SKULL HAMMER, Fear the Truth (2008, self-released)
The skull leers with a sinister smile, a mouth fulla teeth. It’s hand-drawn by someone moderately talented and the hammer shape that frames the word “Hammer” is nice. There are umlauts over the “U” in skull so that you know how to pronounce it properly. It’s the choices of color I don’t get…blue, purple and various shades of yellow, with the logo colors nearing pastel shades. This brings down the potential metal-ness/wickedness of this cover. Sorry, not even that bad-ass lightning bolt can help. As Big Dumb Skulls go, though, this is a remarkable entry!
In the intro of this website (“About”), I noted we would be, among other things, trying to determine how the choice of a simple skull on an album cover correlates with the music inside. Is the skull making a statement, is it purposely playing on recognizable metal motifs, is it a lazy choice mirrored by equally lazy music? In Skull Hammer’s case, you get a boring-ass bunch of music with your skull. Their music is thrash, I guess…mid-paced to mildly fast, in some ways reminding of mid-period Overkill. But worse. “Groove thrash,” I guess you’d call it, but it doesn’t have the groove to make your booty move, and I have a hard time seriously calling it “thrash,” as there’s nothing intense or violent about it. Vocals are vanilla tough-guy style, and there is nothing remarkable about any of the riffs in any of these four songs on this mercifully short EP. For trivia seekers, the main dude in the band, vocalist/guitarist Steve “Ace” McArdle, used to be in Lethal Fury, who released two so-so (mostly “so?”) demos in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
— Friar Wagner
Candlemass provide great examples of the fine line between artful skullery and boring skullery. The image on their debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, is certainly one of the finest heads ever to be defleshed and paraded to the metal masses. It’s one of the most iconic skulls in metal, and they have regurgitated it a lot. This skull, however, is just kinda there. It’s got an ancient-enough look to it, with a little crown atop its noggin. It would be a much more striking cover if we hadn’t seen, you know, 4,562 skull album covers before it. And no, we’re not complaining. Just sayin’.
King of the Grey Islands is probably the best of the Robert Lowe-era Candlemass albums — an era that has apparently come to pass, as he was booted for poor live performances. It’s also the first they recorded with the Solitude Aeturnus frontman, and while I like Lowe on the first few S.A. albums, and certainly here too, I always wished they would have gotten Mats Leven or Epicus singer Johan Langquist for the job. Still, the material is pretty great, especially highlights like “Of Stars and Smoke” and “Clearsight.” Album closer “Embrace the Styx” rams home that epic doom metal element the band christened and basically founded way back in the day. Great stuff.
OERJGRINDER, Skull Head (2005, demo)
And thus, with this Belgian band, the Skullection begins delving into the depths of obscurity for worthy skull covers. This one’s big and dumb mos’ def’! Plain white skull over a combat-green background, and the demo’s called Skull Head, which makes us wonder: what other kind of head is there? The band’s completely unmemorable name is written in terrifically unreadable death metal graffiti that we wish wasn’t obscuring the skull so much, but the unimaginative concept here is one we cherish.
At least this band knows it: the slogan over the top of the skull reads: “Creator of Stupido Grinding Stonecore.” As death/grind goes it’s as competently played as it is white-label generic. The kind of stuff that’s fun and funny for about 30 seconds, then you move on and remember there’s more to life than this sort of time-wasting superficiality. They may have grown up a little since this early demo, I don’t know. They’ve released six albums since this demo came out, in addition to the almost mandatory splits and EPs favored by bands of this sort. They’ve even recorded some “acoustic grindcore” material. It all makes me want to scream “grow up!!!,” but then again I’m a grown man writing about skull album covers, so what do I know?
— Friar Wagner