Review – Ghost Community – Cycle of Life – by Progradar

gcalbum

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou

Let’s face it, nothing good in this world generally comes easy. We often have to endure hardship to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the gestation of ‘Cycle of Life’, the debut album from Cardiff based band Ghost Community, has certainly seen many trials and tribulations before, finally, coming to fruition.

In fact their own publicity information goes so far as to say,

“‘Cycle of Life’ was written through a maelstrom of adversity and sometimes you can hear it but not necessarily feel it, because this is an album of hope; and if we ever needed an album of hope, it’s right now.”

Band -Catherine Summerhayes

(this picture and featured image courtesy of Catherine Summerhayes)

Ghost Community is Matthew Cohen – bass (The Reasoning / Magenta), Simon Rogers – guitar (Also Eden), Jake Bradford-Sharp – drums (The Reasoning), Moray Macdonald – keyboards (Godsticks) and the band’s singer supreme, John Paul Vaughan (Unbroken Spirit).

Riversea vocalist Marc Atkinson was the original singer but was unable to commit to the project on a long term basis, however, some of his original vocals do appear on the album.

Matty Cohen says of Marc,

“We’re all in this together……. I am so glad he is on the album. He started this journey with us so, it was only right.”

With much crisscrossing the country through the years in various bands and with each person sharing the same stages, frequenting the same scene, and forging firm friendships, discussions inevitably began about creating something new together, as a band. With the wealth of experience they brought to the table, they knew they could make this band something that not only met the needs of their own musical desires but would also, be a band for everyone. Ghost Community is that band and that dream, come true.

Matty feels that the music community has come together  to support Ghost Community in their endeavour, he told me,

“This is what the music scene should be about. Everyone helping each other. That is the ethos behind Ghost Community. It is about every thing working because we all need each other to make it work.”

He continues,

“Trust me, music has saved me on more than one occasion. It drives me mad sometimes but, it’s in me and I never want to be without it. That is why this album is so important…”

With the brilliant Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief, Opeth & Katatonia) mixing / producing the album with the band, hopefully there is something special awaiting me.

Bruce Soord

Opener Rise Up seems to bloom from almost out of nowhere, a low key intro before the stylish bass and guitar power into view, dragging the impressive drums along with them. One thing is immediately apparent, John Paul Vaughan has a stunning voice and one that fits with the material perfectly. There is an urgency to the song, one that keeps you on your toes. It flies along at a fairly hectic pace but loses no quality at all. I’m put in mind of some of the recent stalwarts of British progressive music like The Reasoning and Also Eden (no surprise there) but the band give it their own polished edge and identity. Simon Rogers shows his zen like guitar skills with a fiery, burning solo and, basically, you are having a rollicking good time. Driving all of this along is the dynamism of Matty Cohen’s superb bass playing and Jake Bradford-Sharp’s pin sharp drum skills, Moray Macdonald’s vibrant keyboards are the glue that holds everything in place. There is a vocal piece towards the end that reminds me so much of Peter Nicholls of IQ fame, John Paul has a really distinctive voice and this track is a brilliant way to open the album, right, what’s next?

John Paul

(John Paul Vaughan)

Distinctive guitar, gentle but insistent, opens Mirror Lakes, a more laid back track than the previous. The vocals are key at the start of this song, giving a focal point around which the languid music can flow with ease. Then the powerful drums and bass hit you hard along with a powerful riff from Simon’s guitar. There’s an ebb and flow between the relative calm of the verse and then the in your face potency of the catchy chorus which is actually quite addictive and has you singing along with gusto. I find myself picking out the individual instruments at times, the drums almost have a life of their own, the guitar playing is really quite sublime and the keyboards give added verve and fervour. On this track, what really stands out at times though is that driving bass line, almost with a mind and will of its own and all these impressive musicians segue together to provide a stylish run out to end the song.

Jake

(Jake Bradford-Sharp)

Anything and Everything has a pensive opening, almost sci-fi in feel, with the industrial synth sounds. The drums dominate the soundscape with the guitar adding gloss before the vocals begin, low-key and contemplative. There’s a feel of melancholy running through the song even as the pace picks up and the track gets more urgency, it s a darker, more sombre song that leaves you in a thoughtful mood. Just out of reach, but very evident, there’s an 80’s synth pop party going on, Midge Ure and Ultravox have turned up to jam with the Ghost Community boys and Moray’s keys get a real extended workout on this track. For a child of that decade there is nostalgia to be heard and felt at every turn and wry and wistful smile never leaves my face. A great song that is surrounded by a wistful aura throughout.

