The holiday season is approaching, and The Wraith from Los Angeles with one Brit among them are evoking some ghosts of the past in good old British Christmas tradition fashion. Settled somewhere between goth rock, punk and post-punk Gloom Ballet will appeal to anyone who grew up during the 1980s and listened to all of the above. Everybody else will get a chance to see the past through slightly different eyes, just like Ebenezer Scrooge did. In fact, Gloom Ballet might have its own Ebenezer Scrooge wafting about between the notes: The album was written, rehearsed and demoed in a former sweatshop in Downtown LA.
Gloom Ballet is a debut album, but the people in The Wraith are no newcomers to music. On the contrary, this a band of veteran musicians, and, boy, can you hear the collective mileage they have got under their belt. Although completely unpretentious, the album has got professionalism and quality written all over it. Everything fits excellently together. Everybody does his job very well, from drummer to vocalist to guitarists and producer. The quality of the songwriting stays on the same high level throughout the album. One of the things that I like best about it is that it is audibly a team effort. Not one instrument sticks out, neither do the vocals, no one has got anything to prove here. This is 100 % about the music and 0 % about ego.
And the music is fantastic from start to finish. Opener Ballad of Aeon is midtempo and melodic, without being kitschy or annoying. It has an appropriately gloomy atmosphere, sets the bar high and whets the appetite for more. The eleven tracks that follow do not disappoint. The somewhat hoarse vocals of frontman Davey Bales (Lost Tribe, Alvis) have an instant and natural credibility. Drummer Scott Raynor (Blink 182) is excellent in creating a steady, gripping rhythm and holding it. In general, everybody’s performance is characterized by a seeming effortlessness that only years of experience can bring.
The sonic picture doesn’t change much throughout the album, which is not a bad thing at all. It is just more evidence for the band being confident about their music, and rightly so. Interlude, an instrumental with piano and cello, is the only clear deviation from the sonic template, but it has its purpose since it heavily contributes to the gothic atmosphere. The influences the band lists, such as Killing Joke, Samhain and New Model Army, can all be heard in the music and contribute to the album’s appeal, as does a touch of the occult.
My favourite track on Gloom Ballet is Devil’s Serenade. Slightly faster than the rest of the songs and featuring female background vocals, it has an electrifying effect, just like a song with such a name should have, making you punch the air with your fist and moving your legs to the music.
2019 has been a great year for goth rock and Gloom Ballet is certainly one of the best albums released in that wider genre. Too bad that some of the usual suspects have already published their best-album-of-the-year lists. But we haven’t, and this will certainly make it on mine.