AS A DOG RETURNS marks the, uh, return of Victor Griffin’s Place of Skulls and follows up 2006’s THE BLACK IS NEVER FAR. For the uninformed and uninitiated, Griffin was the former (and now once again) guitarist/key contributor to the mighty and legendary Pentagram, and formed Place of Skulls in 2000 after exiting that band. A vehicle for Griffin to combine his gift for creating classic doom metal with his own religious affirmation, Place of Skulls has been a hostel of sorts for members of doom metal’s elite. Over the course of the band’s 10-year history, current and former members of Death Row, Trouble, The Obsessed, Revelation, and Sixty Watt Shaman have all called Place of Skulls home at some point or another. So if there was any question about the band’s credentials, consider those to be null and void. AS A DOG RETURNS continues in step with the band’s previous releases, full of fat, classic doom riffs and Griffin’s soulfully smooth vocals, but the album also is the most mellowed and traditionally Christian rock effort yet from the band.
The opening riff of “The Maker” is simple, yet totally heavy and full of groove. Carried by the rumbling bottom end rhythm section of Lee Abney and Tim Tomaselli, the tune is a straight rocker with a fair dose of sludge stuck to the bottom of its shoes. It’s this traditional doom heaviness that carries half of the album, while the other half is a more reserved and reflecting body of work. The following tune, “Breath of Life,” is a doomy, almost ballad-esque effort in spots, and is lyrically a personal appeal from Griffin to his maker. “Though He Slay Me” sounds more like it should be on contemporary Christian radio than a doom album, while “Psalms” has a distinct “Planet Caravan” feel to it. It’s an odd back and forth that continues through the album, and if you didn’t know what Place of Skulls was about you’d spend a lot of time scratching your head.
Though it doesn’t have the raw power or sonic density of past albums like WITH VISION, AS A DOG RETURNS is a fair addition to the Place of Skulls catalog. There’s enough traditional Griffin riffs on the album to merit a visit from longtime fans, but the dichotomy in the song presentation may put off casual listeners expecting something much heavier. I’m curious if Griffin’s at a place in his life where he’s not angry enough to crank out the doom like he did in the past, or maybe he’s saving it all up for the next Pentagram record? It’s selfish, I know, but what a shame that would be if it were true. Caveat emptor, AS A DOG RETURNS is available now.
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