By Sam Graham
Some may recognise these guys as Raging Speedhorn, the band from Corby, Northamptonshire. Viking Skull however turned out to be their more successful side-project.
Their most recent (and seventh) studio album, entitled Cursed by the Sword came out earlier this year in May and opens with the bolshie riff of Five Fingers Of Steel. From a strong opening, played by guitarists Roddy Stone, Dom Wallace, Frank Regan and bassist Waldie, the song carries that umph the entire way through. You could ask ‘why three guitarists?’, but here’s the only suitable answer: Why not three guitarists? The song has a classic rock feel to it and the vocals sung by Roddy, can be placed as having a similar churn and range to Mandy Lion fromWW3. The lyrics aren’t exactly ground-breaking, but it’s a good song to open with.
If the second track, This Is the End really was the end, it wouldn’t be too shabby a way to go. Faster and featuring much more catchiness than Five Fingers…, this song is much more up my street. It obviously had more thought put into it, and it shows. The guitar solos in this tune are fantastic, not too flashy, but flashy right where they need to be. In other words they’re not a self-fellating showcase. The chorus of this song is its proudest moment and I imagine it’s a great one for crowd participation.
The title track is a short piece, only one minute forty. The guitars keep an eerie tune going while drummer Jess Margera (as in the Jess Margera from CKY) is the most prominent here to far, adding some flair to what would otherwise be three chords over and over. It creates a dark atmosphere which leads into Fire very well. Fire sounds more like Five Fingers Of Steel, but seems to have a bit more depth to it. Maybe it’s because of the preceding instrumental, maybe it’s because it doesn’t include lyrics like ‘getting on my tits’ in the chorus.
Pumped! Is more like it! Everything about the first twenty-five seconds screams Rainbow. This song is upbeat, classic, and it rocks so hard! So far it’s the best song on the album because of its energy and its simple catchiness. At first I wasn’t sure that Roddy’s vocal style suited the song, but after a while it did grow on me. The solo is everything you’d expect from a song in this vein.
You Look like I Need a Beer is an awful title for a pretty good song. Looking at this and the next two songs’ titles, I thought ‘Sounds like a Steel Panther album’. And when I say it, it isn’t a good thing. But! You Look like I Need a Beer is actually really good. It’s hard rock all the way through and the solo is one of the more thought out on the album. The repetition of that first lick leads into some meaty blues with a short flourish before that main riff returns is, for lack of a better word, sweet. The song has a good mid-tempo rhythm to nod your head to without risking spilling your drink, which is always a good thing.
Machine Gun Honey (I don’t even want to know what that means) tries to recapture the classic vibe that Pumped! Had, but just can’t seem to reach it. It’s a good song, and if this was on before Pumped!, then I’d have said everything the same about it, but because it wasn’t, it just isn’t as good. That in no way means it’s a bad song though; far from it. It’s a very good song, and the harmonised run at the end of main solo was fantastic and unexpected.
My Bitch Talks Too Much wins as my least favourite song on the album, and I’ll tell you for why: it reminds me too much of Holy Smoke by Iron Maiden. Maybe it’s the drums at the beginning, maybe it’s the lyrics, maybe it’s the pattern of the whole song; I don’t know, but it is what it is. It has its good qualities though: it is painfully catchy, and I can imagine people love it, so as one man’s opinion, they’ve got much better stuff on this album.
The penultimate song and one of the best riffs on the album is called Second Left on Harris. I’m gonna assume that’s a direction to somewhere. If so, does anyone know where? This song is one big sexy hook that lasts for three minutes and seventeen. This song, and the others like it, are clearly this bands forte.
Lastly comes the album’s ‘epic’ one. At just over seven minutes, Sleepwalk is the heaviest on the album. It’s music like this that I expected the whole album to be. I’d never heard of Viking Skull before now, so the title sort of suggests it. Sleepwalk is slow, lurching and filled with all of the doom and gloom tropes I can think of. After about three minutes it picks up, thankfully, because an entire seven minutes at that pace would have felt like a lot longer. It’s a short section that’s almost instrumental, but does provide the required break the song needed. It goes back to the lurch shortly after, but at this point it’s ok. The ending to the song lasts about a minute, and as it fades away, the soft and almost eastern-sounding intro plays the album out.
On the whole, Cursed by the Sword is a very strong album. It has punch, balls and every song on it has its good qualities. It definitely has more ups than downs. I was actually surprised by their sound. As mentioned earlier, going off the band name and the album title, I was expecting something a bit more like a cheesy power metal band. There doesn’t seem to be any fluff on the album, which is a definite thumbs up. Some of it (namely the lyrics in Five Fingers of Steel) made me think ‘really? You actually decided to go with that?’ as they’re a bit awful. Some of the lead guitar work gets a bit samey after a while too, but thankfully there are enough little bits here and there to keep them fresh. It all suits the music, so I suppose anything different wouldn’t sound right.
The quality is fantastic, as you’d expect from their seventh turn around, everything is well-mixed and nothing is too overpowering. As you’ve probably already figured, I prefer their more classic sounding stuff compared to songs like You Look like I Need a Beer and Five Fingers of Steel, but from start to finish, it’s a quality album.
Nice work guys.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \n