Released by: Ulterium Records
Release Date: October 28, 2016
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Matt Smith – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Val Allen Wood – Guitars
Jonathan Hinds – Guitars
Jared Oldham – Bass
1. Paper Tiger
2. Ghost Ship
3. The Wonder of It All
4. Wishing Well
5. Around the World and Back
6. Stir the Embers
7. A Call to Arms
8. Currency in a Bankrupt World
Metal bands are known for dealing with dark lyrical content a lot of the time, with death and black metal bands especially being known for dealing with anti-religious themes, even Satanism sometimes, while even within a lighter genre like power metal it’s not too uncommon to hear bands sing anti-religious lyrics. On the opposite side of things, Christian power metal does exist, and in fact, 2016 has been a pretty big year for this, as one of the most popular bands in the field, Swedish band Narnia, made their return this year. For me, though, one of the most anticipated albums of the year was Ghost Ship, the fourth full-length album from American power metal band Theocracy, and despite its name, it is not a horror themed album: It’s actually a collection of hopeful, uplifting anthems, with obvious biblical themes throughout. More importantly, though, it’s yet another great album from one of the most consistent bands in the genre.
I was first introduced to Theocracy with their 2008 release, “Mirror of Souls“, a fantastic album where every song hit me hard, though it was clearly building up to the outstanding 22 minute title track, while their 2011 release “As the World Bleeds” was more diverse and more song oriented, and while it didn’t impress me quite as much as its predecessor, it was still amazing. Five years later, the band is back with their latest, and unsurprisingly Ghost Ship follows more in the footsteps of the latter. In fact, if anything this is an even more straightforward song-driven album, with all but two songs being under six minutes, and nothing going past the ten-minute mark.
Stylistically, the music feels like a continuation of the band’s previous works, as singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Matt Smith hasn’t strayed too far from what he’s done before. Basically, listeners can expect varied tempos throughout, with most songs speeding up for at least a little bit, some very melodic guitar work at times, as well as some huge, distinct vocal melodies and also some surprisingly heavy riffs on a few tracks, as well as some nice sounding keyboards and the occasional use of orchestral elements, most notably on the closing track “Easter”. As always, Matt has a very clear voice that fits well for power metal, and while he may not be the most powerful or most unique sounding vocalist ever, he does a very good job throughout, with some very emotive vocals. Instrumentally, everything is excellent, as expected, especially some of the guitar riffs and solos, though keyboards are used effectively as well, and the orchestral elements are quite nice and well done. For the most part, this is a very melodic album as one would expect, though the band certainly isn’t afraid to get heavy at times.
Songwriting is very good all around, and quite varied, with a wide mix of sounds throughout. Opening track “Paper Tiger” is the kind of straight-forward, up-tempo opener power metal fans should love, and right from its great melodic leading guitars at the beginning, it grabs you from the start and never let’s go. The title track starts off a bit slower, with some heavy riffs, and it stays this way throughout the first verse before picking and speed and becoming much lighter during its catchy chorus, which is an early album highlight. There’s a pretty cool orchestral section leading towards the guitar solo in the second half, which is also great.
Fans of speedier tracks have quite a bit to look forward to, as outside of the opener and the speedy parts of the title track, there’s also two heavier fast paced tracks in “The Wonder of It All” and “Stir the Embers”, with the former especially being one of my favorites on the album, with its surprisingly thrashy riffs out of the gate and during the instrumental portion in the second half, though it still has tons of melody as well, and it has a particularly inspired vocal section in the middle that’s one of the most memorable moments on the album. On the lighter side of things, “Castaway” is probably the fastest song overall, and it has a really speedy chorus, with some excellent vocal lines throughout, as well as a pretty awesome guitar solo.
Fans of more subdued, relaxing tracks also have a lot to look forward to, starting with “Wishing Well”. This track starts off with a nice orchestral opening before the guitars take over and it turns into a power ballad, with slow but steadily moving verses that work effectively, and help set up the chorus, which is perhaps the best chorus on the album, making effective use of build ups before getting really epic towards the end. Later on the track is a really awesome fast paced part that ends things in style, and on the whole, the track is definitely one of my favorites. Right after that track is “Around the World and Back”, another lighter, more keyboard driven track that moves at a decent pace throughout, though it never speeds up or gets particularly heavy, instead relying on some excellent vocals from Matt, most notably on the chorus and a huge vocal section that comes in the second half. A bit heavier but still more subdued than some of the other songs is “A Call to Arms”, a mostly mid-tempo track that uses some heavy but not overly aggressive riffs during the verses, and while these parts aren’t my favorite they do a good enough job of building towards the chorus, where it speeds up and turns into an epic fight song. Last, but unfortunately least, we have “Currency in a Bankrupt World”, a track which has a very nice and uplifting chorus, but sadly the verses are slow, boring and rather dreary. I can get what the band was going for here, where the verses are supposed to be sad and the chorus is supposed to cheer you up, but I don’t find it particularly enjoyable to sit through those verses every time, so the track ends up being my least favorite on the album, though it does still have some good parts.
Lastly, we have “Easter”, the near ten-minute epic that closes the album. Lyrically it does, in fact, talk about the story behind the holiday (hint: no bunnies are involved), and musically it feels like a mix of most of the sounds found throughout the album, starting out slow and calm, mostly relying on the vocals and some light guitar work, before the midway point where the orchestra shows up in a big way and we get one of the heaviest and best riffs on the album. Aside from that part the song is more relaxed than the band’s previous epics, though it’s still an excellent track in its own way, with its upbeat, catchy chorus being one of its highlights, and obviously Christians will enjoy the lyrics a whole lot.
Overall, Ghost Ship is an excellent power metal album with some progressive and symphonic leanings, and it features a nice mix of heavier, faster tracks, light, and super melodic tracks, as well as some surprisingly subdued sections, with everything coming together to make a very memorable album. Theocracy has always been my favorite Christian metal band, and once again they have delivered. Longtime fans of the band should find a lot to enjoy here, and I’d also recommend the release to any fan of power metal or melodic metal in general, looking for some uplifting lyrics to go along with their heavy riffs and huge choruses.
Reviewer: Travis Green