theocracy_ghost-shipThough I’ll admit to having steered clear of “Christian metal” over the years due to some silly, small-minded prejudices, there have been exceptions that slowly opened my eyes. Trouble began life as a “white metal” act and I still loved them intensely, and little known Barren Cross caught me in a weirdly inescapable web of hooks with their Atomic Arena album back in 88. Much more recently I was completely blown away by Theocracy‘s 2011 opus As the World Bleeds, which mixed bombastic power with prog and classic metal in a way that suited me down to my nonspiritual bones. Sure, the lyrics were preachy and hokey at times, but you couldn’t find flaws in the music or song writing if you had an electron microscope. After what seemed an overlong delay we finally get something new from these choir boys in the form of Ghost Ship, and though it no longer must overcome innate resistance to “God rock,” it must instead bear the dual burdens of great expectations and longtime anticipation. Attach the Stones of Judgment!

As if to smite these unfair obstacles, opener “Paper Tiger” does an amazing job of picking up exactly where As the World Bleeds left off 5 years ago. It’s that same, mega-upbeat, Euro-inspired power-prog with bombast piled on bombast like Avantasia on steroids and in a hurry to get to the gym for leg day. It’s instantly likable and has what seems like 2 great choruses before the real chorus arrives to make you sing to the heavens of all things good and kind. It reminds of the stuff Stratovarius churned out in their glory days but this is even more oversized and catchy. The title track swoops in before you can recover your jaded outlook and blackened frown and blasts you with one of the best power metal songs of 2016. Led by Matt Smith’s commanding vocal attack the song builds and builds, again using false flag faux-choruses better than what 90% of power metal bands deliver, before dropping the actual chorus on you like the Holy Anvil of Acme. Smith’s soaring vocal lines are effectively offset by surprisingly heavy, crunchy riffing and the writing is so good you want the song to keep going until Kingdom come.

The thrash attack on “The Wonder of it All” is a welcome shot in the arm and the chorus is as infectious and buoyant as it gets, ensuring it sticks after one spin. “Wishing Well” has Kamelot-esque pomp mixed with an Anubis Gate influence in the vocal phrasing, and the excellent “Currency in a Bankrupt World” calls to mind the brilliance of the early Crimson Glory material as Smith drops another outstanding vocal performance.

theocracy_2016

While no song comes remotely close to bad, the album is a bit front-loaded and later cuts like “A Call to Arms” and “Castaway” can’t quite compete with the high-octane songcraft on the album’s front half, despite being exceptionally catchy in their own right. The biggest miss is the epic 10-minute closer “Easter,” which has some impressive performances but drags on too long. Despite the ending, at 54 minutes Ghost Ship generally avoids feeling overlong due to the joyous nature of the music. The fact they’ve streamlined their writing and shortened the average song length helps as well, with most tracks hitting hard then turning the other cheek and leaving before the Communion bread gets stale.

Founder/keyboardist/vocalist Matt Smith is a wildly talented cat and his vocals seem to improve with each release. He’s got a warm, crystal clear voice and a big range and knows how to use it to power a song to the next level. Though he often sounds like Michael Sweet (Stryper) at the higher ranges, he has a more “metal” style which adds a little heft to the music. The talented tandem of Val Allen Wood and Jonathan Hinds return to shred and riff in the Lord’s service, and a mighty fine job they do. The bulk of their playing is typical for the power-prog genre but always exceptionally well done, and the use of heavy riffing helps keeps the “up with people” approach from feeling too soft.

It was going to be a near Herculean effort to best As the World Bleeds and though Ghost Ship falls a bit short, the first half is as good as anything on that album. This is one of the best power-prog releases of the year and regardless of the band’s spiritual affiliation, the writing is impressive and at times, near-perfect. If you’ve slept on Theocracy because of the whole “Christian metal” thing, you’re missing out on some first-rate music. I’ve been that guy in the past. Don’t be that guy now.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7  | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Ulterium Records
Websites: theocracymusic.comfacebook.com/theocracyband
Releases Worldwide: October 28th, 2016

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  • Eldritch Elitist

    Jesus fucking Christ this is good.

    • Blasphemer!

      • Eldritch Elitist

        Report to cHuRch?

