Monday, October 24, 2016

Album Review: Theocracy - Ghost Ship

Theocracy is one of those bands that brings a certain word to mind; consistency. No, I don't mean that in the sense that Theocracy is one of the most consistent bands out there, delivering time and again. I mean it in the sense that I wish so much that they would develop some of that. They have released one of my favorite power metal albums ever in the form of "Mirror Of Souls", which is as heavy and melodic and stunning as they come, but it was sandwiched between two albums that left me rather cold. Combine that with the fact that they've put out several Christmas songs that would be some of my favorite metal songs, period, and it becomes frustrating that they've only batted one for three so far in their career. That dampened my expectations for "Ghost Ship", but I went into it hoping for the best. So what did they deliver this time?

"Ghost Ship" is a more focused, more streamlined effort than the previous outing. Only one track here extends beyond seven minutes, which is a decision that hones the material down to a sharper point. Leading into the ten minute closer, we get nine tracks of deep, heavy, melodic power metal that recalls the best of what Theocracy can do. Matt Smith has shown that in addition to his powerful voice, he can write some immensely sticky melodies, and he provides plenty of those through these tracks.

When you hear melodic metal that's as heavy as parts of this album can be, you don't expect to get soaring melodies over the top, but that mixtures of mdoern heaviness and traditional melody is what makes Theocracy potentially special. They mastered the form on their defining "Laying The Demon To Rest", and while they haven't reached that height again, they come fairly close on several occasions. It's hard to hear the hook of "Wishing Well" and not find yourself starting to nod your head along with it. It has that catchy quality to it that digs in to the point you're starting to sing along by the end of the track.

But then we get a track like "The Wonder Of It All", which confuses me. It has some of the heaviest instrumental parts on the entire album, but the chorus is such a light, fluffy wash of vocals that it sounds incompatible. It's pretty, and melodic, but it lacks any sort of hook. It's just.... nice, which isn't enough.

That's the only track that disappoints, though. The rest of the album hits on all the right notes, and delivers what I want to hear from a Theocracy album. There aren't any moments that match the most inspired from "Mirror Of Souls", but there's a decided lack of the more wandering approach "As The World Bleeds" featured, which is what soured me on that record. The increased focus here pays off, as these songs are more narrowly aimed at hitting hard.

Power metal has been in a state of decline for a while now, and a big reason for that is the staleness that can come from following the same blueprint for too long. Theocracy plays by the rules they have already established, but they have enough different about their sound that it still sounds fresh among the flurry of bands that play what we've already heard hundreds of times before. You know a Theocracy song when you hear it, which one of the keys for any band.

So what do I think about "Ghost Ship"? Listening to this album, I feel like Theocracy has taken the right lessons from the last album cycle, and has found the formula that suits them. Most bands only get to make one masterpiece, and they have already done that, so I was never expecting them to match "Mirror Of Souls". "Ghost Ship" is its own album, it's a step up from the previous effort, and it's a heck of a good modern power metal album. There aren't many bands in power metal with more potential than Theocracy, and "Ghost Ship" proves why enough times for it to be a clear winner.

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