Moray

(Moray Macdonald)

There is a delicate fragility to the opening to Blue December Morning, you can almost imagine a cold, frosty day with the icicles hanging from the sparse branches, bleak but beautiful. John’s vocal is affectingly humble and sincere and the music adds its own gravitas with lush string-like keyboards and an elegant piano giving a pared back ambience to the whole song. There is an almost heavy-hearted and poignant feel to the lyrics but the song shows there is beauty even in tribulation as a darkly magnificent solo flows organically from Simon Rogers’ eloquent guitar to leave you lost in your own thoughts. The vocals become more impassioned and the music stimulates you even more as this intelligent and potent track comes to a stirring close.

simon

(Simon Rogers)

Heartening and uplifting, the organ, vocals and guitar that open Ghost Community are full of hope and optimism and this feel-good track carries on in that vein to give an atmosphere of confidence and belief. An influential and charismatic rhythm section give real impetus to the music and the vocals have a compelling tone to them, one that makes you sit up and take notice. There is energy aplenty running through this song with hooks firing from left, right and centre. The absorbing lull in the middle of the song brings a note of seriousness to proceedings, hope and optimism are all good but nothing comes easy in this life, you have to work for every positive outcome. That mantra is drummed into you as the song comes to an intricate close.

Matty

(Matty Cohen)

So it all comes to this, the final track on the album and the title track Cycle of Life. With a title like that it should be an epic shouldn’t it? Well, for starters, it’s nearly sixteen minutes long and starts with an ominous voice over so that’s a couple of boxes ticked already! An unpretentious acoustic guitar and John Paul’s deferential vocals add serious dignity to the song before Matty’s pulsating bass and Moray’s keyboards lay the foundations for the track to move up a notch or two with an energetic riff and sweeping keyboards taking the baton and running with it. Jake’s drums get to shine again and all the components are present and correct for something rather special. Like all the best extended progressive tracks, it seems to flow seamlessly from section to section, sometimes showcasing the exceptional guitar work and , at other times, allowing the uber-tight rhythm section to take centre stage. John Paul Vaughan’s singular voice repeatedly requests that,

“Passengers get on board, welcome to the Cycle of Life….”

Before the voice-over precedes an undulating lull in proceedings, everyone treading water before the mantra is repeated again. It’s easy to get lost in the wondrously labyrinthine twists and turns that abound in this dramatic and profound song but the band will always guide you back to safety. An acoustic guitar returns us to place of calm and serenity, the cultured vocals soothing any troubled souls as you sit on a metaphorical shore of endless possibilities, it only takes a second to change your life so what are you waiting for? A rather inventive and perceptive instrumental section brings us to the close of this creative track and, as the last note resonates into the distance, you sit quietly to ruminate on what the last fifty-one minutes has given you.

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Released 24th June 2016

Buy ‘Cycle of Life’ direct from the band at the link below:

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Review – Opeth – Deliverance and Damnation (remixed) – by Shawn Dudley

D&D_Vinyl

2015 has been a retrospective year for Opeth. Their 25th anniversary tour was celebrated by adding a full performance of the 2005 album ‘Ghost Reveries’ in addition to their regular ‘Pale Communion’ set and the year closes out with a deluxe remixed reissue of their classic albums ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Damnation’.

Two albums that were recorded during the same sessions and intended for release together, but their record label at the time (Music For Nations) split them up and issued them 6 months apart. This reissue fixes that mistake and the new mixes from Steven Wilson (‘Damnation’) and Bruce Soord (‘Deliverance’) offer up a fresh perspective on this material, which was so important to the evolution of the band and what they’ve been able to accomplish in the ensuing years.

The creation of this double album was far from a painless process however…

Opeth was coming off their breakthrough release ‘Blackwater Park’, an album that finally opened the doors to the US market so expectations were very high.  Mikael Akerfeldt remarks in the liner notes: “I remember that even though I was determined to write the heaviest record to date, I kept coming up with these beautiful snippets of acoustic music. It was disturbing. My muse wasn’t cooperating. Where’s the fucking metal?”

Mikael’s best friend Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) suggested that the answer was to record two albums; one heavy, one softer. Mikael latched onto the idea immediately but their record label took some convincing. The only way the label would agree to a double album was if the record only counted as a single release against their contract and if they recorded it in the same amount of time and on the same budget as a single release.

Despite only having three completed songs ready and a month to record the entire project, Mikael dove into writing and recording on the fly, often staying up all night writing and then recording the next day. To add to the stress of the situation, the first studio they booked was not well maintained and frequent equipment breakdowns quickly put them behind schedule.

They soldiered on, changed studios and completed recording of the basic tracks, but Mikael was utterly exhausted and called on his friend Steven Wilson (who had co-produced ‘Blackwater Park’) to assist them with finishing the project. Wilson would help to put the finishing touches on the ‘Deliverance’ half and then him and Mikael worked together to craft ‘Damnation’.

Steven contributed keyboards and backing vocals for both albums in addition to writing the lyrics for the song Death Whispered A Lullaby.

Opeth-Deliverance

Deliverance

“Deliverance was always meant to be a dark and heavy record. I can’t remember why I wanted it to be, to be honest. At the time of writing the songs, I wasn’t listening to any music like that. I only played soft singer/songwriter stuff or progressive rock. 

