Pagan Rebellion Columbus: Arkona, Heidevolk, et al.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 12, 2015
Ticket cost: $14/$17
Merch purchased: Arkona hoodie ($45); Heidevolk flag ($15)

By: Kris Kotlarik
Feature photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Coincidentally falling on my birthday, I can think of very few things I would rather be doing on such a day than watching a show like this; essentially, this is a quasi-Paganfest, and although I don’t carry a drinking horn around with me, I still have a great deal of fun at these shows. Everyone is in a great mood and ready to have a good time, without the threat of butt metal pit ninjas. With six bands, we got a good look at the local pagan-influenced metal scene, as well as some national touring acts and a couple of global folk metal titans. How did everyone fare?

The Conquering: 1.0*
0.5-point deduction for using backing drum tracks for any reason (even if that reason involves a broken foot)

Watching this band perform, you wouldn’t think they have been together for 15 years; everything from their style (the guitarists were shirtless and wearing corpse paint while the lead singer was dressed in generic black) and their performance were both out of sync. Their brand of black metal just wasn’t working.

The band displayed a good sense of humor, and it was interesting to see their bassist chugging a gallon of water between songs. From a musicianship standpoint, their best track was easily “The Veracity in Our Blood,” which showcases a good midpace riff and some of the vocalist’s harshest vocals. Unfortunately, they were noticeably out of sync during the thrashing instrumental section in the middle of the track, which was disappointing. Get well soon, great drummer! Conquering should be less of a challenge upon your return.

Kingsblood: 2.0*

The group displays a solid stage presence and presents a fairly standard deathrash (how is this not an officially recognized subgenre yet?), but they don’t stand out, especially in this billing. Plus the singer seems to be influenced a little too much by Max Cavalera, a man I have never been a fan of.

Winterhymn: 3.0*

The first “trve” folk metal group of the night, Winterhymn continues to prove that they belong on the national folk metal circuit. Featuring a prominent violinist, the band’s sound was full of energy and generally much clearer than the previous two groups. Virtually the only complaint I had was the sound of their keyboards; they were either virtually inaudible, or way too loud (most notably on “Stand Your Ground”). I also wasn’t overly enthralled with their lead vocalist, whose harsh screams generally sound out of place and occasionally wavered during the back end of their set. But their energy and enthusiasm were more than enough to hold their own on this bill.

Helsott: 3.5*

This group surprised me more than anyone else on this bill. The star of this group is flautist/singer/Simone Simons doppelganger Bri Steiner, who was all over the stage playing various wind instruments and laying down some impressive vocal melodies. Occasionally, however, feedback came from her microphones.

One qualm I had (one that you’re probably noticing a pattern of by now) was with the male lead singer, who was absolutely hammered and also wearing a Dimebag Darrell shirt. I get that the Dimebag shirt was probably a tribute to the late Pantera guitarist who was killed at Alrosa, but he came off as a drunken meathead during their set and that sort of took me out of the mood a bit.

With that said, the rest of the band was fun to watch, the sound was (nearly) flawless, and Steiner could frequently be seen getting into the mosh pit with the audience during the final two bands’ sets. In short, this is a fun folk metal group to watch.

Heidevolk: 3.5*

What other bands have two members, neither of whom are playing any instruments, serving as co-lead vocalists? I can’t think of any. That alone made this an engaging set; Lars Vogel and Mark Bochting complement each other very well with their own performance styles onstage. Their traditional heavy metal sound with pagan influences generally sounded a bit too loud, but was otherwise well-balanced among each member.

Joost Westdijk was highly entertaining to watch on drums; with his stick twirling and other showboating antics behind the kit, one would think that he was back at home in the Netherlands in the band’s practice studio. If there was one drawback to be had from their set, it would have to be the lack of live folk instrumentation; all of it was pumped into the crowd. It’s not the biggest liability, but a live folk presence goes a long way.

Heidevolk goes down as a band whose live performances far exceed the quality of their studio output, which isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Watching them live is a showcase of why folk metal makes so much sense in a live setting, especially when they’re as on top of their game with regards to stage presence as they were at this show.

