Given our usual proclivities at this site, perhaps it’s best to begin by paying attention to the elephant in the room: Roughly 99% of the vocals on Ghostbound’s debut album All Is Phantom are clean. And there’s another elephant standing in our room, too: Metal is only one ingredient in the music, and not even the dominant one. Nevertheless, we’ve agreed to present the full streaming premiere of the record here today despite the fact that it goes well off our usual beaten paths — because it goes off our usual stamping grounds so very well, blazing its own trails in such remarkably vivid and memorable ways.
The band’s name was well-chosen, and so is the album’s title. The music wears its passionate and very human emotions right out on its extravagant, embroidered sleeves, to the point of becoming theatrical at times, but almost none of it sounds completely earthbound. Ghost-bound, indeed it is — edged with angst, shadowed by sorrow, haunted by death. And it’s also beautiful, inspiring, even joyous.
The band was started by Brooklyn-based musician and actor Alec A. Head, in an earlier incarnation when he was but a teenager, and it’s his powerful tenor voice that becomes a commanding presence in these songs. Possessed of impressive emotional range, he soars from somber valleys to electrifying peaks, and when he rockets skyward, the sound sends chills shooting straight up the spine.
The music has its own peaks and valleys — within every song — but some of the tracks are overall more vibrant than others, some more heavily laden with melancholy. And as mentioned above, Head has braided together a wide range of musical strands — gothic rock, depressive post-punk, jangling guitar pop… and yes, metal, though I thought of The Smiths more often than I thought of any metal band. The label that will be releasing the record on June 1st — A Sad Sadness Song — has dropped names ranging from Anathema to Ved Buens Ende, from Wovenhand to Agalloch, from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to Scott Walker, Talk Talk, and The Chameleons.
In addition to the fact that darkness always lives at the edge of this town, and sometimes boldly encroaches on it, there are other shared traits among these songs. The melodies are always penetrating — hook-laden, often immediately infection, always memorable; the vocals, as mentioned, are persistently attention-grabbing; the well-crafted lyrics are as evocative as the music. But the flow of the album, at a very high level, moves the energy of the music in different directions as it proceeds.
All Is Phantom begins with two especially vibrant tracks; follows those with two slower and more somber “ballads”; provides a wistful and irresistibly entrancing intermezzo performed with acoustic guitar, violin, and cello; builds again with three of the more vibrant pieces; follows that with the most metal track on the record; and then closes with a song that beautifully spans both ends of the “energy spectrum” on the album.
Ghostbound probably could not have chosen a better way to begin the album than with “The Gallivanter”, because it’s so multi-faceted and eye-opening. The introductory segment is mesmerizing — beautiful reverberating notes that sound almost like an electrified lute and guitar duet, starting and stopping, beginning to ripple and shine, eventually making way for a darting bass solo. The drums come in to push the energy, and a dark, abrading riff makes things heavier as well. You hear that compelling voice for the first time, and in time the song rocks, blasts, and rises.
“The Wildest of Rivers”, a highly infectious track with a magnetic, pulsating riff and bubbling bass lines, makes an excellent follow-on. It puts fire under the nerves, triggers head-bobbing reflexes, spins the mind around, and sends the heart soaring like a bird… but with one eye on a dark, red-eyed raptor rapidly gaining ground on you. And then you’ll come to the gloomy but gorgeous, haunting and harrowing, “Earthen Ground” and the mystical and melancholy “(I Will) Keep My Dreams Inside”, which includes a solo that sounds like a saxophone but might not be.
Following that intermezzo mentioned above, “Tidings”, “Night Time Drowning”, and “It Goes Away” are clear siblings of each other, each of them with its own character but all marked by sparkling brightness as well as deep shadows.
And then you get your dose of heavy metal with “Roof and Wall”. It’s one of the catchiest songs on the album, but it’s full of tension and turmoil, a kind of gothic black metal with tremolo riffing that’s abrasive and searing and a battering drum rhythm. The slow unspooling of the haunting vocals create a contrast against the instrumental surge, and in this song there’s even a cacophony of harsh voices, growling and shrieking.
The album bids us goodbye with “Goodbye”, ending on as strong a note as it began, slow and grief-stricken at first, and later reaching crescendos of electrifying passion.
Much of the credit for All Is Phantom must of course go to Alec Head, the composer, guitarist, and vocalist, but he wasn’t alone in making this. Noah Shaul performed the bass; David Richman the drums; Valeriya Sholokhova the cello; and Natalia Barnaby Steinbach the violin. The album was engineered and mixed by Jesse Cannon and Mike Oettinger at Cannon Found Soundation in Union City, NJ, and Jesse Cannon handled the mastering as well. The cover art was created by Agam Neiman.
As the band explain, All Is Phantom explores “themes of life, loss, grief, isolation, wanderings both inner and outer, and the simultaneously friendly and vicious ghosts that hover beside all of us.”
01 The Gallivanter 8:06
02 The Wildest of Rivers 5:45
03 Earthen Ground 7:09
04 (I Will) Keep My Dreams Inside 5:55
05 Intermezzo 2:18
06 Tidings 6:31
07 Night Time Drowning 6:38
08 It Goes Away 8:29
09 Roof And Wall 5:01
10 Goodbye 7:36
Total Running Time: 63:29