Band of Skulls – Love is All You Love
I remember hearing Band of Skulls’ music for the first time … I was on the way to a golf course just outside of town with my brother and a friend of ours. He was blasting their debut album Baby, Darling, Doll-face, Honey, and I clearly remember thinking to myself, “this album has so many bangers!”
Band of Skulls would wisely proceed to tour said debut album through Canada the following summer. I vividly recall rocking out in the front row at the mid-sized venue Republik alongside a group of my closest friends in the Calgary music community. This was a true headbanger’s ball.
Fast-forward four years, and we were still faithfully attending every single Calgary Band of Skulls tour date. For their fourth studio album release, however, they skipped over Calgary during their tour through Canada, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that my brother and I boycotted that album, never really listening to any of it.
Hearing that the band (or their booking agent) felt that Calgary was an unnecessary stop on their tour kind of made us feel like their album was an unnecessary listen for us, especially considering that every single Calgary show they ever put on was a grandiose success.
It baffled us that they would sleep on Calgary this time around. I wonder if anyone else has ever boycotted one of their favourite artists because they felt neglected by the band’s touring schedule. Do artists realize how heavily their fans are impacted by missed tour dates in major cities where their following has been steady for years?
So, we skipped over an album. Their first three LP’s were spotless pieces of artistic genius. Their fourth album? No idea—I still haven’t tried it out … but I haven’t given up on my rock n roll homies from the UK. I have loyally and attentively listened to their fifth and latest full-length, Love is All You Love, and can confidently say that they haven’t lost their vicious musical flare.
Their 2019 release via So Recordings is full of nostalgic energy, well-placed harmonic notes, bouncy pop-rock anthems, and loads of distortion. The band actually dropped their third member, drummer Matt Hayward, before composing this record. This remaining two composers, Russel Marsden and Emma Richardson, to write their newest album as a duo. Having this brought to my attention before listening to the album caused the lack of percussive elegance to really stand out to me. Nonetheless, one thing they will never lack is their authentic ability to write vibrant guitar licks and vividly descriptive lyrics shaped into classy harmonics.
Naturally, the album begins with a bang. “Carnivorous” sets the tone of the album with its grungy lyricism, upbeat energy, and gruesome title. Organ tones blended with single guitar notes trail into a tasteful backbeat which properly introduces the full track—bass and electric guitars swoon in vibrantly. There is not much of a plateau beyond the climaxing of the final chorus in this track, but this opening effort is certainly an intriguing, blood-pumping tune. They bring the fire right back at you in track two, “That’s My Trouble”, which is instantly one of my favourites. The guitar opens the track by itself, but they quickly work in lead vocals, sparse drums, and those aforementioned classy harmonies from female vocalist (and co-lead) Emma. She dazzles in some spicy melodies in the vocal bridge—probably the coolest part of the song. Following the second chorus, there is an extended guitar jam which includes well-placed harmonic notes. This jam flows into one last bridge, which repeats the chant: “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love.” This is the first spine-tingling moment on the album and could also be considered subtle foreshadowing to how the remainder of the record will shape out.
The composition in the third track (and the title track at that) carries with it an eclectic class with its precise phrasing and carefully chosen string progressions. As with the previous two tracks, the structure of this song follows a predictable pattern; these composers really enjoy busting into high-energy instrumental jams after the second chorus of each song. In “Love is All You Love.” the breakdown includes a guitar lick which purposefully mirrors the vocal melody from the verses (a technique used by the band in several previous compositions: “Himalayan” and “I Know What I Am” for instance).
From this point on the album changes direction. Track four, “Not the Kind of Nothing” has a chipper attitude, and a cheeky vocal hook. “Cool Your Battles,” which was their first single off the album, presents a softer side to the artist, with less melancholia and more optimism than the mellow tracks from previous albums (“Close to Nowhere,” “Honest,” and “Cold Fame”). Percussively, this track is quite impressive with its epic drum splashes and groovy snare roll during the triumphant apex of the tune.
Next we hear “Sound of You,” which is my favourite song on the record. Emma’s vocal tone and lyricism carry a warm yet edgy energy in this particular track. Overall, the structure of this song is unique from the first five offerings. I really appreciate the sub-genre that Emma and Russell have achieved in this composition. The rhythm of the drums is probably the smoothest element of “Sound of You,” which, along with the delay-laden lead guitar, makes it feel very relaxed and very steady.
Track seven brings forth a new style for this writing duo. It has an optimistic energy—from the title itself, to the key of the track, to each and every instrument selection. Personally, I prefer the grungier offerings from “Love is All You Love.” That being said, there are sections of this tune which carry the same vibrancy as the rest of the album. There is nothing wrong with blazing untraveled trails for the concept of a new album, especially when it is your group’s fifth studio recording. However, I’m not sure that will console the hard rock fans who excitedly anticipated the newest Band of Skulls rock anthems. Something tells me that Russel and/or Emma fell in love in the midst of composing this record and this strongly impacted their writing style.
Because I was one of those fans patiently hoping for this album to hit hard and hit home, we are going to skim over track eight, because it is out of character and feels out of line. It is no surprise that this is the second single from the album … it seems to me that Russel and Emma’s artistic freedom was potentially limited in terms of marketing their releases. I only say this because both singles are pop-rock offerings which don’t satisfy that Band of Skulls itch. To be honest, this album would be equally complete without these two tracks. Sorry, did someone say b-side? *Hint, hint.*
Don’t end the album there, though! Track nine is a juicy one. “Gold” leads with a banging guitar riff, joined by a tasty beat and spicy lead vocals from Russel. Mid-verse, Emma joins him for a tasteful harmony to close out the stanza. The energy of this track is fun and exciting; this is a great tune to blast with the windows down, driving around. There is a despondent vocal ad-lib right before the second bridge, which brings a rebellious vibe to the table. After the second course, there are some catchy “oo-oo’s” layered over the original guitar riff, which release into a synth-lead breakdown. A vicious snare-roll re-introduces the bridge, which carries the track into the instrumentally sound, hook-laden drop to end the song at an apex of rock n roll pow-wow. This one is a valiant, timely effort, tucked in near the end of the album.
And yet, they don’t end the album here (although I wish they did). Instead, the team over at BoS attempt to end the record with an “uplifting” song called “Speed of Light,” which contains some ear-worm vocal melodies and minimalistic guitar riffs and runs. Personally, I would have ended the album on track nine. This effort seems to fizzle out their momentum in the worst way possible. Quit while you’re ahead, homies! And don’t skip Calgary this year! <3