Arkona: 4.5*

I had the pleasure of seeing Arkona at Kilkim Zaibu 2012 in Lithuania. This is the kind of festival that Arkona is perfect for; picture, if you will, a typical American Renaissance Faire. But instead of fucking hypnotists and acapella groups that are trying to turn shitass pop songs into “folk” arrangements (the same Renaissance Faire had a “glee” club that attempted to sing Lady Gaga songs. They failed spectacularly), the entertainment is some gritty, in-your-face pagan metal. To this day, that festival was one of the best concert experiences I have ever had. The people, the beer, the authentic display of old Baltic artifacts…if every Renaissance faire was like this, I would hit all of them.

Anyway, enter Russia’s Arkona, a blackened folk metal outfit with an amazingly talented vocalist who goes by the name of Masha Scream. Her clean vocals are enchanting and perfect for this style of metal, and she adds versatility with her growls and uncanny stage presence. In addition to the standard cadre of drums, guitars, and bass, Vladimir “Volk” Reshetnikov handles a number of different instruments, including bagpipes and various flutes.

Let’s cut to the chase here: What Arkona accomplished in Columbus wasn’t good. It wasn’t awesome. It wasn’t superb. It was superior. For one thing, Masha’s live voice has immensely improved since the last time I saw Arkona. It was already great; now it’s on another level entirely. The band’s sound has clearly evolved. Many people criticized their newest release, Yav, because it didn’t fit their expectations for Arkona’s sound. I think Yav was a remarkable stepping stone for the group, as it represents a more evolved sound and a renewed state of purpose, and that was in full effect at Alrosa Villa. Especially memorable was the glorious riff fest from Yav, “Na Strazhe Novyh Let” (On Guard of New Aeons).

Everything about Arkona’s performance was stellar; the sound was fantastic, the lighting fit wonderfully with the music, and each band member fully looked engrossed in their performance. Looking into the crowd, two things were visibly clear:
1: Arkona drew the biggest and most consistent mosh pits of the night by a wide margin. That’s not just a reflection of the amount of booze being consumed; that’s the amount of energy the band was displaying.
2: Outside the mosh pits, I couldn’t find a single person in the audience that wasn’t into their performance. Never mind the fact that 99% of the people in the crowd don’t speak Russian and therefore can’t understand the lyrics; in any direction, you could see shit-eating grins the size of Texas on people’s faces.

By all metrics, Arkona’s display of musicianship and showmanship was a rousing success. Plus their hoodie has amazing back art. Arkona was one of the pioneers of folk metal, and now they’re innovating it, both in the studio and on tour.

Overall: While most of the bands were solid and are worth a look, Arkona should be selling out festival grounds all over the planet. Their performance here is among the top ten I have ever seen, and a top-five show in this country.

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Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Arkona’s setlist in Columbus. Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

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Review: Ghost – Meliora

Location: Linkoping, Sweden
Genre: Psychedelic Doom
Released: August 21, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

This being Ghost’s third album, I could make some cliché statement about this one being the charm if not for the fact that they already had me at their debut, Opus Eponymous. The combination of “Deus Culpa” and “Con Clavi Con Dio,” organ and all, is high on my fictitious list of memorable album openers and the rest of the album was generally pretty good.

Their follow-up, Infestissumam, took some of that sparkle out of their sound. “Year Zero” is a rare distinction in that it serves as a single for the album and is actually the best track on it. So after some legalese regarding their name and the “death” of Papa Emeritus II, the anonymous band created Papa Emeritus III and undertook a slightly different direction under producer Klas Ahlund (who has run the gamut of all kinds of pop music since 1998 ranging from Eagle Eye Cherry to Ke$ha). The easy assumption would be to declare that some shadow writer would come in and fuck everything up for the band and its image, but that assumption would be incorrect.

The production on Meliora is stellar, and the poppy elements of the production lend to some catchy music. What we have here is an album that is fun and has plenty of replay value, but to say that it is a truly great album would be a stretch.

