heads are, to be honest. It’s part of why we love metal. It’s also why, at least in my day, a lot of us also loved Dungeons & Dragons. I have many memories of hours of game-play with Priest and Maiden blaring in the background. D&D and metal go hand-in-hand, and that’s something that Monster Skull take seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they created this band solely for the purpose of recording a concept album based on the classic TSR dungeon crawl known as S1: Tomb of Horrors.1 As early as 1979, my players and I were thrashing our way through this nightmare, and The Face of the Great Green Devil would have been a great soundtrack to those slaughters. Or would it?
Monster Skull is just two guys: Du8 (really?) plays all the guitars and sings, and Amjad Faur is the drummer. There’s no real background on these guys: they’ve put out a handful of songs under different monikers this year, seemingly dependent on the project at hand. For this D&D concept, Monster Skull makes sense. The Face of the Great Green Devil is chock full of tasty guitar licks. After a suitably cheesy spoken-word intro that mentions numerous D&D icons, we get our first of several Black Sabbath-inspired licks to open “I, Acererak.” The song has a plodding, doom-laden feel to it, although it ends with a dollop of speed, and, in an epiphany of good songwriting, the riff also appears in the last song, “The Final Ritual.”
Inspired moments of riffage are sprinkled throughout The Face of the Great Green Devil, but seem scattershot in their arrangement. “The Siege of Fleeth” has a lightning-fast lick at its foundation but the verses have an unnerving stop-start rhythm to them. “A Moment of Hesitation” is seven and a half minutes long, and is comprised solely of odd vocals and undulating guitars. If cut down to two minutes total, it would have been more effective. Other songs give the impression that ideas were stitched together haphazardly rather than with any sense of flow. It’s clear Monster Skull had plenty of good ideas, but weren’t entirely sure how they would all fit together, giving many of the songs a stilted, awkward feel.
The musicianship and enthusiasm are plusses for The Face of the Green Devil, but where Monster Skull fall short here is in the overall spit and polish of the project. Simply put, production is lacking. Muddy instruments and unrefined vocals detract from what is otherwise a surprisingly good record. Du8 sounds like he recorded vocals at the end of a 10-foot-by-30-foot corridor. It doesn’t mask a lack of talent, but it does make the lyrics hard to pick out, and I wanted to hear them better, just to get their take on this classic module. And from an anal-retentive D&D perspective, the song titles and order seem odd. First, there’s no reference to Fleeth in the original adventure. Fleeth is a city that Vecna laid siege to, nothing to do with the Tomb of Horrors, and the title track, which references an entrance to the Tomb, is the second-to-last song here. You’d think it would be first. But those are nerdy nitpicks.2
To quote football coach Dennis Green, “they are who we thought they were,” no more and no less. Monster Skull is two guys who happened to love the Tomb of Horrors and wanted to write an album about it, and that’s just what they did. While The Face of the Great Green Devil is not going to land on any best-of lists, it’s a fun record where the joy of playing songs about a game they love shines through. I can’t say I’ll ever come back to this, but as a curiosity piece it worked — and it made me dig out my original D&D module, just for reference’s sake.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 277 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: August 1st, 2018