An album title of such mountainous proportions as Himalayan would suggest that Southampton trio Band Of Skulls were aiming for the top of the world with their latest effort, the first to surface since 2012’s Sweet Sour and the third studio album in all. And with guitarist/lead vocalist Russell Marsden declaring that the record “feels like a coming of age” for the band, expectations are as high as the mountains themselves.
Support slots for Queens Of The Stone Age and Muse have raised their profile, and there’s often a nod in the direction of QOTSA throughout Himalayan. Opener and first single Asleep At The Wheel is a prime example, a bouncy stomp featuring heavy riffage and the statement: “Where we are going is anyone’s guess.” It’s a bold beginning that, according to Marsden, “bridges the gap between the last album and this one”.
After some more solid efforts in the shape of the funky sounding title track with its catchy chorus, and Hoochie Coochie – another bouncy effort that depicts T Rex glam rock meeting heavy Led Zeppelin riffs with its thunderous injections of power and clashing percussion – the middle of the album arrives in all its glory.
First, a slow spy thriller-tinged intro announces an older song – Cold Sweat – before the track evolves into a full-on James Bond theme tune when strings are introduced, its reverb effects sounding like an aftershock of drama. Secondly, the magnificent centrepiece and second single Nightmares arrives, an addictive riff drilling its way into the mind instantly; the song then slows down, giving a glimpse of the answer to that question of where the band are going as the soaring chorus launches itself into anthemic territory with Marsden and Emma Richardson dovetailing vocal duties superbly.
Things don’t let up much for Brothers And Sisters, another foot tapping anthemic stomp, in places recalling another band the Skulls have supported – The Black Keys – although there’s a feeling of too many lyrics being crammed into the verses before Marsden delivers the line “we’re all brothers and sisters in the end” in Ian Brown style. Comparisons with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s band are again evident on I Guess I Know You Fairly Well, where minimal, twanging guitar leads to another blast of Led Zeppelin riffage amidst pummelling drums and thumping bass.
You Are All That I Am Not then changes the pace: a slow, strong ballad that starts off quietly before reaching for the sky with another anthemic, lighters in the air chorus of “don’t cry for tonight love will see you all right” preceding a rocking, heavy instrumental break. The faster paced Duane Eddy like (in fact lyrics even name check Rebel Rouser) twanging guitar led verses of I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead And One Dying lead to slower, ominous Black Sabbath riffing within the chorus of a song based around a phrase coined by Marsden’s great grandfather.
Two more stadium fillers then arrive: Heaven’s Key is formed around a melodic riff that recalls A Flock Of Seagulls’ (Wishing) If I Had A Photograph Of You amidst thunderous clashing cymbals, and the quivering synth-backed Get Yourself Together soars again as another ballad pops up.
By the end of the album, it’s clear to see where Band Of Skulls are heading – stadium filling rock. They’ve certainly aimed for the mountaintops with Himalayan and quite often they reach the summit. With the band’s sound now finely tuned, they are peaking and it can be only a matter of time before they emerge from behind the shadows of their significant peers.