Ghost in the Ruins – Return to Ash Review

One morning at AMG HQ, the manic success of Chat Pile led to a toilet backup, and gorilla shit hung heavy in the HVAC with 103 degree weather outside. Between the sounds of vomiting and sponge slopping, Cherd peeped over the cubicle and was like, “I bet I’ve written more reviews with the noise tag than you.” He tallied up and I tallied up. Who came out victorious? Twas I, 16 to 12. Plenty of blackened noise pervaded my humble beginnings, but before you come to the obvious conclusion that I’m more kvlt than my esteemed colleagues, remember that I’m human too. I put my pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. It may seem like I eat nails for breakfast but man, those Frosted Mini Spooners hit different. It may seem like I drink my coffee as black as can be, but I’ll need it with a side of Tums.1 While noise populates my reviews like a thorny path, I began my metal journey through the grassy shire of metalcore.

Ghost in the Ruins is a metalcore band from North Carolina, born from the ashes of Further the Fall, debut full-length Return to Ash making a wrecking ball to eardrums everywhere. Taking cues from the glory days of metalcore, expect galloping breakdowns, dueling melodic axe work, and vicious vocals galore. They refuse to settle in the scenecore niche of the early 2000s, and instead channel their best impressions of Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, and Miss May I (sans whiny cleans). While Return to Ash does little aside from pummel with a trip down memory lane and its self-released nature leaves a bit to be desired, it is nonetheless benefited by its breakneck energy and powerful performances across the board.

Like any good 2000’s metalcore band worth its salt, Ghost in the Ruins is at its best balancing viciousness and melody. It would be easy to make their debut a nostalgia trip, double dipped in the Hot Topic-core of yesteryear, but Return to Ash instead flexes its muscles in a sound both nostalgic and punishing. Don’t expect the latest emo tenor abuse of The Amity Affliction or the deathcore djunz of Like Moths to Flames; Ghost in the Ruins happily gallops away at August Burns Red-inspired melodic intervals with Miss May I’s bouncy riffs. “Monument” and “Colossus” beat away with Phinehas-esque reckless abandon and half-time drumming that adds to the chaos, while the melodic overlays of “Five Days” and “Lights & Sounds” add a distinctly heart-wrenching Bury Tomorrow vibe. The centerpiece duo of “Breaking Point” and “Lights & Sounds” proves to be a winning formula for the act, expertly balancing beautiful melodic passages with bone-crushing riffs, while closer “The Last Sunset” awakens a powerful central tremolo to cap the album off.

Return to Ash is quite the chore to sit through, and while the best of its forty-eight minute runtime dwells in both the melodic and the pulverizing, its worst can’t quite figure it out. In particular, “The Hollowed” and “Resentment” feature limp riffs that slide off beat periodically, feeling like their guest spots (Michael Felker of Convictions, and Sean McCulloch of Phinehas, respectively) are only present to mask poor songwriting. While “Velleity” serves as a pastoral respite to the tension, “Incipient” feels like a standard metalcore intro that ends up bleeding into “Breaking Point” anyway. Clean vocals make appearances sporadically, and while they provide a heartbeat to “Resentment,” they feel forced and awkward in “Follow and Bleed.” Although endemic to the palette for which they strive, Ghost in the Ruins’ tasty bass presence steals the show in “Breaking Point” but is drowned out everywhere else. Perhaps nitpicky, vocals can feel garbled through the flat self-released production, with the technical noodling occupying most of the space.

Although long and shifty, Return to Ash has enough cutthroat viciousness and stellar performances that you can appreciate the nostalgia that courses through Ghost in the Ruins’ veins while applauding the music contained herein. It’s by no means a perfect album, its self-released nature resulting in some production snafus and the youth of the act making some questionable decisions throughout its bloated runtime. However, enough highlights exist to warrant a solid recommendation: Return to Ash is heavy, fast, nostalgic, and above all, just plain fun. I felt whisked back to the metal of my youth, and I emerge from the fray refreshed and ready to keep spanking Cherd‘s sorry noise tag record.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: PCM
Label:  Self-Released
Releases Worldwide: August 26th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. 30 hurts.
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