(Andy Synn reviews the latest album from Finland’s Ghost Brigade, and after that we’ve got the new official video for “Clawmaster”.)
Finnish gloom-merchants Ghost Brigade return with their third album, Until Fear No Longer Defines Us. Befitting its beautiful artwork, the album has a full and evocative sound; lush, melancholy melodies shimmering like starlight atop mountains of heaving, Neurosis-esque riffage, while subtle keyboard embellishments (provided once again by Swallow The Sun’s Aleksi Munter) provide unobtrusive, yet unashamedly progressive undercurrents.
Compared to its predecessors, this record is more exposed and more wide-open, less claustrophobic and confined, yet in many ways just as oppressive in its heavy, dark atmosphere. Colder and more sombre than the albums that came before it, it is as if, stepping outside of their self-imposed isolation, the architects have become aware of the vastness of the sky above them and of the oppressive, stupefying insignificance of themselves in the grander scheme of things.
Opening with the acoustic ode to woe that is “In The Woods”, the album throws a curveball right from the off, skilfully adept fingers plucking out elegant melodies from weeping nylon strings as vocalist Manne Ikonen breathes life into a tale of sorrow and broken dreams with his clear and sophisticated vocals. (more after the jump . . .)
Merciless in its callous perfection, the lengthy and winding “Clawmaster” possesses a primal ferocity matched only by the blissful calm of its quieter, more meditative moments. After three albums of steadily honing and refining their sound, this song sees the band revelling in the freedom of expression they have discovered, having carved out for themselves a wide-ranging home in the musical landscape. The ebb and flow of melodic rivers carve deep canyons in the soaring cliffs of cracked and crumbling riffs, whose fractured façade has been weathered by storms of emotional torment.
Wearing its progressive inclinations right out in the open, “Chamber” is this album’s “Into The Black Light”, but that’s not to say it’s derivative or uninspired. Nothing of the sort. Though it shares DNA with its sibling, it is so much more than a mere clone. It acts as the missing half of the helix, completing the genetic blueprint of Ghost Brigade’s magnificent sound, intertwined yet distinct, unique yet inseparable from its twin. With an ethereal glow that recalls Anathema’s most recent album, it takes its time to build slowly towards a majestic, morose chorus as scintillating waves of passionate guitar crash down upon the listener.
From the familiar yet exceptional, to the unusual yet sublime, “Traces Of Liberty” introduces an unusually fluid, elasticated main riff that springs and rebounds with unfettered energy, allowing the drums to play with bouncy, funky fills and staccato, unpredictable kick patterns that unpredictably defy expectations. The song’s chorus refrain also offers some unexpected flavours, an electric tremolo line providing some icy, blackened melody whose cold clarity provides perfect contrast to the loose, flowing narcosis of each main verse.
Unapologetically progressive, the album treats heaviness as a means toward an end, not an end in and of itself. Though each of their previous records was far from straight-forward, the progressive inclinations are at their most pronounced on this record, each song twisting and turning in unexpected ways, providing a challenging, yet always instantly captivating, listen.
Case in point, “Divine Act Of Lunacy” provide a distinctive pairing of suicidal despair and ecstatic triumph, its driving verses thick with Cult Of Luna style power and melodic dissonance while its spartan and striking choruses bleed with penetrating, sorrowful melody that rises and falls like lunar tides. An almost Radiohead-like atmosphere of crystalline depression pervades throughout, making the band’s more familiar influences seem fresh and new, purified by fire and cleansed by the passage of time.
Starlight pierces the gloom on “Grain”, an almost-ballad whose dreamlike beauty masks the colossal dynamism of light and shade the band toy with almost effortlessly throughout. Frail melodies carry the song along a river of shining quicksilver light toward a brilliant chorus which explodes into life in a storm of colour and energy, shot through with bleak clarity by Ikonen’s uplifting, yet despairing vocals.
These sweeping torrents of melody lead into the epic “Breakwater”, which heaves with oceanic might and tidal ferocity, broken by moments of icy calm in the eye of the storm of riffs and pained, tormented vocals. Seemingly channelling the spirit of Pink Floyd, the group exploit their usual melodic textures in new ways to offset the titanic slabs of overbearing, hazy riffs that reek of urban decay and barren wilderness. The song ends in an abstract, slow crawl of doomy, clanging guitars and unsettling keys which combine to cast a mountainous and malevolent shadow over the land.
“Cult Of Decay” is defiantly progressive and hard to classify, its agile, electrifying guitar lines pulsating with clear energy and life while a fuzzy, static bass line grounds the song with its omnipresent, hazy aura. Off-beat drums perform deft and intricate patterns without drawing attention to themselves, working to confuse and disorient the listener before the powerful and direct chorus erupt without warning. Suddenly the band switches direction for the song’s bridge, violent guttural vocalisations expelled over crushing swathes of jarring riffs and tribal drums, which just as quickly disappear to be replaced by a teasing iteration of minimalist melody, before the grandiose chorus crashes back into view in a tumult of extroverted melody and introverted passion.
“Torn” is a more traditionally composed number, a propulsive and percussive display of up-tempo drums and crackling riffs, laden with a suffocatingly bleak atmosphere. Beneath an impenetrable shroud of despondency, the group struggle to find breath, bowed and broken by the terrible weight of time. Unexpectedly, the thick clouds break open for a moment, mellifluous lead guitars weaving through the gloom. In the depths of their despair a little light breaks through, revealing the infinity stretching out above, whose thin rays of hope penetrate the shadowy chasms, rich with the promise of wonder. The song ends with a smooth bass-line and steady measured drumming providing the backdrop for some soft, soothing guitar melodies and expressive, weeping strings.
After several minutes of hopeless, bleak melody and wavering, vulnerable vocals, the emotionally charged finale of “Soulcarvers” finds a heaviness of an unusual sort, not the breaking, crippling heaviness of concrete-heavy guitars (which rear their head in violent spasms throughout the track), but the slow, dragging heaviness that comes with the weight of despair — the terrible realisation that it is not the weight which is breaking you, it is the you who is already broken, broken long ago and unable to carry on. The lyrics confront the aftermath of the fire, the burden of their loss in the flames which have “ruined our home again”, leaving nothing untouched and nothing to save.
With its themes of time, age and loss, it would be easy to see this release as the final part of an inter-linked triptych of albums; the first, Guided By Fire, was a youthful explosion of fire and flame, elegant in its beauty yet vengeful in its wrath, while its follow-up, Isolation Songs, represented a mature stage of growth and meditation on loss and loneliness, gathering by the slowly fading embers of their youth for warmth. The third part of the story, Until Fear No Longer Defines Us, has seen the fire finally burn itself out, leaving only the cold and absence behind. What fire remains is the rage and loss that burns within the breasts of those left behind in the aftermath.
First there was fire, then there were embers, now there is only ash.
Sample Song: “Traces Of Liberty”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/04-Traces-Of-Liberty.mp3|titles=Ghost Brigade – Traces Of Liberty]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Until Fear No Longer Defines Us was released by Season of Mist on August 19 in Europe and on August 23 in the U.S. While we’re on the subject of Ghost Brigade, here’s the new official video for “Clawmaster”, with artwork created by Fursy Teyssier (Les Discrets):