Ghost Brigade are tough to neatly pigeonhole into a specific genre. Their early material was definitely post-metal/post-hardcore, but as they matured their sound evolved to include doom, gothic rock, alternative music and slight touches of black metal and prog. By the time they released Until Fear No Longer Defines Us, their style was quite the interesting stew of influences, yet their music remained accessible, direct and highly emotional. IV – One With the Storm sees the band bringing in a new bassist and keyboardist, but this doesn’t trigger any major shifts in sound. There is however, a noticeable uptick in alternative influences, a slight reduction in heaviness and a greater focus on clean singing. This leads to a lot of introspective passages full of melancholy and ennui, punctuated by outbursts of anger and ferocity, and when it’s this well executed, that becomes a pretty wicked googly indeed.
There are moments like opener “Wretched” that pass for tried and true Ghost Brigade, pairing mournful, Insomnium/Rapture-esque melodic leads with heavy riffing, death roars and just a hint of blackened magic. Then there are the more interesting pieces like “Departures” and its Seattle alt. rock ideas and Alice in Chains vocal harmonies shoehorned in with Katatonia like goth-doom trappings. It works shockingly well because the writing is so strong and Manne Ikonen’s vocals are so pleasant and rich with emotion.
“Aurora” starts with a strong Draconian Times era Paradise Lost sound before going all post rock angst on you, and the glum, sad leads are what one expects as Ikonen croons and growls his way through with grace. The album’s centerpiece is the 10-plus minute epic “Electra Complex” and though Steel Druhm shakes his fist at all compositions eclipsing the 10 minute mark, this one is surprisingly listenable and doesn’t feel nearly as long as it is. It’s in turns, languid and unhurried like modern Anathema, using melodic trem riffing to build atmosphere and mood much like Aoria did so well on their debut; and heavy and crushing like a chaotic mix of Rapture and The Truth Hurts era Pro-Pain. The closing refrain of “freaks of nature,” chanted over and over is hypnotic and leaves a lasting impression.
Some minor Tool-isms creep in during “Stones and Pillars,” and “Long Way to the Graves” distills the best elements of weepy, sadboy, goth rock from bands like End of Green and Lacrimas Profundere and makes it oh so Finnish and unhappy. Things go out on a very high note with album standout “Elämä On Tulta,” which is a beautifully flowing, vibrant rocker with an enormous Rapture influence and more pop and sizzle than you’d expect from this frowny faced crew.
Complaints? I think the 68 minute run time is a bit too long, and overall the songs lack the same impact as last time. Though the writing is consistent and of high quality throughout, there aren’t those stand out moments or “hits” like “Divine Act of Lunacy” and “In the Woods” off of the predecessor. Moreover, “Disembodied Voices” and “Anchored” are pretty run of the mill by Ghost Brigade standards, without the oomph of the other cuts.
The biggest revelation here is the improved singing from Ikonen. He’s developed a style nicely situated between Layne Staley and Shaun Morgan from Seether. His voice conveys emotion better than most and practically drips despondency and pain. His death growls, while effective, have always been industry standard, which is why I like the increased emphasis on his singing this time around. The hard riffery from Tommi Kiviniemi and Willie Naukkarinen is solid, but always take a backseat to the melodic, somber accents that give the band its winningly grim sound. They’re masters at the same beautifully sad harmonies Rapture once perfected and in many ways, that band’s classic sound lives on through Ghost Brigade‘s work. Mix in some understated but effective keyboards and you have the perfect soundtrack for those cold winter nights of the soul.
A step back from last time, and I doubt it will drawn me back as often as Until Fear has, but IV – One With the Storm is still a rich, engrossing piece of downer metal for fans of Katatonia, Anathema and other such bummed out balladeers. Sadboy songs say so much, don’t they? Let us brood.