Originally conceived as a solo project by Brooklyn-based musician/actor (actor?) Alec Head to deliver themes of loss, grief and isolation via the medium of atmospheric black metal, Ghostbound has since expanded into a ‘full’ band and now presents the world with their debut full-length ‘All is Phantom’. We all know that at this point that the whole ‘shoegaze/post-black metal’ thing has more or less been done to death but it’s clear that Alec believes that Ghostbound can bring a unique take to this rather well-worn subgenre.
And you know what? He’s right – at least to an extent. This is clearly his show – the bass and drum work on display throughout ‘All is Phantom’ is deft, precise and creative, no doubts on that front – but the defining elements across this record come from Alec’s six strings and his throat. The ‘actor’ reference above certainly makes more sense as the strains of opener ‘The Gallivanter’ assail the ears – his vocal tones are soaring, dramatic and theatrical, delivered with a palpable passion and confidence. It’s also a little ridiculous – across a backdrop of overdriven, jangly black metal guitars he laments not having a ‘featherbed on which to rest his weary legs’ but after a time, it begins to make sense.
In many ways, his vocals bear an uncanny resemblance to none other than Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson – just listen to the end section of the wistful, soaring ‘It Goes Away’ and tell me it isn’t reminiscent of Bruce at his best – which is certainly different in genre where the clean vocals tend to veer towards soft restraint. Alec is unafraid to showcase his powerful pipes on this record and for that, he is to be commended. It’s an excellent and confident performance.
His guitar efforts are also impressive – some excellent clean tones can be heard on ‘Earthen Ground’ and ‘(I Will) Keep My Dreams Inside’, cascading arpeggios drenched in modulated reverbs and delays that suggest someone has invested heavily in their pedalboard (and to good effect). A huge amount of consideration has gone into ‘All is Phantom’ – cellos and violins decorate some passages and this is evidently the product of a defined, singular vision.
As ever, the heart of the record is in the songwriting and in this, Ghostbound mainly succeed – tracks like ‘Tidings’ and ‘Night Time Drowning’ showcase an appreciation of dynamics, ebb and flow, hooks, all the things that a good song make. Yes, occasionally things get a little too melodramatic for comfort (I am still unconvinced by that opening track) and Alec’s impassioned vocals will certainly take some getting used to for many listeners of this genre. Nevertheless, as an album that dwells in the lighter, more glimmering end of the shoegaze black metal sound, ‘All is Phantom’ is an engaging and intriguing listen. Not only this, it most definitely stands out and brings something a little different to the table.
(8/10 Frank Allain)