Sound: Somehow, Ghost Brigade have been a well-kept secret since 2007's Guided By Fire'. Their sound is one which has seemed so obvious for years but has never formed in quite the right way; take the foundation of Katatoniaesque gloom and apply it to dramatic climaxes with the riffs of Isis or Cult Of Luna and you're more or less there. It's a potent chemical that comes out of the other end, though perhaps chemical' is a bad word to use because Isolation Songs' is clearly something organic which exudes from the band without any conscious attempt to meld styles.
Much like Guided By Fire', this one truly feels like perfection at times but is still, only occasionally, diluted by the proverbial tap water. This is a perfectly likable band with a perfectly likable sound and plenty of jaw-dropping moments, but a lot of the songs do seem to exist more as vehicles for their powerful endings or choruses than to serve any purpose of their own. The melodic style plucks at the heart-strings but it can be difficult for the left side of the brain to be convinced by a full serving of what are fundamentally very similar songs. It's mostly a matter of oversaturation though, because for the first five or so songs things go very well; Suffocated' and Lost In A Loop' provide headbangable sludge riffs, '22:22 Nihil' swims in a beautiful instrumental ether and My Heart Is A Tomb', together with Into The Black Light' blow your face off in the way Ghost Brigade does best. If the tracklisting were reversed things would probably be quite similar, it's just that after a while you begin to notice another clean intro, another forlorn-sounding lead and things start to snowball until you reach the end, by which point (in a moment of extreme irony) you end up suffocated. // 8
Lyrics: One of the things which makes Ghost Brigade stand out is frontman Manne Ikonen. He's one of those revered types who has considerable success with both clean and harsh vocals, and knows how to use them. Granted, his bitter screams are unlikely to fit anything that isn't a heavy part', but they are just as emotive as his melodies, especially when the songs reach their dynamic peak (see: Secrets Of The Earth'). Sadly the downbeat, extremely minor tones of the quiet bits' do not give Ikonen the most varied of backdrops for him to sing over so not every stanza is particularly memorable. However, he keeps his end of the bargain when it really counts.
Lyrically things aren't always as grief-ridden as you might expect from a band like this; they're are not Dragonforce but they certainly ain't Shining either, despite what lines like In this place/in this place I feel like dying might suggest. Ikonen's pronunciation helps me power through the lyricless godsend that is the advance copy, so you can tell that every word counts with this band. The bands philosophic approach has become less symbolic since Guided By Fire', though we're still left with some well-conveyed images on songs like Birth' and Architect Of New Beginnings', which are, interestingly enough, probably the least engaging musically. // 9
Overall Impression: Isolation Songs' is aptly titled. As a collection of songs, unrelated to one another, the band have put out an excellent release. Each track stands up marvellously to close scrutiny (although chinks can be found in the armour occasionally) but as an album the flow just becomes a little too messy and the lines between songs can blur; if you will, there are no weak links but the chain could be stronger. We can only hope the band evolves if they are to keep making works of this length, because there is far too much talent and potential to be tapped into for them to turn out a one-trick pony.
For now though, Isolation Songs' is an album to be celebrated as a fine offering of their gargantuan sound and a house for some of the very best songs this year will see. It's an odd beast because with fresh ears nearly every moment of the record is magic, but it's tough to give the 9/10 I can feel coming out of my keyboard-dented fingers when the album itself doesn't contain the occasional tangents required to keep the listener's ears fresh and attentive. At the end of the day though, this isn't an album that you want to miss out on, so give it a try for yourself and let's hope Ghost Brigade will come out of their niche, both musically and commercially. // 9
- Duncan Geddes aka duncang (c) 2009