As The Post Mortem (Skeletons in the Piano’s mock-newspaper press vehicle) reported in April, a “local ghost” named Ashcraw Timmins has been hired to optimize the band’s web presence. By the sounds of the band’s third album, Please Don’t Die, it’s not the only ghost the Saratoga Springs band have in their employ. “Dark rock” has been the tag the band prefer for their synthesis of gothic styles but inside this haunted house there are endless apparitions lurking under the bed and the creaky attic staircase.
While metal is certainly an influence—the band have made fitting bill mates for Dax Riggs, the Sword and the Black Angels—their approach to the macabre has a sepia-toned nostalgia to it, a sort of wax museum of 19th-century carnival horrors and vaudvillian drama. Opening track “The Price Put on You” charges forth at a maniac clip, pairing violin and banjo with heavy distorted guitars. “The snakes are pregnant again,” Elijah Hargrave sings ominously with a studied croon that can soar with ’80s hard-rock bravado—think David Lee Roth here. If the Van Halen comparison here could be extended—and it shouldn’t—violinist Jeff Ayers takes the lead-instrumental Eddie role from the guitarists, maintaining the band’s victorian melodic sense against the bed of rock fuzz. On “Digging Underneath the House,” a touch of reverb helps the violin fill this space, whereas in other places it can feel a little thin under the heft of the guitars.
With “Memory Lane Needs a Garbage Man,” Hargrave’s vocals dip and warble like Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley and the band turn to an organ-heavy riff rock commoner to grunge. Indeed, like that questionably named genre, Please Don’t Die is methodically constructed throughout, taking full advantage of Albany’s Overit Studies to polish and balance what, on paper, might seem like a messy confluence of influences. The best tracks here are some of the shortest, in which the group can conjure the eerie swagger of a supernatural drinking song, while the efforts at meandering epics (“Disposable Televisions, Disposable Guns”) lose a bit of weight when stretched to longer form.
The plea in the album’s title and on “Oh, Rose” is fleeting at best, as that song’s narrator admits he’ll see his lover “in the next one.” Similarly, death has left a hundred years of gothic musical corpses for Skeletons in the Piano to necromance, which they’ve done again to lively effect.