    • The Unicorn

      I am a naughty unicorn. I could not resist. Please dont banhammer me. Naughty, naughty unicorn…

      http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/844d573629ce541c87e51580b070f85c7450b0f5bb91aa89ce2685b09e7ef25f.jpg

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Well, yes, that’s Jesus fucking Christ…

        • The Unicorn

          Sorry guys. I figured someone saying “Jesus fucking Christ” was open gates for that meme. Hope noone was overly offended.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            My guess is that the picture was taken down before any damage was done.

  • sicknick

    But wait, isn’t “Paper Tiger” a quote from Mao Zedong?

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Yep, that’s where it came from. Theocracy’s take on the concept is actually quite good despite the execrable source though.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Ever listened do Believer, Druhm?

    Eh, I really dislike the “Christian metal” tag. It’s like “Viking metal”, it really says nothing about the music itself…

    • I did indeed back in the day.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      Believer is great. Not as familiar with the older stuff but Gabriel is a really good prog thrash album.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Dimensions is a cracking album. One of the perennially unappreciated greats of tech trash. Sanity Obscure is quite good as well, very aggressive style.

        • AndySynn

          Upvoted for truth. I’ve got a Synn Report lined up on Believer for next year as a matter of fact.

      • Maximos662

        Frankly, all of their stuff, save their most recent – Transhuman – is pretty damned good.

  • Dibmann

    Funny, I find that “Easter” is one of the best songs in the album…but I’m a christian, so maybe I’m a little bit biased ;)

  • El_Cuervo

    As The World Bleeds enjoys a unique position as metal I could actually intro non-metalheads to. Looking forward to this!

  • Diego Molero

    I found this to be extremely boring, sounds like every power metal band to me. And I hate the vocals. But hey, I hate power metal, so don’t mind me.

    • SelfIndulgence

      Gotta agree with the boring statement. I have been having a love affair with this band since Druhm introduced them to me almost 5 years ago. I even bought their latest single release “Wages of Sin” and got some hype for this new album only to be disappointed.
      Reminds me of the drop in quality from Carolus Rex to Heroes.

    • Carl

      I love power metal. “Mirror of souls” is really really great. I do not like “As the world bleed”. Just listened to “Ghost ship” sounds better than “As the world bleed”, but its average at best. I might need more time to rate “Ghost ship” but it will be hard to reach “Mirror of souls” quality.

      • Carl

        Just to be clear, i might listen an average album a dozen times, but i will never suggest a friend to listen it and i will quickly forget it ever existed in the next 2 years.

  • Wilhelm

    There’s very few exceptions I’ll make in regards to liking Christian lyrics in metal, and this is not one of them lol

  • Scourge

    Regarding the band’s efforts to outdo their previous album, Hercules not being of biblical origins, perhaps Samson is a better touchstone in a Christian pun filled review. Otherwise, good job!

    • I thought exactly that as I wrote it but it was just too much.

      • Scourge

        Oh yeah, that would have put the pun meter in the red definitely! But it would have also given you the opportunity to use the phrase “jawbone of an ass” and how metal is that!??

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          The world needs more jawbone of an ass. Especially the Metal world.

          • I use said jawbone to write these puny reviews.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I hope you use heathens’ blood as ink.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I am surprised Dream Theater wasn’t mentioned at all.

  • Levly

    The first two songs are so good, a one-two punch of Power Metal awesomeness. The rest of the record is IMO not at the same level, but there are still great moments throughout (I actually quite like Easter, as well as the beautiful chorus on Stir the Embers).

    I discovered the band thanks to Steel Druhm with the last record, and am very happy to have added them to my Power Metal collection. Many thanks for that review, and this equally good one :)!

    • Kalsten

      My same thoughts. I was very happy to see when they added the album to Spotify. Even as an anti-religion person, I think that “Ah the world bleeds” is one of the finest pieces of power metal I’ve ever listened.

      When I started listening to Ghost ship it was like “wow, this is really great”, but then around song 4 or so, they start with more “rock” than metal songs, and some weird stuff that don’t really make it for me. But maybe it is a grower.

  • The Deplorable Nerd.

    “I Am” is still one of the best songs I have ever heard. Can’t wait to spin this.

