Album Review: By Default by Band of Skulls

Band of Skulls are one of those bands who have managed to develop a considerably loyal fan base but are, for some reason, not as known as they ought to be. They recently announced their fourth album, By Default, will be released on the 27th May.

The trio, made up of Russell Marsden (Guitar, Vocals), Emma Richardson (Bass, Vocals) and Matt Hayward (Drums) have seldom spent more than a month off the road in the last two years, prior to working on their new album. A number of the tracks have already received a live debut during their spring warm-up dates, and Band of Skulls claim the album unveils them at the “sharpest form of their career”.

Penned in a quaint church in their hometown of Southampton, and later recorded in Rockfield Studios with producer Gil Norton (Pixies and Foo Fighters), Band of Skulls have tried to preserve the magical ambience they chanced upon in that setting.

Simplistic yet ostentatious 

Album opener ‘Black Magic’ jolts you with its over-boastfulness. It may be simplistic in terms of its style, but it is ostentatious in nature. It’s a self-assured start to an album that drummer Matt Hayward describes as being “like a tightrope thing”, asking “can we pull off this trick?” So far, it seems probable.

Follow-up track ‘Back of Beyond’ is like an amalgamation of T. Rex’s ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ and OK Go’s ‘Here It Goes Again’; quite an unusual concoction which shouldn’t work, but somehow does. Taking a classic rock riff and combining it with a sugary chorus, it’s immediately pleasant due to its familiarity.

Lead single ‘Killer’ varies soft unsuspecting verses with a chaotic chorus that sees Marsden bawl: “I’m your favourite enemy, I’m the leader of the pack” and a persistent “Killer Killer Killer”. ‘Bodies’, on the other hand, abandons all havoc that previously existed, and embraces the dancefloor filler style. Its pop chorus of “your body is nothing, without mine” is catchy and harmonious, but unlike Band of Skulls’ usual blues-rock style.

‘Tropical Disease’ is conventional, and almost defines ‘album filler’. However, it is unassumingly brooding and builds up into the recent showcasing track ‘So Good’. On the surface it’s alluring, and could well have been a song by Haim. The warbling guitar and the sultry, romantic vocals of Richardson are what lifts it and reshapes it into atmospheric rock.


‘This Is My Fix’ showcases their usual blues-rock manner, and their parallel to bands such as The Dead Weather and The Von Bondies. Marsden’s vocals are almost expressionless in contrast to the forceful air of the guitar. The breakdown mid-way through however, prepares the listener for the next track ‘Little Mamma’. The kooky form of ‘Little Mamma’ reveals Band of Skulls’ conviction against an accompaniment of choral backings. 

The slow-burner ‘Embers’ trudges the album along, with haunting harmonies and jarring melodies shared between Marsden and Richardson, whilst album namesake ‘In Love By Default’ is completely unorthodox by Band of Skulls’ standards. It starts off in their routine way of minimalist guitar, but suddenly transforms from a choral essence, as executed by the keyboards, into a genre-crossing of 90s dance, and part resembling The Neighbourhood’s ‘Afraid’.

Nearing the end of By Default, we’re greeted with ‘Erounds’ and ‘Something’. The former switches between hostility from Marsden’s vocals and angelic-like vocals from Richardson. It’s melancholic but still ensures a groovy guitar jingle to keep the pace throughout. The final track ‘Something’ erupts with an expansive drum sound not too dissimilar to Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’, but transfigures into a Beatle-esque chorus; a reflective conclusion to By Default.

Are you a fan of Band of Skulls? What do you think of the new album? Let us know in the comments below!