I just took a trip down the winding stairs of our scriptorium and braved the wretch’d outdoors. The reason for my madness? A brief visit to the Village apothecary, where I decidedly did not panic-buy their entire stock. It was a remarkably brief expedition; hardly worth putting on a jacket. But for those few moments outside my dusty sanctuary, the palpable tension--and I don’t mean to alarm you here--was quite high. Rightfully so.
Needless to say, I’m happy to be cloistered back at my desk with my speakers roaring loud ‘n’ proud. Monster Skull have wormed their way back into rotation for what seems the hundredth time, and now seems a prime time to chat about why I like their latest EP--the ominously entitled Visions of the Horrible and Strange--so damn much. If you too are in need of some upbeat jubilance in these troubled times, this Washingtonian duo has you covered.
Monster Skull deals in “classic metal with a thrash soul and a death metal mustache,” according to their bio...and I certainly can’t argue with that categorization. Mission accomplished. In a word? This thing is wildly fun. Three tracks of nerdy riff-fest, oozing truculence, campy fandom references, and heavy metal cheese. Could you want anything more? There’s a clear passion for both the thematic content and the sonic source material injected into this lil’ EP, and, as far as this scribe is concerned, that passion is infectious. Spirit-lifting, even.
It isn’t long before Monster Skull throw you into the fray: from that initial series of ominous samples, to the crunchy opening riff, and ever onward, things get wild in the best of ways. Every track herein follows a volatile route towards completion, with a veritable bevy of hooks, riffs, and licks carrying the load. “Killbots...Unleashed!”, for example, goes from doom to thrash and ends in straight-up heavy metal glory, seldom taking a backwards step to revisit that which has been developed prior. From a compositional standpoint, Monster Skull have constructed a staircase with this track, wherein the listener constantly climbs upwards without retracing their steps onto familiar ground. The following two tracks, “You Come To Us” and the (particularly) excellent “The Black Door,” both take a slightly more conventional approach, putting the onus on catchy riffs and even catchier choruses. That said, both possess an unpredictable-yet-deliberate momentum--the kind of drive that gets feet a-tappin’ and heads a-bangin.’ The latter track leans into this gallop with great aplomb, with a speedy tempo and some fantastic quick-fingered fretwork in the solo department.
Beyond the substantial scope of hefty riffage, the vocals deserve a hearty round of applause. Both the lead and backing vocals exude the drama of NWOBHM’s more grandiose moments--without, I might add, falling into the abyss of self-ridicule. The gang chants at the end of “The Black Door” are a delicious touch as well, lending the affair a vaguely crossover edge that bleeds well into the general air of bellicosity. The primary vox is particularly menacing, with a phrasing and cadence that evokes Hetfield, and a raw aggression that kinda recalls a Dave King of BattleAxe if...well, if that dude could actually sing worth a damn. In any case, the vocals are a strong suit across the board, and I frankly wish they were utilized a tad more. There’s some catchy hooks in these three tracks--like, NWOBHM-radio-single-in-the-mid-80’s catchy.
Frankly, my own criticism is the album artwork--while fine for an amateur outfit, Monster Skull are producing tunes that deserve to walk hand in hand with high-quality visuals. But we’re here for the music itself, so here’s my Expert Opinion: if you’re in the need for something fun in the midst of current chaos, I wholeheartedly recommend you give this one a listen. And for those of you without a sudden abundance of time on your hands, it’s, like, 14 minutes. You really can’t go wrong
Monster Skull - Visions of the Horrible and Strange was released Dec. 2019
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.