Heavy riffs, heavy times

The Skull’s old school heavy metal for a new generation

By Gary Spencer

Photo: The Skull will perform on Sunday, Dec. 14 at RockStar Pro Arena; photo: Ty Klingsick

Music is a cyclical, generational thing: some styles of music become popular, die down a bit, become marginalized and, in some instances, disappear almost entirely. Other styles of music have a boom period, die down and then, 10 to 20 years later, become popular once again. One style of music that has never really gone away is traditional, old school heavy metal. What do I mean by “old school”? I’m talking about stuff that was directly influenced by the standard bearers (the inventors, if you will) of heavy metal as a style of music, the legendary Black Sabbath. If you know about music, you know heavy metal when you hear it: plodding but steady beats, thunderous bass you can feel in your guts and, perhaps most importantly, down-tuned guitars that pound out the almighty riff – the basis of the best heavy metal songs of all time.

And while contemporary music critics might sub-categorize this style of metal as “doom metal,” it hasn’t really changed all that much since Black Sabbath laid the foundation for such a subgenre to exist over 40 years ago. Old headbangers wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chicago-based band The Skull, a super group of sorts, features former members of 1970s/80s doom metal legends Trouble (vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner, guitarist Lothar Keller and drummer Jeff Olson) and Pentagram (guitarist Matt Goldsborough). According to band’s drummer, Jeff “Oly” Olson, the formation of The Skull came out of the musical comradery the guys had together when they were in those bands.

“We are a reformation of former members of Trouble,” Olson said. “We all met up at a festival in Wisconsin playing under our own band monikers and the collaboration [that became The Skull] took place from there.”

If you are familiar with either of those former bands’ discographies, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from The Skull and their debut disc on Tee Pee Records, entitled For Those Which Are Asleep.

This brand new album finally hit store shelves this past month and has no shortage of string- and mind-bending riffs heavy as a lead zeppelin, steady midpaced rhythms perfect for headbanging or nodding along and deep, clearly sung (yes, sung, not screamed or barked!) lyrics about the topics writers have pondered since the beginning of time – life, death and what might await us in the next world, whatever that is. According to Olson, their brand of heavy metal is firmly rooted in the classics but presented in a way that fits in with the times of MP3s and social media.

“I start with Black Sabbath,” Olson said. “This is a musical historic doom band sounding heavy and as powerful as a modern day band like Mastodon. It’s like hard rock and heavy metal music, old school with new school technology.”

Fans of old school heavy metal will have a chance to see and hear this traditional style of the past presented with a somewhat updated sound for the aughts on Sunday, Dec. 14 at RockStar Pro Arena in Dayton when The Skull will make its debut performance in Ohio. While The Skull will indeed be playing tunes from For Those Which are Asleep, don’t be surprised if you get treated to a handful of songs from Trouble’s back catalogue as well. From past experiences here in the Gem City with his noted former band, Olson expects a good time to be had by everyone who attends.

“We played in Dayton before, with Trouble back in the days – killer time!” Olson said. “We’ve always had a fun crowd in Ohio. We have very close friends who travel miles [to see us]. Now it will be close to them.”

If you dig bands like Saint Vitus, Sleep, Candlemass and (duh) Black Sabbath, you should definitely bear witness to The Skull’s heaviness and old school flavor by making the trek from wherever you are reading this to the band’s upcoming live ritual in Dayton. You just might think you got transported back to a smoke-filled hall in the 1970s where long hair and mammoth riffs ruled the universe.

The Skull will perform on Sunday, Dec. 14 at RockStar Pro Arena, 1106 E. Third St., in downtown Dayton. Wretch and Horlet are also on the bill. Tickets are $8 in advance, and the show is open to all ages. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more information, please visit theskullusa.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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