Being a music critic is, for the most part, kind of a slog. While many records manage to firmly fall into categories of “good” or “bad,” most land squarely in middling territory, with the level of competence of the majority of musicians and songwriters peaking somewhere around mildly capable worship of [insert artist’s favorite band here]. Average albums are almost never fun to write about; the sheer abundance of ho-hum, inoffensive records is staggering, and writing about them stimulates my brain about as well as popping a couple tabs of Ambien. Ghostbound is the exception to this rule. A wholly intriguing mixture of melancholic post-rock, light prog, and black metal, All is Phantom somehow manages to come up short, showcasing flashes of brilliance amidst its uneven stylistic brew.
Before diving into why exactly this record left me lukewarm, I’d like to clarify something: I don’t love All is Phantom as a record, but I sort of adore Ghostbound as a band. Though AiP is their debut, these New Yorkers have immediately zeroed in on their own unique voice, resulting in something that doesn’t quite sound like anything else. Much of this has to do with the literal voice of singer Alec Head, a broad, commanding narrative force that exudes theatricality and makes him a perfect fit for Ghostbound’s earnest, emotional compositions. These arrangements are lush with violins, choral elements, and ethereal guitar effects to craft a soundscape that is a perfect match for AiP’s cover art, and the occasional injection of blastbeats or black metal riffage provides a welcome aggression. Though the black elements can seem displaced at times, they certainly help in defining Ghostbound’s uniqueness.
Ghostbound is a band with monumental ambitions to be sure, yet All is Phantom sees the band’s unique toolset squandered on a coma-inducing stream of lengthy pseudo-ballads and downbeat melancholic rock tracks which comprise much of the record’s mid-section. I should clarify that it’s the prolonged nature of this series that’s frustrating rather than the pieces themselves; they’re quite solid and highlight the dynamic qualities of Head’s performances, but when the marathon arrives directly after the record’s two best tracks (“The Gallivanter” and “The Wildest of Rivers”), it’s difficult to endure without gazing longingly at the skip-back button. Still, the sadboy slog is mildly redeemed by one true highlight in “Night Time Drowning,” featuring a theatrical, cathartic swell of strong narration and catchy “ah-ah-ah” harmonies that gives the track a sense of character, sorely missing from the other pseudo-ballads.
The quieter tracks ultimately have final say again as All is Phantom concludes with yet another ballad (bringing the soft stuff’s running time to a whopping forty-five minutes, which on their own come dangerously close to breaking Angry Metal Guy’s most sacred of structural rules), but not before the penultimate cut, “Roof and Wall,” throws an unreadable curveball. This track is, for all intents and purposes, pure Darkthrone-style black metal, morphed into something uniquely grandiose thanks to the Head’s clean vocal work. It’s a welcome yet somewhat jarring shift in the proceedings, but the aforementioned “The Gallivanter” and “The Wildest of Rivers” show how the band’s blackened leanings can be more naturally utilized, with the former pairing a blastbeating chorus with Avantasia levels of cheeseball theatricality, and the latter offering modern lite-prog a la Coheed and Cambria or The Dear Hunter against a backdrop of dissonant chords. It’s these tracks that see Ghostbound at their most wildly, endearingly creative, even if the ludicrously brickwalled mix somewhat dampens the fun (seriously, boys – let those instrumentals breathe!).
Ghostbound holds such a unique position sandwiched between the realms of rock and metal that it’s a severe downer to hear them squandering their novel traits in an album bogged down by an abundance of unambitious arrangements, and as a result it’s only mildly recommendable to the open-minded metal fan. At the same time, the sheer potential displayed on All is Phantom makes me curious about Ghostbound’s future, and for selfish reasons I recommend that you to check them out so that I’m more likely to see their potential fully realized. At the very least you’ll be getting three unique and engaging tracks that, to my knowledge, sound like nothing else on the market.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fundamentum Official | Bandcamp
Websites: ghostbound.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ghostboundthrone
Releases Worldwide: June 1st, 2018