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Theocracy - GHOST SHIP

Theocracy - Ghost Ship

It is hard to describe in words what the music of Theocracy has meant to me (and many others I’m sure) over the past 13 years. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine that Ghost Ship is only the 4th release from this band in as many years. Quality over quantity – Theocracy has never delivered a bad song. Starting as a one man act in 2003 (Matt Smith) they grew to a full 5 piece with the release of 2011’s As The World Bleeds. Unfortunately, drummer Shawn Benson is not officially with the band at this time, although his drum performance on this album stands as a testimony to his tremendous contribution and talent as he mixes power metal/classic metal and even some thrash metal beats into the mix. Val Wood returns, with Hinds and Oldham (bass), Wood’s contributions on lead once again noteworthy.

Matt Smith confessed years ago that soloing is not his forte – he is a songwriter (one of the best in metal, IMO) and not a lead guitarist. You would never know that, of course, listening to his performance on the debut album. Still, there is no doubt that first, Jonathan Hinds (on Mirror of Souls), and Val Allen Wood (on As the World Bleeds) ramped up the quality of lead guitar riffing and soloing to a whole new level for this band. Taking it to an even higher level here, the end result is a record that feels more cohesive and powerful — definitely their most consistently heavy and direct release to date. And man, do these songs bleed metal!

Where past albums have had the “prog-power”/Euro-metal approach, Ghost Ship is firmly rooted in classic metal/melodic metal. Yes, the pace is definitely there, but this is an album that fans of classic Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Scorpions/80’s heavy metal are going to devour — one that is immediately appealing (because of the crunch and the catchiness), yet one which also becomes more enjoyable with repeated spins. Well produced and mixed, this album follows in the footsteps of As The World Bleeds, but also taps into an aggressiveness we’ve yet to encounter with Theocracy. What sets this album apart from what has gone before? The debut album was heavy on instrumental interludes that were long and brilliantly indulgent interspersed with very infective vocal choruses and melodies. Mirror of Souls did heavy things up a bit, but definitely leaned toward the “prog” side of “prog-power.” 2011’s As The World Bleeds was even better, but leaned more toward the “power” side of “prog-power,” yet retained some open, balladic sections, choral elements and lots of keys. Plain and simple, Ghost Ship plows straight down the middle into classic metal waters (lots of Maiden influence) while simultaneously maintaining the strong melodic flavors which are a trademark for this band.

Most of the songs are in the 4-5 minute range (only 2 songs exceed the 6 minute mark), with greater emphasis on concise, head-banging riffs, short (but sweet) guitar solos and almost absent prog influences. All of the songs are heavy. Even “Around the World and Back” — the most “ballad” type song here — rocks out with conviction. Smith even sounds a bit like Michael Sweet on this one (not a bad thing.) In that regard, his vocals are very strong throughout – I think he actually outdoes his previous efforts in this regard. Perhaps having some band mates to deliver the instrumental goods has freed him up a bit to focus on his vocal phrasing and presentation. Every song here is great, but there are a few that stand above the others. “The Wonder of It All” reminds me, at least in terms of its scope and content, of “I Am” — one of the best songs from the last album — only much heavier and more condensed. This song just smokes and features everything that makes Theocracy so amazing — blistering leads, catchy rhythms and inspiring/truth-infused lyrics. “Paper Tiger” is the perfect album opener. Remember how Maiden always had that perfect opening track? Not only are the dual guitar attacks so perfectly executed, but lyrically, this song speaks so honestly to the state of our country at this point in time. “A Call to Arms” is a perfect metal anthem — plenty of crunch, plenty of fire — calling us to purity in thoughts and deed. And then there is “Easter,” which is the most “progressive” song here (very cinematic) and the one which most vehemently proclaims Theocracy’s core inspiration and faith. Clocking in just shy of 10 minutes, this song will appeal to fans of early epic works like “The Serpent’s Kiss,” “The Healing Hand” and “Mirror of Souls.” On the other hand, those looking for long, progressive songs with lots of open breaks, keyboards and choral type sections may be disappointed by the more blunt approach of Ghost Ship. Matt Smith is a gifted singer, lyricist and songwriter – his words speak truth, but they don’t preach, they don’t judge ... and his music is credible, arguably some of the best in the genre (the man is a perfectionist). He has surrounded himself with similarly gifted musicians who are able to translate his visions into something audibly impactful. I challenge anyone to listen to this music and not be moved (musically and lyrically), and to not be motivated to re-evaluate your calling/your purpose/your plan, maybe even to reconcile differences with friends, family and the like. I’ve listened to a lot of music this year (both secular and Christian) and Ghost Ship will easily make it to the top of my list. Why? These guys are talented artists, dedicated to metal and everything it represents, putting forth one of the most brutally honest and insightful, yet equally well-crafted (it’s the balance between content and execution that makes this band so great) collections of heavy metal I’ve heard in many years. “Worship at 11+!” [Ulterium] LP The vinyl version (double LP) is limited to 1001 copies and it comes in either black or white. I have the white version and can say I love this record. The sound is warm and rich, with plenty of bass and very clean. My records were flat with no warping and are housed in double gate-fold packaging with non-static sleeves. The album cover is stunning and the lyrics are very legibly printed on the inside covers. It’s not the thickest quality cardboard, but the glossy sheen in a nice touch. The sound quality is superb, even though this isn’t “audiophile” quality vinyl.

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