“He Is,” and “Spirit” are both fantastic songs. The former comes across as an extremely well-done parody of a church hymn, while “Spirit” is another solid album opener for the band with a haunted house feel permeating the song, even during the heavier, Black Sabbath-y portions.

The rest of the songs are generally good, but have their flaws. “From The Pinnacle To The Pit” and especially “Mummy Dust” have a solid premise but are repetitive. “Absolution” has an amazing chorus and the most Kansas­-sounding bridge not played by Kansas, but the verses are forgettable. The ballad, “Cirice,” meanwhile, is too long for its own good. One feature that I really like about Meliora is its interludes, “Devil Church” and “Spoksonat.” I normally do not care for interludes, but they flow together well with the album’s main tracks.

Album closer “Deus In Absentia” is another haunting track; the echoing effect at the end of each chorus, as well as the choir section at the end of the song, really hit home. Surprisingly, Ghost’s Satanist lyrics are noticeably tamer this time around, and I think it’s a good look for them. Infestissumam came off as trying too hard with the shock factor, which was a hindrance to the overall package.

Adding some more progressive elements will help on future releases. For those who aren’t particularly obsessed with changing rhythms and melodies, Meliora will be a solid spin many times over with its doomy psychedelia.

Overall: Entertaining, but occasionally repetitive.

Rating: 3.5*

Listen to the official full-album stream with links to purchase Meliora here

Review: Amadeus Awad – Death Is Just A Feeling

Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Genre: Progressive Rock
Released: August 20, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

I needed this.

It’s been a long summer; my writing pursuits have been hindered by a series of internal and external tribulations combined with standard 20-something existential malaise. It’s hard to feel inspired when life bears down on you.

Few people know this better than Amadeus Awad, who has repeatedly been dubbed as “the Arjen Lucassen of the Middle East.” I don’t buy that; I think Awad’s music better resembles that of Steven Wilson, and Death Is Just A Feeling draws a direct comparison to the latter’s most recent album, Hand. Cannot. Erase.

The lyrical concept for Death revolves around Awad’s personal experiences with attempted suicide and the death of several loved ones. This might be the best-executed example of using personal experiences as a concept for an album I have ever come across. Lyrically, this works in a way that few concept albums can claim.

Awad brings with him a marquee lineup that brings together a number of Awad’s influences; the most important (and best) guest contribution is Anneke van Giersbergen delivering another powerful vocal performance. It’s not quite the powerhouse display she put on The Diary by The Gentle Storm, as well as on Devin Townsend’s recent albums, but it doesn’t have to be; Anneke’s vocals are still quite evocative here.

Not far behind her is drummer Marco Minneman (The Aristocrats; Necrophagist; Steven Wilson), who particularly shines during the instrumental sections of “Monday Morning.” Arjen Lucassen also jumps on board as a cameo vocalist in the closing track. Elia Monsef, meanwhile, takes the male lead vocals on “Tomorrow Lies.” His vocal delivery reminds me of a combination of Pain Of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlow and Katatonia’s Jonas Renske, and his performance here makes me want to look into more of his own music.

Now, back to my original point of comparing Death to Hand. Both albums deal with death and life’s hardships, although Wilson tells his story through the lens of another real person. Both artists use expositional narration to fill in story gaps (whereas Arjen has his characters sing in dialogue). And although they go about it in different ways, both artists effectively make their point, with Wilson opting for a more nuanced approach as opposed to the direct shelling dealt by Awad. So how do these two albums stack up against each other?

The short answer is that Steven Wilson wins by a slight margin, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. I reviewed Hand. Cannot. Erase. when it first came out and gave it a lukewarm 3.5 stars because it came across as robotic to me. I took some flak for this and I stood by it at the time, but Awad’s work inspired me to revisit it. I can now say that I was wrong, and Hand deserves all the praise it has been given by fans and critics alike. Consider this an official revision to 4.0 stars.

