Blue Hour Ghosts – Due Review

Many an endeavor in human history has been undone by a seemingly small flaw. We’re all familiar with the “for want of a nail” proverb. Jurassic Park cut corners hiring their IT department, and look how that turned out.1 NASA once lost a perfectly good spacecraft due to a units error, which led to a miscalculated course and a fiery collision with the destination planet. The navigation team had raised concerns that it was off course before the actual crash, but no action was taken. Managers preferred to assume everything was fine until it was too late. Here on final approach hoping everything is fine is Italy’s Blue Hour Ghosts with their second album, Due.

Blue Hour Ghosts play a prog-tinged catchy alternative metal, sounding a bit like Fates Warning playing Breaking Benjamin songs. It’s immediate, it’s catchy, it’s fun. Despite the promises of the promo sheet, it’s not enormously progressive. There’s some aesthetic influence from prog—multi-part vocal arrangements, synths taking the lead for some tracks (“Dead in August”), a syncopated riff here or there (“On Black Clouds”). But the songwriting itself is straightforward, with regular song structures and reasonable track lengths. This isn’t a bad thing: sometimes you don’t want to try and be too clever. Blue Hour Ghosts are good at radio-friendly anthems, and the prog twist helps keep things interesting. Due is littered with catchy riffing and singalong choruses.

Unfortunately for Blue Hour Ghosts, my first impression was of none of these things. Instead, it was “is something wrong with my headphones? Why does it sound so muffled?” Alas, my headphones were fine, and turning it up just turned it into a painful din. The master on Due is incredibly crushed. Every instrument fights for breathing room in a deeply Covid-unsafe manner. I’m definitely a big fan of airy, dynamic masters, but this is far, far worse than the dreaded Industry Standard Production Job. As this is the band’s second release and they’re signed to a reasonably large label, it seems unlikely this is simply a mistake. But I find it utterly baffling as an aesthetic choice. If this were a twenty-minute grindcore album, going for the auditory equivalent of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster it might be at least explicable. Batter the listener for a brief spell, then leave them to recuperate. But here on a forty-minute prog-adjacent record? It’s fatiguing for the listener and robs the band’s music of its impact. Complex, multi-part vocal arrangements soar with all of the grace of the contents of a tin of sardines. Drums and rhythm guitars are blunted and distant. The quieter parts (“Damn Wrong,” the first half of “Involved-Bored,” etc.) clash particularly badly with such a harsh master.

Production aside, there are few things wrong with Due. Songs have a habit of ending slightly abruptly. They’re not really doing anything other bands haven’t done before. And the intro to “Lower the Wires” sounds distractingly like “New Kid in School” by The Donnas, taking me back to playing Rock Band in the noughties.2 But none of this would have put me off. It may not be very prog, but I’m a sucker for a good catchy radio anthem. These are talented musicians, and that’s exactly what they deliver. The riffs are memorable. Bass and synths get some moments in the spotlight and handle it well. I really like the vocal work. I get bits of several songs stuck in my head. “Shine” and “Fearless” back to back in the middle are both particularly great songs.

So it’s a shame to give Due a negative review. I like all of the components here. But it’s been a challenge to separate the music from the production issues to try and give it a fair shake. It’s an exhausting and frustrating listen. I won’t be coming back to do that work voluntarily. I don’t know if anybody working on the album had concerns about the production, but if they did, nobody listened. As the ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter discovered, all the careful planning and construction in the world counts for nothing if you loudly crash and burn on arrival.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 3 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rockshots Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 12th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Random example, obviously.
  2. This one probably says more about me than the band.
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