From the Back of the Rack #1: Ghostbound’s Progressive Metal Sails Away (+ Music Video Premiere)
From the Back of the Rack is a new column that looks at potentially overlooked releases from the month prior.
Every once in a while a band captures the imagination of the metal underground. There is no regularity or consistency to it other than that the project is extremely good and extremely underrated. Frequently, these are bands that don’t tour and rely primarily on word of mouth to support the release. Yet somehow, the news of an exciting new release gets around. Those who cherish such things pass Bandcamp links from inbox to inbox until suddenly the band is known, treasured even, by a small handful of devotees. Such was the case of progressive metallers Ghostbound and their ethereal debut record, All Is Phantom. Their new EP, Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme is the dynamic continuation of their legacy. Featuring a wonderfully clear vision, ambitious songwriting, and gorgeous production, this release is a triumph in the Ghostbound microcosm.
Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme’s overarching concept is oceanic. These songs are fantastically sequenced, forming a fascinating cycle. It’s no coincidence that the opening track “And We Are Already At Sea” features the sound of crashing waves in the intro, while the closer "Seaward" features the same sounds as the record shimmers to a close. The maritime elements reverberate throughout the record: the psychedelic wanderings of "For My Sweet Mary Thyme" speak of "[c]asting possessions into the sea," - while "Bosun’s Lament" is a post-punk sea shanty for a doomed generation. Make no mistake, these are odes to the power of the sea, not the drinking anthems that define so many festival stages. With Ghostbound, there is simply so much to unpack that to offer this album only one listen would be a grave mistake.
This album sees a vast expansion on the Ghostbound sound in terms of both vision and songwriting. For the first time, project mastermind Alec Head allowed his collaborators Talha Alvie, Noah Shaul, and David Richman to engage in the arrangements, giving Ghostbound a breadth only hinted at in the past. It’s exciting to hear a band who had already been praised for their ambition take it to the next level. Unfortunately, at times, Head’s voice is a bit strained, unable to completely reckon with the epic power of the beast he has wrought. In a way, though, this reminds me of early efforts from similar acts, where the vocal performances didn’t quite meet the songs' needs, but that was part of what made them so human. Ghostbound are phenomenal in sharing this selfsame humanity—this is a far more personal offering from the band. When you have songs that span such a huge variety of genres, from black metal to post-rock, and fuse them into an elegant whole, this is in some ways inevitable.
Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme comes across so coherently through the power of the production. Tracks like "Seaward" veritably sparkle in the warm waves of sound Ghostbound have conjured. It’s rare that a group can fuse this many disparate styles into something that makes sense. There is a real magic to a band who seem just as comfortable with black metal epics as they do 80s avant rock tropes. The album's wonderfully rich arrangements add to the experience: violins dancing across particularly potent moments like in "Ada, Age Of Eight" exemplify the album's grandiosity. Ghostbound reflects a certain timelessness that can’t help but to capture the imagination. It’s a timelessness we also see reflected in the oceans that inspired this record.
Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme is a truly masterful release. Its nautical themes are bombastic and powerful, but also very human. They give the record a heft that its predecessor lacked. The fusion of various genres is particularly delightful, forcing ambitious songwriting which in turn evokes a sense of magic that few peers can replicate. None of that would be possible without one of the best production jobs to grace an independent release this year. This is a demanding record, but it’s one that lives up to the fans expectations, and it's certain to once more be passed from inbox to inbox and from fan to fan. Ghostbound's sophomore offering builds on their early promise and hints at so much more. Expect it to be treasured and to see it listed as an underground favorite for years to come.
Watch the video for "And We Are Already At Sea" below.
Extended Play for My Sweet Mary Thyme released March 26th, and is available at the band's Bandcamp page.