In reality, Hand. Cannot. Erase. is a slow builder that took about ten additional listens after that review to really grow on me. To Awad’s credit, the fact that his work made me want to revisit Steven Wilson should put him in high regard. Lyrically, I would rank the two albums in a dead heat with each other, with the exception of a section of album opener “Opia,” in which Awad has Anneke break the fourth wall by singing:

You might be wondering why I wrote this song/
It’s not a lullaby for the broken/
It’s a breathless gasp from the depth of the weakest lung/
My nightmares, unspoken.

I get the approach that he was trying to make here, as this album is autobiographical in nature, but there is something about people writing themselves into their own lyrics in this way that drives me nuts whenever I come across it. With that said, Anneke sounds fantastic, her vocal delivery soaring over the melancholy melody.

The main reason I award this fictitious battle of the bands to Wilson is his superior use of dynamics. It’s hard to fault Awad here; Wilson was doing this before I was even born, and put out the first Porcupine Tree album when I was just a wee toddler. However, In “Lonesome Clown” (which is an amazing song title, by the way; Awad could have easily made this the title track, but didn’t, and I appreciate that), which serves as the album’s climax, there is a particularly beautifully-written bridge that builds tension. The way the bridge picks up steam, it should explode into the final chorus, but it’s a bit of a letdown. It could have benefited from a heavier production mix or a different drum pattern. Whereas in Hand, “Ancestral” serves as that album’s climax and nails it in every way imaginable. It’s only 50 seconds longer than “Lonesome Clown” but packs a dynamic range that should knock anyone out on the first punch.

“Temporary” closes out Death with a slightly more upbeat anthem about the temporary pains of existence than I would have expected, but with Arjen Lucassen on the vocals it wouldn’t have worked if he tried to do it in an overly serious way. I like the way the ending dialogue loops together with the beginning of “Opia.” The ending to Hand leaves you with tears in your eyes (that is, assuming that you’re not a robotic critic who doesn’t get it), sticking to the album’s overall tone, which is something I would have preferred to see here as well. But the ending loop is a nice touch as it also lines up with Lucassen’s portrayed character.

At this point, however, I’m just nitpicking. Death Is Just A Feeling is a powerful album with solid songwriting and a series of great performances from amazing musicians. At roughly 46 minutes in length, it’s nearly perfectly timed and doesn’t overburden the listener, giving it higher replay value than Hand. Cannot. Erase., which is significantly longer in addition to being an emotionally draining album. Awad also included two bonus tracks from a prior EP. And while both of those songs, especially “Poetry of Time,” are good, they serve as a reminder of how much of a leap Awad has taken in his songwriting prowess with this release.

Overall: A must-own for prog enthusiasts and fans of Anneke van Giersbergen.

Rating: 4.0*

Buy the album here

Behind the scenes clip

Video for “Monday Morning”

Live Show Review: Rush

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: June 8, 2015
Venue: Nationwide Arena
Cost: $104
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

Way back in 2008, when Rush was on tour supporting their penultimate release, Snakes & Arrows, I had the pleasure of seeing them in Milwaukee with my dad. It was my first real concert experience, one I will probably never forget. The set contained a fairly definitive list of Rush’s greatest hits, along with the best tunes from Snakes & Arrows (“The Way The Wind Blows” among them).

With word spreading that Rush will be significantly scaling back their touring, it seemed like as good of a time as any for the band to significantly change up their setlist and play some songs that haven’t been played in a significantly long time. Fitting the title of the latest album, Clockwork Angels, they also played their set from most recent to their oldest, a theme that I found to be quite interesting. It’s a bold approach that might alienate some of their fans who just want to hear “the old stuff.” Indeed, some of the great classics were left out. No YYZ, Freewill, Limelight, or A Passage to Bangkok. It’s hard to picture seeing Rush play an entire show without busting out YYZ, the legendary instrumental, but that’s what we got.

We also got more of the epic 2112 than in the 2008 show, as well as the marathon track “Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings. Both of those tracks were on my personal list for Rush songs I would like to see live, as well as Red Barchetta off of Moving Pictures and the incredibily long (and fun-to-watch) Cygnus X-1 tracks, so I am hardly complaining.

