I didn't get too into the first VIKING SKULL record because of songs like "Unholy Ground" — swaggering cock-rockin' boogie numbers with phlegmy and strained vocals from one Roddy Stone, a roadie for RAGING SPEEDHORN (the band originally featured another roadie, Waldie, on bass, and members of that band filled out the lineup). After that album, the band imploded, only to be reborn with Americans Jess Margera and Julian Cooper ably assisting Roddy and Waldie and bringing the band out of "side project" status (if making the commute to band practice a bit of a bitch).
And while that leather-pants gusto is still around on a couple tracks ("Unholy Ground" and "King of Kings"), VIKING SKULL Mk. II seems to have soaked up a lot more MANOWAR and CIRITH UNGOL to go with their ROSE TATTOO and HANOI ROCKS. The guitar riffs on songs like "Blackened Sunrise" and "The Hidden Flame" are flat-out fucking righteous, stirring metal calls to arms that reek of denim and Middle-Earth. It's an odd mix of styles – the transition between "Blackened Sunrise" and "Unholy Ground" is quite weird, and a bit of letdown, like shaking hands with Conan the Barbarian only to have the wind blow his wig off into the Cimmerian wind.
But after the butt-shaking of "Unholy Ground", we get right back to the 80's metal swords-and-sorcery awesomeness with "The Coming Plague" — seriously, these guys have instantly gotten up into the realm of one-foot-in-the-past bands like BIBLE OF THE DEVIL here. It must be the new blood, or maybe the newfound desire of the original members to make VIKING SKULL a more legit band, but "Chapter Two" is a quantum leap over the band's debut, and — on the more trad-metal tracks — a whole different beast, really. Roddy still sounds like he's in a contest to make more veins pop out on his forehead than Udo Dirkschneider, but his style works better with these hail-and-kill numbers — the whole project just makes more sense, and rocks harder, with this type of less deliberately goofy, more throwback sound.
The whole thing's pretty basic and short (seven songs, two answering machine messages), so it remains to be seen if VIKING SKULL will use "Chapter Two" as a springboard to further metal glories on future albums – or, given the Margera clan's many activities, if there'll be time for a proper follow-up before doomsday. For now, though, we have this proud, defiant, fist-pumping batch of beer-drinking and headbanging anthems to enjoy. If you heard the debut and discounted it, give the band another chance, because VIKING SKULL is ready to get down to business.