Ghost Brigade // Until Fear No Longer Defines Us
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —Soundtrack to a brood n’ brew
Label: Season of Mist Records
Websites: ghostbrigade.net/ |  myspace.com
Release Dates: EU: 19.08.2011 | US: 08.23.2011

Another depressive, bleak band from Finland? What a surprise! Although they don’t seem to a band on everyone’s lips yet, Ghost Brigade have staked out their own little corner in the doom rock genre. Their first two albums were entertaining platters of doomy metal with a notable rock/post-rock edge and nods to death metal. Some lauded 2009’s Isolation Songs as a genre defining classic. I wouldn’t go quite that far but it had some great moments of downcast unhappiness. Along comes Until Fear No Longer Defines Us and they’ve really outdone themselves and reached a whole new level. Featuring a more laid back (but still highly morose) sound, Ghost Brigade drifts away from the heavier aspects of their sound and toward a more moody, rock-based style. Now, these guys were never what I would call knuckle smashing heavy to begin with. Sure they would toss in some deathy snarls and some heavy riffing but the focus was always on sullen, despondent vibes with enough rock sensibility to keep things moving. That hasn’t changed here, just reached a more effective, accessible phase. At times they sound similar to recent Katatonia, Rapture and the less deathy moments of Swallow the Sun. Does it work? Absolutely it does and most of Until is a testament to what quality songwriting will do for a band.

Opener “In the Woods” showcases what these guys do best. Its a sedate, somber acoustic tune with soft, soulful vocals by Manne Ikonen. It relies on mood rather than brutality   to convey a sense of despair and sadness and it works perfectly (and has a noticeable Black Label Society/Staind influence). When Ikonen sings “this is not a boneyard but a home for broken dreams,” its very effective and almost chilling. Its very immediate and one of their best songs to date. They dial things back up to their more standard death/doom style for the very good “Clawmaster” (which bears more than a little similarity to Rapture, especially the excellently sad solo at 5:15) and they share many a similarity with Katatonia on the melancholy “Chamber.” Other quality moments come with the heavier fare of “Traces of Liberty” and Breakwater” (with the latter providing a nicely jarring wake up call that veers near black metal at times). The standout IMHO is the righteous “Divine Act of Lunacy” which has a huge, soaring chorus that feels way more uplifting than the rest of Until and it drills into the cranium and makes itself comfortable.

As successful as this album is at delivering the goods, it does falter somewhat in the final stanza. The last three songs all seem a bit generic and feel tacked on after the impressiveness of the first seven tracks. They aren’t bad but they just don’t live up to the same standard of writing Ghost Brigade showcases on the rest of the album. Had they dropped one or two of these off the album, this would move into “best of the year” consideration.

So why does this work as well as it does despite being somewhat “light” and rockish? Primarily its the top-notch writing but a huge part of the appeal comes from Ikonen’s emotive, passionate vocals. His mid-range, forlorn style is tailor made for what the band is doing and he brings a real sense of unhappiness to the mix. The guitars by Tommi Kiviniemi and Wille Naukkarinen also excel at painting a gray, despondent tapestry for the listener to curl up in and mourn the winter away.

While Ghost Brigade was always solid, they stepped up their game considerably here. If you long for an album with a “dead puppy under the Christmas tree” vibe, this is it. This thing is glum until the cows come home (to die) but is still mighty catchy, highly enjoyable and quite rockin. Well done guys, now try to smile a little. Yes, I know you’re from Finland, but try!