What else has changed over seven years, you might ask? For one thing, Neil Peart’s kit is slightly less insane than it was back then. It is no longer surrounding Peart (although the chimes are where the remaining battery of percussion pieces used to be) and it no longer revolves and does other crazy shit. By and large, the concert experience remains the same; Peart is as stoic as ever, Geddy Lee can say anything and the crowd will get fired up, and there are some cool sketches that feature Jason Segel and Stephen Root, among others, that lighten the mood. That includes the South Park spoof of “Tom Sawyer,” one of my favorite segments of the 2008 show.

My two biggest disappointments of the show would be the following items:

  • At the end of the show, there’s a funny video in which the Rush members attempt to get to their dressing room, only to find that the room has been taken over by a clown puppet bouncer who says they’re not on the list. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for another encore; after all, the show’s not over until the band hits the dressing room, right? But then the lights were turned on.
  • The merch prices were fucking ridiculous. I’m sure that the demand is high for their shirts, and rightfully so, but there is no way in hell I’m paying $50 for a t-shirt and $100 for a hoodie. That’s just absurd.

And for a show in which there were supposedly no cameras allowed in the (massive) venue, you would think that somebody would be searching people for weed. Sure enough, a couple of Cheech & Chong wannabes decided to blaze it up during the first set and were nowhere to be found during the second set, resulting in what may very well be the single-dumbest act of stupidity I have ever encountered at a concert. Yes, even dumber than pit ninjas. Dumber still than the woo-girls screaming for no reason at a local show. Who goes to see Rush and doesn’t even bother staying around for the whole show? By all means, blaze it up on your own time, but not in a goddamn arena. The security in general was rather lax; they barely showed any interest in searching people for anything, most likely because they probably already saw all the weapons they ever wanted to see during the Chris Brown Valentine’s Day show (aka the definition of irony).

Overall: If you’re debating on whether or not you should go see Rush on this tour, I would definitely recommend it, assuming you can get around the douchebag scalpers who have completely hijacked the secondary market. The band sounds as tight as ever. You may not hear everything you want to hear, but there will also be pleasant surprises for those who are open-minded. With that said, be prepared to give up your spleen for any souvenirs. Already lost your spleen? Well good news! They also accept kidneys, testicles, and aortas.

Rating: 4.0*

Live Show Review: Melt-Banana w/ Hundos

Date: May 15, 2015
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Venue: Skully’s Music-Diner
Cost: $16
Merch purchased: One MxBx t-shirt ($15)

By: Kris Kotlarik

Before I start this hoedown, I would like to commend the various promoters and venues of this city for making this a hard decision; there was also The Who and Joan Jett playing at Nationwide Arena, while TV on the Radio was at the Newport Music Hall. Ultimately, The Who cost too much (plus I do not care for Joan Jett), and the Newport has obscene box office “convenience” fees that need to be outlawed yesterday. So ultimately, Melt-Banana’s value was too good to pass up. Plus the show was highly entertaining.

Hundos:

On the surface, this seems like an unassuming band; the drummer has a setup so simple that it looks like a souped up “My First Drum Set” kit. The singer was rocking some skinny jeans (or were they courduroy?), and the entire ensemble looked like they weren’t yet able to legally acquire booze (which is kind of a shame, as Skully’s has a nice bar).

But if you give these guys a chance, you’ll come away quite impressed. You’re looking at what John Coltrane might have sounded like if he came around 55 years later. In particular, I was quite impressed with the group’s drummer and his ghost-snare prowess. The singer was also all over the stage and possesses a high vocal range. Looking at the crowd, you would find most of the spectators looking on. No moshing, no hand-clapping, no crowd surfing; just musical pondering. Generally, I prefer shows like this; it certainly beats getting ribchecked into the rail/stage while trying to watch the musical goings-on.

Occasionally, their act may grow a little weary for those with short attention spans. Again, for me, that’s great; if I wanted to mindlessly stroke out during a show, I wouldn’t be here. But they could stand to do more to keep the crowd engaged. If you’re in Columbus on June 13, go to Brothers Drake and catch them there; that venue will be much better for this band.

