Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ghoul - Transmission Zero (2011)

Ghoul are one of those gimmick bands that beg the question: can a joke be told one too many times? Like GWAR before them, they tramp around the country in wild costumes that pay tribute to the horror and gore camp of the 80s, and tie their characters' persona directly into the themes of the lyrics. But don't let my use of the word 'gimmick' dissuade you into thinking I have a problem with this sort of approach: it can be a positive or negative. When done right, with music written at the same level as the image and theatrics, a band can survive for decades using the same schtick. Look at an Alice Cooper, or KISS. And fortunately for the Californian alter egos of Digestor, Fermentor, Cremator and Dissector, they generally bring the music to back up their slasher/exploitation/horror film antics.

Half the band hails from Impaled, and so it's no surprise that the construction of many riffs on this album shares that same clinical Carcass inspiration, with a dash of late 80s Exodus to fuel the thrashing foundation most of the sound is built upon. This is felt very early in the four minute instrumental "The Lunatic Hour", which honestly felt a bit dry for its lack of lyrics, even if it does muster up one horror-worthy riff that would make Deceased fans weep joy. I realize it was a pretty common practice in the 80s for a thrash band to open up a record with such a track, but I just don't feel that it worked quite so well here. That said, it fuels up the band for "Off With Their Head", which uses gang shouts and glazes of descending melody to dress a pretty typical base of thrash and old school death metal rhythms while the vocals gnarl and growl above the fray. Sad to say that I enjoyed the lead sequence more than the remainder of the song, but it's not bad.

Alas, this is the way I felt about so many songs here. "Destructor" has the one ascending melody at around 1 minute and then the later lead bridge which are both more dynamically appealing than the garden variety chop of the thrash rhythms. The stock, mid-paced riffing of "Brain Jerk" and the title track also did very little for me. "Morning of the Mezmetron", which is an 8+ minute jaunt into slower, doom-laden terrain is meant as more of a story narrative to the concept of the overall album, but despite it's use of atmospherics I felt it was a bit of a slog. However, I must say that all is not lost here. Once Ghoul picks up the pace a bit, as with "The Mark of Voodoo" or "Blood Feast", the album seems so much more exciting, and the more clinical mortuary slab architecture of the guitars is far more interesting. A few of the later, mid-paced tracks like the finale "Metallicus Ex Mortis" are also better than their predecessors in the play list, and the obligatory rockabilly/surf thrash piece "Death in the Swamp" is also mildly entertaining.

Ultimately, I enjoyed enough of the album to spin through it a few times, but it's clearly not a match for any of its three predecessors, which were more intense, engaging and vibrant. The concept here does feel like it's losing a bit of steam, and the self-referential character narratives in the lyrics don't feel as fun to read through. The production is adequately clear, with a boxy, ruddy guitar tone to deliver the rhythms and a nice slice of effects on the leads, but I felt that it was a bit more barren and sterile than the earlier records. Most importantly, this just doesn't compare on a riff for riff basis with We Came for the Dead!!! or Maniaxe, but rather feels like just more of the same. That's alright if that's what you're looking for, but personally I found it a bit disappointing. Transmission Zero is a decent broadcast, but the next time Creepsylvania opens its gargoyle gates, I'm hoping for a less rusted chainsaw straight to my nethers.

Verdict: Win [7/10]
(a broken hulk on a carnival stage)


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