I can’t remember listening to any extreme forms of metal at all. In retrospect, I think I might have been afraid of losing touch with the form of music that had shaped the band in the first place.”  – Mikael Akerfeldt

Based on the finished result, any fears Mikael may have had about losing touch with their heavy side were utterly unfounded. ‘Deliverance’ is one of their heaviest and most intense records; probably made even more so by the stressful circumstances that birthed it. It’s the perfect mirror image to ‘Damnation’; the stylistic breadth of Opeth’s ‘from a whisper to a scream’ approach on full display.

‘Deliverance’ is a fairly uncompromising listen for the most part, but it also contains many moments of beauty and progressive rock sophistication. A Fair Judgment is my personal favorite track from these sessions, a multi-layered epic that begins with Steven Wilson’s plaintive solo piano intro and then ebbs and flows in dramatic intensity for the remaining 9 minutes. Mikael sticks to his clean voice throughout (at this stage getting more assured with each album) and the song also features some fine guitar solos and a nice doomy outro.

The title track deserves special mention as well as it’s arguably the best prog-metal arrangement in their discography. If I could only pick one song to demonstrate their breadth of sound it would be this one. Military-precision death metal and delicate acoustic passages flow effortlessly into one another creating dramatic tension and release throughout the 13 ½ minute composition. The wonderfully hypnotic repeated rhythmic figure during the ending segment is thrilling, I can think of few bands that could pull it off. It may be a cliché but this song is definitely a jaw-dropper.

Bruce Soord’s meaty remix of the album really brings out the dynamics of the original recording and is quite different in character to the original mix. The most noticeable difference is in the drums and the low end. Bruce removed the triggered “clicks” on the kick drums that were omnipresent during that era and that suddenly allows the bottom end to breathe, the kicks now push massive amounts of air. The original mix had very little low-end definition, now it will rattle the rafters.

He has also used a wider stereo spread and more three-dimensional positioning of the vocal tracks and lead and acoustic guitar parts, giving the entire album increased depth and presence. While it’s still a fairly compressed sounding recording this version is a dramatic overall improvement and sounds fantastic in the 24bit/96khz stereo mix on the DVD. It can be cranked loudly with no discernable distortion.

 

Opeth-Damnation

Damnation

“Damnation” is a happier memory, even if it really shouldn’t be, as its writing and recording was almost equally difficult. I guess it was a more interesting album to make, since the music/direction/everything else about Opeth was moving and progressing in actual real time. In the same pace as the music was created. Quite odd, when you think about it now.” – Mikael Akerfeldt

It’s going to sound like hyperbole but I honestly believe ‘Damnation’ is one of the most unique and beautiful albums of the past decade. Opening track Windowpane was my first exposure to Opeth and it just sounded utterly timeless and classic from that very first listen. It’s not often that I hear a single song that starts an obsession, but that’s exactly what happened in this case.

‘Damnation’ is 44 minutes of melodic progressive rock perfection, one that acknowledges Mikael’s many musical influences while still sounding unmistakably like Opeth. The band responds brilliantly to the new challenges introduced by these arrangements and each member puts in a career-best performance. Special mention goes to Martin Mendez (bass) and Martin Lopez (drums) for their deft rhythm section work, I can think of few metal bands that could so convincingly alternate from the delicate swing of a track like To Rid The Disease to the full-on metallic assault of Master’s Apprentices.

Steven Wilson provides an array of classic prog keyboard sounds to the recording and would inspire Mikael to expand Opeth’s lineup to feature a full-time keyboardist from this point forward.

Steven Wilson’s remix stays true to the character of his original mix from 2002 while bringing out even more depth and detail to the intricate arrangements. It’s not quite as dramatic of an improvement as ‘Deliverance’, but ‘Damnation’ was a good sounding album to begin with; now it sounds phenomenal. It’s an essential upgrade.

Being able to experience both of these albums together, as they were intended, really helps illustrate what an important stylistic step they were for the band. ‘Damnation’ allowed Mikael to fully explore his progressive rock side without being restricted by stylistic concerns and that freedom carried onto his writing on subsequent albums. ‘Deliverance’ would simultaneously close one chapter of their career (the 4-piece lineup) while pointing toward the expanded creative direction they would follow on ‘Ghost Reveries’, ‘Watershed’ and beyond.

For a deeper understanding of this material and the circumstances surrounding the recording sessions I highly recommend picking up the DVD set ‘Lamentations’. It features a documentary film made during the recording of the albums with interviews of the band and Steven Wilson.  The concert recording features 2 sets, the first set including the entire ‘Damnation’ album and the second set featuring tracks from ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Blackwater’ Park. The concert was filmed at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2003.

The Box set was released on 14th September 2015

Buy the box set direct from the artists webshop