Overall: 3.5*

Melt-Banana:

Let’s get these out of the way early, because the rest of what I say henceforth will be positive:

-0.5 for using a drum machine
-0.5 for using a pre-programmed bass track
-0.5 for activating Skynet (the programmed tracks drowned out all human-controlled instruments)

Melt-Banana acknowledged that they are a two-piece live ensemble on a Facebook post, with one female singer screeching her way through the tracks while controlling the computer programs with what appears to be a Playstation Vita (he said, jokingly), and one guitarist wearing a hospital mask shredding everything in his path with a huge battery of gear. With that said, this would have been an off-the-charts show with a full ensemble. Agata and Yasuko O. are both a formidable presence onstage, but part of the fun in seeing a group known for its energy is seeing a full band interacting with each other.

None of that took away from the crowd’s enjoyment of their setlist, as this particular crowd was crazier than any show I have recently seen. Their setlist, which included a cover of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge,” spanned their entire lengthy discography, a rarity in this day and age, and they clearly know how to entertain a crowd, as there was much more moshing than I had anticipated.

I had relatively low expectations for Melt-Banana coming into the show, and the expectations were lowered even further when only the two members went onstage. Those gripes aside, the show was nearly perfect. If you see Melt-Banana and enjoy borderline schizo music, you’re going to be entertained.

Overall: 3.5*

Live Show (Non-) Review: Solstafir w/ Ancient VVisdom and Vit

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Venue: Ace of Cups
Date: April 28, 2015

By: Kris Kotlarik

I was looking forward to this show for a while. Solstafir is a band that I had been becoming quite fond of, while Ancient VVisdom has some solid material.

But then, out of nowhere, the show was cancelled. No explanation why, and even some accusations of fuckery. Let’s take a look at the timeline of events:

March 26: Solstafir announces North America tour on its Facebook page.
April 7, 5:17 PM ET: Vit posts on their Facebook page that the show is cancelled.
April 7, 5:25 PM ET: Starwood Presents, the promoter for the show, says the show has been cancelled due to “unfortunate circumstances.”
April 8, 12:12 AM ET: Fan replies to unrelated post on Solstafir’s page saying that they just heard the Columbus show was cancelled.
6:30 AM ET: Solstafir says “We have not heard anything about this.”
11:13 AM ET: Forum post says Solstafir told opening band Vit to mellow out their sound, and the latter refused, prompting the cancellation. The quote, allegedly supplied by their drummer, could not be found from its original source.
April 9: Vit replies to question regarding reasoning behind cancellation with a picture of the Rockstar Games logo.
April 11 and 12: Posts to Ace of Cups Facebook page about the show go unanswered.
April 17: Solstafir announces replacement show in Dayton via Twitter
April 28: Ancient Wisdom replies to a Facebook comment about the cancellation with the following:
“The show was canceled and moved to Dayton . It wasn’t our call and I’m unclear as to why we would cancel a show at ace of cups , a place I personally have wanted to play for a while now. We will make a point to come to Columbus at the next closest opportunity.”
April 29: Solstafir replies to Facebook comment about the show, saying it was out of their hands.

All of this is extremely disappointing; I understand that shows get cancelled occasionally, but usually there is a valid reason behind it. When a perfectly good show like this gets torpedoed, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to tell the fans why it was cancelled. What do you think the reason was? Your guess is as good as mine.

Update: That Drummer Guy reports that the account regarding Vit being the main issue on the bill is more or less accurate:

The tour manager did not want a Black Metal band playing the show; the venue [Ace of Cups] refused to kick them off the bill because they’ve been promoting the show and already sold a lot of tickets. Tour manager 86’ed the show. Threatened to do it at other shows as well.

If this is true, and I have no reason to assume otherwise given That Drummer Guy’s impressive lineup of interviews, then that’s just a shame. Metal fans and bands get accused of being elitist far too often, and this sort of thing adds fuel to the fire.