    • Thorbjørn Thaarup

      Such an amazing track. The heartfelt and cheesy religious lyrics give me the shivers – litterally. And I’m not religious at all. Apart from my worship of Michael Waikath.

    • Jozo90

      Yes, “I am” is a masterpiece in every single way!

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Listening to it as I type this. Amazing song.

    • Carl

      Mirror of souls is on my top list of great music album. For strange reason i really hated the song ” i am”. I really wanted to like ‘As the world bleeds”, but the songs are so… meh… Right now i really enjoy Ghost ship and i have a good first impression.

      • The Nerd.

        Leave the Hall. This is worse than the time Kronos said Pelagial is overrated!! ( just kidding I can understand why some people wouldn’t like I Am)

  • METAL OTTER

    All these reviews are great but what everyone wants to know is… when’s the review of the new Amaranthe album coming?

    • Carl

      Amawhat? sounds like a shitty group.

      • METAL OTTER

        It’s an Angry Metal Guy favourite.

  • Aguy

    I listen to plenty of music that invokes some kind of god or religion. The thing is, none of those other religions are actively trying to take over my society and tell everyone how to live and think. Christianity is creepy and in-my-personal-space in a way that Norse or Sumerian myths or even Islam (which has people in it that literally would like to kill me, but otherwise has almost no cultural or political influence here) could never be.

    So, judge me if you like, but I’mma stay small-minded over here.

    • Edsword

      That’s because Christianity has a mandate to convert, but at least its free will. Islam, you get no such choice. Remember Islam is the second biggest religion and it would quickly fill the vacuum if Christianity wasn’t here. You may not like it, but the people that gave you the right to express your anti Christian thoughts, many of them were Christians.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Im that guy…
    Way too many good bands out there to get stuck listening to a bunch of christian dudes playing dress up metal fantasy.
    Though good on AMG for being a broad church / open coven…

    • You wot m8?

      Agreed…

  • Thorbjørn Thaarup

    I fucking love Theocracy. In a world of overrated and gimicky Sabatons, Gloryhammers, Twlight Forces and Powerwolfs these guys are the real thing. While I agree that Ghost Ship isn’t just as good as As the World Bleeds I think that the very two songs that Mr. Druhm didn’t like that much, Outcast and Call to Arms, are the best on the album. The album in the whole sounds slightly more like Avantasia than their earlier stuff did. Solid though somewhat less inspired.

  • Elton Chagas

    OH FUCK!

    I’m in love!

  • Ken Averill

    You could call Sabbath’s Master of Reality Christian metal, if you take a look at some of the lyrics; Alice, Mustaine and McBrain are all devout Christians. Just playing Devil’s Advocate.

    • Kalsten

      Well, these guys have kicked people from their online forums for saying bad things about Christianity, so…

    • Edsword

      Metal is anti-Christian has always been a fallacy. Metal music is a form of artistic expression and is often used for spiritual themes because of the powerful presentation. Christians composing metal have been there since the beginnings of the genre and even most secular metal is not anti-Christian. That being said, yes, Those who are anti-Christian, especially of European descent do often prefer metal as the genre of choice and for that reason there is a high concentration of anti-Christian metal music available. Most of it not as nearly as quality as Theocracy. Which is ironic to say the least.

  • herrschobel

    ok. i just realised this is the other kind of metal i really don´t like. god that clean singing…no no no .. just no

  • Malcolm in the Middle X

    God fucking dammit, this blog. I’ve enjoyed the reviews (and comments) for some time. In the past week you’ve sold me on this and the new Anaal Nathrakh. I bought both albums. I feel so confused now.

    • The power of Christ confounds you!

      • Malcolm in the Middle X

        I suspect all will be clear when the new Vader drops tomorrow. Unless Theocracy releases a follow-up EP on Monday. Then I give up.

  • basslicker

    Great album and worthy of Godly glory.
    Just got my shipment in the mail! CD plus the white vinyl double LP.

  • Edsword

    Ah, I’m a little disappointed. I thought you’d at least give it a 4, no matter, it’s my album of the year for sure.

  • William Hebblewhite

    If Church was more like this, I’d be less inclined to burn it down.