3 was one of my favorite discoveries of the year 2007. The End Is Begun ripped me out of my progressive complacency and reminded me that well-written, well-performed progressive rock or heavy metal, can be some of the most interesting and effective music. In a world dominated by polyrhythms and breakdowns, 3 was a refreshing blast of melody, piccolo toms and some of the most creative and unique guitar playing and song writing that I’d heard in a very long time. So I guess it’s fair to say that I have been anticipating their follow up, The Ghost You Gave to Me with no small amount of anticipation.
The Ghost You Gave to Me eases out the door with something that sounds just like… well, 3. This is one of the bands that like Opeth has a very distinct sound, with a specific use of certain types of rhythms and phrasings that just sound like 3. The opener “Serenum Scropuli” is an acoustic bit, emphasized with a neat little arpeggio before the end of the phrase, and vocalist Joey Eppard’s recognizable, tenor washed out with a ton of reverb. This is the perfect opener, before wandering into a track with a power rock chorus (“React”) and the bands characteristic acoustic work.
While I’m not a huge fan of the band’s pre-The End Is Begun material, this record picks up where its predecessor left off. At times it is undeniably and ridiculously poppy, like on “Pretty” which actually has the techno beat (un-cha-un-cha-un-cha) on the chorus, or “Sparrow” (or “Afterglow”) where the band wanders into Coheed & Cambria territory with what sounds like a pop punk backbeat. On the other hand, the acoustic work and delicate melodies may be what the band is best at. “One with the Sun” shows that off with a catchy vocal melody and acoustic work supported by fantastic drum and bass work. “Only Child” is another one with fantastic bass, drum and guitar work that probably stands out as the most progressive on the record, as well. It’s mysterious and sexy and a fantastic track.
But the third part of this band, and the reason they’re signed to Metal Blade, is that they write great metal riffs as well. “It’s Alive” rips out the door with a powerful riff, before wandering into 70s prog territory and bringing it back out on the chorus, with Eppard’s “It’s alive!” chorus. One of my favorite parts on the album is actually about 3 minutes into the track “Numbers” where they break out a riff that could easily have come from a death metal or black metal band. This riff is pure thrash groove and it could have been a Behemoth or Septic Flesh riff. Honestly, I could’ve used a bit more of the heavy stuff on this record. It’s well done and the mentioned tracks, the title track and a spattering of other moments give this a nice feel, but it’s never quite as heavy as I’d like it to be.
Of course, the key to a lot of this material is Eppard’s vocals and use of harmonies. Again, like Coheed (and Blind Guardian and Bad Religion) there seems to be a desire to build great vocal melodies, but also fantastic harmonies. Eppard is probably a first tenor, so that places him on the up end of vocal ranges for men (in case you don’t know), and that means that he is able to offer a lot of texture to his vocal backings and it really fills out the sound of these tracks. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but in this case it works remarkably well. So well, in fact, that it distracts from the fact that these lyrics are basically non-sensical children’s rhymes. It kind of drives me nuts, because when the gnawing end-rhymes dig their way through my barrier, they really annoy the hell out of me. While they’re more creative than the “die”/”cry” crap that others are guilty of, Eppard has a very specific pattern that he likes to use (“I like to rhyme / All the time / that I’m singing this song. It’s good fun / when the sun / isn’t exploding and killing us all.”) and it gets repetitive and frustrating. I know that progressive rock isn’t about the lyrics, but cut your fucking listeners some slack, huh? If you don’t care about writing lyrics, find someone else to do it.
But all-in-all The Ghost You Gave to Me is a very good record. It’s got no bad tracks with a lot of variation. I don’t like it as much as The End Is Begun yet, but it’s possible that I will, and the writing is engaging and the band’s playing is lights out. Fans of the band will eat it up and new listeners will become fans. Everyone who has progressive tendencies should check this record out.