Review: Devin Townsend Project – Ghost

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: New-Age/Ambient
Released: June 20, 2011
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Here’s the thing. I am talking about the [pauses] internal workings of Deconstruction. Even in the name implies taking apart something; what I was taking apart was the process. Whether or not that’s engaging for others, again, is up to them. What I’ve found is that through my years of feeling the certain way that I did about myself, or my environment, or things that I thought I could change, I found that being vulnerable was a real fear. By vulnerable, it may mean “Hey, I fear things” or “Hey, I’ve always liked New Age stuff and I’ve got no real desire to have edge in my life.” After the purge that was Deconstruction, it was incredibly liberating for me not to have to impose any of that on people. Yeah, I’ve got a darkness in me, but darkness is not my defining characteristic. It’s when I choose to use it and for what reason. [pauses] Yeah, Ghost is on mute. [laughs]

Taken from an interview in 2011 with Anso DF from MetalSucks, this partially helps to explain why Devin Townsend decided to release the comparatively chaotic Deconstruction, and the light, largely fluffy Ghost, on the same day. Listening to the commentary for this album in particular is illuminating; there is a lot more to this album than flutes and brush-tip sticks. Even though this is the fourth album in the Devin Townsend Project chronology, it was actually recorded before Deconstruction because Devin anticipated that he wouldn’t be able to make this album the same way had he switched the order. He later goes on to list some influences that shaped his process for this album, which in and of itself is an interesting listen.

Let me preface this review by saying that this kind of ambient, Enya-like music (Devin specifically names her as an influence in the commentary) doesn’t really interest me; I won’t go out of my way to look for it. I can pretend to be as a chameleon, but I started this review on the same day that I finished Gojira’s From Mars to Sirius. That kind of stuff really gets me going. This, however, requires me to be in the mood for some easy listening before bed, or perhaps if I simply need a break from the various subgenres of heavy metal and other uptempo music.

Often, this draws comparisons to Ki, and I’m not really sure why. Although that is far less heavy than most of his albums, there are still plenty of metal moments to be had. Ghost’s heaviest moment is a draw between the country-tinged “Blackberry” and the thick ambiance of “Texada.” If we are going to make comparisons to Devin’s music using this album, the most likely description would be a hybrid of Casualties of Cool and The Hummer, an electronic album that I will one day get to if I ever fall into that kind of sleepy, dreary, peaceful feeling.

While there aren’t any songs that stand out the way that “Flight” and “The Bridge” do in Casualties, the two albums are similarly listenable from front-to-back and both are far superior to Ki. The vast majority of Ghost is soothing, and that starts with the two women he brought in for this project, both of whom are complete outsiders to the metal community. Kat Epple, a childhood influence on Devin according to his commentary, handles a wide array of flutes, including some that Devin can’t even remember the names of. Then there’s Katrina Natale, who allegedly works at a coffee shop in Canada (I vaguely remember somebody else in the Devin Townsend omniverse who has a keen interest in coffee…). She lays down the vocals, and she was the right choice for this album; her catalog is rather small and she couldn’t even make it to the By A Thread shows in London for some reason. She might as well be a ghost. But her performance is fantastic and I’m not sure it would have sounded better with anyone else doing the vocals.

Each part of the album has its own niche; the 4-5-6 streak of “Kawaii,” “Ghost,” and “Blackberry” are the three best and most engaging tracks; the former is a surprisingly pleasing acoustic ballad, while the title track is a peaceful duet with a melody inspired by two people playing in a Vancouver park. The closing three tracks, meanwhile, are meditative to the core. “Dark Matters,” which I’m assuming is unrelated to what would eventually be the title of Ziltoid’s second adventure, has shades of “Perspective” in it from the second Casualties disc. The beginning three tracks are good, as well; the opening notes to “Fly” are as memorable as most of Devin’s other openers. As one has come to expect from Devin, the production is masterful. The lyrics, which were largely improvised (Devin said he wrote them on autopilot), loosely follow the album’s intent on positivity and letting go of anxiety. But given its calm vibe, I can only listen to this album after midnight. You know what they say: To everything, there is a season.

Overall: If your yoga instructor isn’t playing this album in class, then that instructor needs to be fired.

Rating: 3.0*