Review: Back When “We Sang as Ghosts” CD

Whoa, somewhere along the line this band seems to have completely reinvented itself in the past two years. Whereas their debut EP dropped six tracks of caustic and diverse metalcore in a mere 12 minutes, this debut full-length unloads nearly 55 minutes of Isis-esque atmospheric sludge in only seven tracks!? Seriously, this is a pretty solid slab of material that immediately caught my attention when it showed up in my mailbox with its excellent visual presentation and everything. Honestly the only setback, and I hate to say it, is that this sounds a little too much like Isis. In no way do I want to discredit the growth that these guys have undergone, nor to take away from the high quality efforts of this album, but to be totally forthright there's nothing herein that Isis hasn't already done better than Back When, and that is a bit of a hitch. What you've basically got here are seven rather lengthy compositions that swell back and forth from sparse and chilled out passages utilizing clean guitars over atmospheric ambient drones and abstract guitar textures with heavy effects processing to crushing midpaced chord progressions with pulsing distortion and hoarse shouting. Unoriginal in some respects, but when they hit the mark, they do shine quite brightly. For example, the 10-minute "Pelle Versando" opens strong with some lush clean guitars over ethereal hums and drones that really suggest a certain sense of unease that builds at a great pace towards the awesome burst of distortion and chugging melodic undercurrents that comes four minutes later. This is definitely one of the most consistent and fluid tracks in terms of its back and forth shifts, and were they able to reach that level in each track they'd certainly be ready to start turning more heads. 12-minute closer, "Beloved", takes a similar stance in its use of lengthy instrumental jaunts that effectively bounce around with a better sense for how the riffs piece together and such, but once it gets going "Ghosts" is a slightly more dominant track in terms of sheer heaviness and aggression, and that definitely pays off for the latter half of the disc by dropping some doomy chord progressions that provide a more sinister sensibility. The only shorter tracks are both pseudo instrumentals ("Lyrics" do seem to be included for them within the booklet, though?), where "Essays in the Moonlight III: Permanent Low" is a consistently slow paced and subdued lull, while "The Lowland Leave-Taking" is the only true downfall of the disc with its abrasively noisy attack of swirling guitar effects and feedback over persistently pulsing bass and drums (not to mention what sounds like some indecipherably manipulated vocals spoken through some sort of weird electronic filter). But neither of these tracks really amounts to much substance in the grand scheme of things, so they sort of just add unnecessary bulk to the massive running time. A five-track, 46-minute affair probably would've been a little more cohesive, but that's not such a big deal beyond "The Lowland Leave-Taking" being rather annoying. The recording is pretty god damn good, too. I think it needs a little tweaking to really maximize what these guys are doing here, but everything is loud, dense, and natural, and those are three essential traits to have in place when working within this general realm. What I'd suggest in the future, and this is one of the only aspects of the recording that I actually think needs a little work, is more brightness to the guitar tone. Right now the sense of dryness that's going on in the mix starts to feel overcompressed in some ways, most notably in the thickness of the guitars, which can start to feel held back during some of the heavier moments since the distortion is so heavy on the plodding low-end. Were a little more brightness added in to open up those power chords and highlight the true texture of the distortion I actually think this album would hit a lot harder in certain areas, so... that's certainly something to consider down the road. As mentioned, the design looks awesome here. The general color scheme is fuckin' great and the cover is really stark and immediately pulls you in, while everything else maintains a clean and consistent appearance that all ties in with the music and whatnot. Lyrically you could probably argue that this is a bit of a "concept record" in terms of how some of the content references similar imagery and ideas throughout, but each piece stands on its own as well as it works within the whole, and much of the content leaves things aptly open for the listener: "One last glance at the sun and the unsure readjustment of a uniform that just doesn't quite suit. (But our voices will meet in my head, singing joyous songs of the memory of best friends.) This rollercoaster of being. The intensity of January. This abstraction of me. My voice sings again in a ghostless choir of one." Very nice work overall. I'm not floored, and I'm basically giving their impressive progression and undeniable sense of vision the benefit of the doubt as far as how comparable a lot of this material is to other artists, but if they've come this far in two short years, my guess is that they could work a few more wonders on their next outing. I'm definitely curious.

[Shock Value]
Running time - 54:50, Tracks: 7
[Notable tracks: Pelle Versando, Ghosts, Beloved]
Shock Value Records -