Sound — 7
Band Of Skulls is a band you would most likely discover through the "You May Also Like" section on music streaming services while listening to The Black Keys or The White Stripes. Having jumped on the garage-rock revival movement of the 21st century, it took a while for the trio to really take off, with their debut album, "Baby Darling Doll Face Honey," being released about five years after the band's initial formation. But since then, Band Of Skulls has continued to successfully work towards establishing themselves as a force in rock music, such as playing bills with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Dead Weather, and releasing a solid sophomore album, "Sweet Sour," in 2012. Choosing to keep the fire of their career burning with their gruff style of rock, Band of Skulls now brings forth their third studio album, "Himalayan."
First and foremost, "Himalayan" heads gung-ho into the retro-revival rock with the first three swingy-rhythm'd songs "Asleep at the Wheel," "Himalayan" and "Hoochie Coochie." Out of these, "Himalayan" seems to prevail as the most noteworthy, with a lush main guitar riff, jazz-influenced drum-line, and a nice, hearty guitar solo. By the time you reach "Hoochie Coochie," the swingy rhythm and the blues-rock formula of reserved, rhythm-oriented guitar riffs in the verses and more robust, catchy guitar riffs in the chorus begins to grow a bit stale, but the album then switches into a lower gear with the power ballad "Cold Sweat." Instruments play very conservative in "Cold Sweat," while the copious amount of reverb on the guitar and vocals fill the negative space very nicely. Synthesizers add more melody to further the melancholy tone of the track, and the bursts of guitar energy in the post-choruses keep you from drifting to sleep. "Nightmares" shifts up a gear from its slow-jam predecessor, but stays at a laidback tempo, while the guitar contains a more 21st century alternative-influenced sound to it. Synths are present in this track as well, but after the integral role they played in the previous song, they come off pretty flat this time. "Brothers & Sisters" brings things back to a blues-rock style, and though the guitar stays very tame throughout, the synth pads and keys give the track a pizzazz that differs from the previous blues-rock songs. "I Guess I Know You Fairly Well" starts out slow and soft, with a guitar riff that sounds like the one in "Cold Sweat," but the chorus brings a meaty guitar riff that - for better or for worse - sounds a lot like an Alex Turner riff that didn't make the cut on Arctic Monkeys' latest album, "AM."
The album tones things back down with another slow jam, "You Are All That I'm Not," and whether it's the progression that moves like molasses or the earlier power ballad "Cold Sweat" doing a better job projecting a more captivating emotion, this song comes off gentle to the point being sedative. If the song does make you nod off, "I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying" will slowly wake you up with its verse of easy electric guitar strums, acoustic rhythm guitar and a bass-line that's livelier than it has been on the rest of the album, which slowly builds up into the wailing guitar riffs in the chorus, as well as the poignant guitar solo. "Toreador" keeps the vintage vibes strong with a foot-stomping verse rhythm, while bassist Emma Richardson takes lead vocal duty in the song - perhaps so that frontman Russell Mardsen can focus on delivering a bitchin' guitar solo; arguably the best one on the album. "Heaven's Key" tries to integrate an alternative-influenced guitar line in the verses with a heavy garage-rock riff in the choruses, but it doesn't succeed in making a notable impression - add in a nondescript guitar solo and the fact that it's almost five minutes long (the second-longest song on the album), and the song comes off pretty lackluster in total. The album ends with the tranquil "Get Yourself Together," which is the closing ballad, which first is controlled by the acoustic guitar, but then gives the reins of melody to the violins later on.
Lyrics — 7
Much like the '70s-era of garage-rock (as well as the current-era revival) inspiring Band of Skulls rock style heavily, you can also find frontman Russell Mardsen drawing inspiration from that when it comes to him penning his lyrics. As opposed to more contemporary lyrics that may strive for being esoteric (*cough* Radiohead *cough*), Mardsen's lyrics definitely try to convince you that he took a time machine back to the '70s to write these songs, with "Asleep At The Wheel" being an old-fashioned rock song about driving, to the protest song-influenced message of "Brothers and Sisters" of "peace and love!" - though the title/chorus of "Hoochie Coochie" may be a bit too blunt of an attempt to make a vintage-flavored song, cutting very close to the classic Rick Derringer single, "Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo." Mardsen's lyrics hit a sweet spot between brevity and poeticism in "Cold Sweat," where his lovesick sentiment of "and I can't stop, and I won't stop/how can I stop when nothing is enough?" brings a pleasing symmetry in the verses of the song. Ultimately, whether or not you feel fazed or unfazed by Mardsen's fervent attempt to write vintage-style lyrics, they do succeed in fitting the theme.
Overall Impression — 6
"Himalayan" has its fair share of moments that rock out, but it also has a few tracks that are skippable. The real underlying problem, however, is the album's lack of original creativity conceived by Band of Skulls. The fact that numerous songs may remind you of other bands and their sound - such as Led Zeppelin, The Black Keys, The White Stripes, or Wolfmother - could work either way: it could help you warm up to the album better, or it could just make you want to opt to listen to the band a song reminds you of. But the method of getting inspiration from other bands needs to be balanced with innate creativity in order to make something that stands out. If Band of Skulls continues to compose their music in the same fashion as the veteran bands that inspire them, they'll never truly succeed in establishing a substantial identity of their own - that's what makes this album alright, but prevents it from being great.