Two years on from their previous album Himalayan, following a period of taking inspiration while recording in churches and writing an enormous number of songs in the process, Band of Skulls finally return with the release of By Default. Following on from the sleeker, polished piece that was Himalayan, things feel gloriously larger and fiercer on the follow-up, adding a much missed element that gives By Default some real power and, depending on your viewpoint, stands as a strong step forward stylistically and in terms of quality.
The inspiration they took from the acoustics of the churches they recorded in is apparent throughout the general style and hard rock sound of By Default. Drums echo with a slight reverb, and the guitars piece through the mix in a way that’s striking and impactful; there’s a raw energy to these songs, whether they’re raging hard with guitars blaring at full force in the chorus of Killer or taking a more subdued, natural route on So Good, which also deserves a mention for featuring bassist Emma Richardson on vocals instead of Russell Marsden. There’s a spacious, open feeling to these songs that, while subtle, gives them space to grow and blare without restraint.
Even without this special touch, however, the songs themselves are also just plainly amazing. The controlled swagger of This Is My Fix, with its dual layers of guitars and blues rock beat, gets stuck in your head while still sounding completely effortless, barely having to try to capture your full attention. The roaring guitars and harder rock style of Little Momma sound especially forceful after such a song, making use of the downtime to bring its screeching guitars to the front of the mix and blocking the song with a wall of guitars so high that it drowns the vocals as well. Even as the album enters somewhat stranger territory, mixing a simple rock sound with a distinctly pop bridge on In Love By Default, the production holds strong; the song’s two sections are so different that it runs the risk of feeling disjointed, but this is the lowest point the album reaches in this regard.
Generally speaking, By Default feels like a huge step up for Band of Skulls. While Himalayan was a solidly enjoyable album, the general energy and spark of their latest effort gives their music some life and soul that was sorely missed previously. The production, performance and writing holds up across the entire album, and very rarely will you even consider skipping to the next track. Band of Skulls have hit it out of the park the fourth time around.