Doctor Smoke – Dreamers and the Dead Review

Ghost created quite the marketable niche for themselves when they introduced the whole “faceless ghouls and demon Pope paying homage to Blue Öyster Cult and Mercyful Fate” schtick. It shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but their notoriety speaks for itself. Other bands tried similar recipes with varying degrees of success but none came close to capturing the secret ingredients in Ghost’s unholy special sauce. Ohio-based Doctor Smoke aren’t trying to ape those nameless ghouls so much as borrow the best parts of their sound to season their own proprietary slurry composed of hair metal, hard rock, NWoBHM, and a vague Foo Fighters appreciation. Before you turn up your nose at the stench coming off this unorthodox brew, you may want to get your ears around what Doctor Smoke is…smoking, because it actually works! Alchemy most foul is afoot.

The good Doctor knows how to craft riffy, uber-catchy tunes that straddle the lines of several genres. Opener “Reborn Into Darkness” is a combination of occult and hard rock with a slight hair metal edge and it’s catchier than COVID crabs. The song structure is linear and direct, building to a winning chorus, and Matt Tluchowski’s Papa meets Ozzy vocals go down as easy as 18 year old scotch. The riffs are vibrant and meaty and things are kept upbeat with a hint of mystery and magic. This is the basic blueprint the band toys with, sometimes dialing up the aggressive, Diamond Head-esque NWoBHM energy as on “These Horrid Things” and especially “Out of Time,” and other times amping up the occult Ghost-isms as on “Been Here Forever” and “What Lies Beyond.” The latter is an absolute winner and one of my favorite tunes of the year, with hooks piled on hooks and a great vocal performance that gets under your epidermis and lays earworm eggs.

What’s most impressive is that Doctor Smoke prescribe 10 tracks and all of them are catchy, entertaining, and memorable medicine. That’s pretty rare regardless of genre. There isn’t a cut here I’d cut, and the replay value is shockingly high. The back half has just as many winners as the front and the run from “What Lies Beyond,” through the title track, onto the stupidly hooky “Vexed” and the riff-tastic goodness of “The Rope” is tough to beat. Just shy of 43 minutes, Dreamers and the Dead is a highly digestible length and the songs all sit in that crucial 3-5 minute sweet spot and never, ever test your patience and goodwill. They arrive, hook, rehook, and get the fook out and I love them for it. Add a warm, inviting production and you have quite the excellent bedside manner.

Matt Tluchowski has an undeniable Papa Emeritus vibe but with a bit more of a hard rock edge mixed with vintage Ozzy-isms. He’s very easy to like as a frontman and though he doesn’t have a wide range available to him, he fits the style perfectly and has a genuine charm factor. Steve Lehocky and Tluchowski impress with their genre-bending riffing and harmonies and they ensure that every song has a brisk, driving, fist-pumping energy to keep you awake and grooving along. This may be a kind of occult rock platter but it puts the fun ahead of the fear by a wide margin. Aside from the dynamic riff-craft, the duo uncorks some sweet solos and exuberant jammy jams on cuts like “Out of Time” and “The Rope.” Jeff Young’s bass is present, fat, and involved and the package is rounded out well with solid drumming from Cody Cooke. Talent only gets you so far, and ace songwriting is always key. These chaps bring both to the smoke show.

I was initially unsure what to make of Doctor Smoke, but fun, hard-rocking music answers many questions. Dreamers and the Dead is insanely catchy rock/metal, and better than anything Ghost has cranked out in years. Don’t let this one slip through the cracks of the 2021 release schedule like so much…smoke. There’s fun to be had here, so get yer smoke on. Doctor’s orders.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: NA | Format Reviewed: Lossless
Label: Ripple Music
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: September 3rd, 2021

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