Skulgrinder - Island of Lost Souls
KM Records
80s Heavy Metal with a Dark Edge
12 songs (47'25")
Release year: 2004, KM Records
Reviewed by Alex
Surprise of the month

Self-admittedly, it took me some time to get into Michael Knight’s solo effort Mechanica Diablo which I had a privilege to review (search for the link on this site if you are interested). That instrumental dark rock album is everything but linear and immediately accessible. However, once I was “in” I have enjoyed repaginating through it numerous times since.

Skulgrinder is another Michael’s creation, but a full-blown band this time, four members strong. Still, having opened a shrinkwrap I have concentrated on hearing something out of the ordinary. What came out grabbed a hold of me instantly and is still not letting go. In this era of commercial (otherwise known as Nu) metal dominating American airwaves and the minds of American metal fans, Island of Lost Souls is a trip back into the 80s metal. Classic, heavy, riff-oriented metal, with Skulgrinder providing a darker edge in their material.

From the opener Ego Critical to the closer In God We Trust the foundation lies in the full-of-attitude, slightly grinding riffs perfectly executed by the interplay of guitar, bass and drums. Such music is a heaven-sent when you are in need of headbanging, and instantly memorable riffs (Jack City Jesus, Hail Storm) are the most obvious reason. There aren’t many very fast cuts on Island of Lost Souls. Most of the time the songs are mid-pace. On Tattooed City it slows down even further, eerily reminding of Iommi-esque Sabbath where guitar sound can be cut with a knife it is so thick. In other spots Skulgrinder reminded me of some Savatage songs, no symphonics or keyboards, but the pervasive dark slant creeping through. When the tempo is picked up (Fear) I can’t help but think Motorhead with a much better lead guitar playing.

Speaking of lead guitar, Michael Knight deserves a ton of credit NOT turning Skulgrinder into Another Michael Knight Showcase. All of his leads fit the fabric of the songs perfectly, Mid-Eastern motif in the outro of Ego Critical, air-raid siren on Jack City Jesus and the most Mechanica Diablo-like on the futuristic title track. As an extremely accomplished guitar player Michael is allowed one full instrumental, and he shreds and glides all over the fret on Cathedral in Flames. Most importantly, he never usurps the scene and lets his bandmates contribute fully.

And they don’t disappoint, trust me. Brian Andersen can sing. He can harmonize (choruses of Tattooed City and Nevermore), yet remain manly, or dole out a scream (Forgotten Prisoner), although the occurrence of that is rare. He reminded me of Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin of Jag Panzer, in a way he glides over and along with the music. The rhythm section is tight and powerful, bass player Curt Robinson being a major find with his audibility and finger bending runs.

Good musicianship and all, Skulgrinder comes up with songs that are well written and interestingly structured. Forgotten Prisoner starts as a dark ballad with brooding bass and drum rim shots, only to explode from the pent up tension with the lead, heavy riffing and double bass driven ending. Nevermore has melodic verse and bridge, and then the band finds itself rocking all out in the chorus.

Last, but not least, I want to mention the production. Performed by Michael himself, it is not sterile, but is absolutely modern and clear, with an awesome bottom end. Ego Critical may not have vocals up front enough, but everywhere else on the album the balance is just perfect.

If you buy the CD, the sleeve will provide you with the link to the lyrics. I won’t preempt here, but the concept line is provocative, somewhat scary and will hopefully remain a fantasy.

The album could probably stand just a couple more faster songs, and giving Brian some backing vocals may expand some choruses even further. There is no doubt, however, that this album is a major surprise, and should be liked by older metal fans (yours truly here), and some younger audience who is wondering how it was done back in a days.

Killing Songs :
This is one hell of a solid album to choose from, no weak tracks, but if I had to pick Ego Critical, Tattooed City, Jack City Jesus, Forgotten Prisoner, Nevermore
Alex quoted 86 / 100
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