Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crumbling Ghost - S/T

The British do seem to have a reputation for eccentricity, or maybe that should be eclecticism and now we have a band worthy of the reputation…Crumbling Ghost. Hoist up your britches and prepare to dance round their blackened maypole of doom!!!

Claiming influence as much from Martin Carthy and Pentangle as from Sleep and Electric Wizard it would be all too easy to read this and dismiss them as a folk tinged doom outfit. Nothing could be further from the truth as Crumbling Ghosts music also owes as much to old school prog rock, indie shoegaze and lush post rock as it does to fiddles and riffs!!! This London based 4 piece have created an album that is rich in dynamics and innovation and may stand as one of the best of the year.

Opening track “The Collector” manages to blend supersized guitar riffs with jaunty Tull flavoured electric folk, flip flopping between the two seamlessly but is probably the track that maintains the band’s heavier side consistently throughout. It is on the next track, an arrangement by the band of “Omie Wise” that the band don their Arran sweaters and stick their fingers in their ears to get their folk on. Building from it’s understated opening that could have come straight from some early Fairport Convention albums, the track gradually grows as layers of instrumentation find their way into the mix…guitars pile on guitars and riffs pile on riff yet the folk core of the song remains intact through to the conclusion.

“Aggro Pronto” is the first of many instrumentals on the album and once again allows the band to release their inner Tull, pairing it with a progressive post rock vibe that wouldn’t be out of place among some of Pelican’s less heavy moments. Spacey and airy it may not be as immediately captivating as the previous two tracks but it does display that there is so much more to the Ghost’s bow than big riffs and a couple of Bert Jansch albums. Another instrumental, “The Stumbling Host”, kicks off in very similar style with a light and melodic guitar figure before things take a much darker hue when the distortion kicks in and the tempo drops. Expansive yet dense it is possible to see some of the band’s professed love of The Melvins shining through here as they explore some oppressive yet melodic grind before throwing in some psychedelic Sleep-esque stoner rocking goodness for good measure. The instrumental format does give the band full reign to display their undeniable musical ability at this point.

“Daytrip to Bungay” sees the band donning their doublets and hose and indulging in some whimsical psychedelic medieval folk…like wondering acid fried troubadours stumbling upon Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest hideout with a bag of weed and some sort of primeval electric generator. I have no idea where Bungay is but sounds like a fun place!!! The next track, “Blasted Heath” begins in familiar territory as those cheeky guitars pull another twinkling folk riff out of their bag of ferrets. However, just as you may feel inclined to dance a merry jig, Crumbling Ghost pull the rug from under you and bastardise the melody over a mammoth doom riff, perhaps displaying their self confessed Electric Wizard side. It never reaches the monumental depths of despair as the Wizard but it is a rare moment of darkness in an album so far given over to putting smiles on the faces. Fear not though as the band soon find their stash and kick things up a gear in a spaced out, Hawkwind sized rush to the finish. What this track does display is Crumbling Ghost’s ability to transition seamlessly between styles without ever coming across as forced or contrived.

After so many instrumental tracks it is nice to hear a human voice once more on “Nobody Here”. Compared to the previous tracks this is a much more understated affair that largely eschews the folk influence in favour of downbeat, mournful balladry. Although a nice change of pace and mood on the album it is, for me, one of the weaker moments amongst a stellar set of tunes. “Sheriff’s Ride” goes some way to redress the balance, a brief medieval jig that evokes the images of Maypole dances, buxom serving wenches with trays of mead and ale and pinched buttocks a plenty!!!

Next up is a reworking of “Martin Carthy’s “Man of Burnham Town”, which in itself is built on an earlier traditional folk outing. Omitting the original’s dodgy tales of wife beating the lyrics have been reworked to preserve the innocent and in their place Crumbling Ghost have thrown in their amps and overdrive pedals as the song builds in layers from typical folk to a psyched out, riffed up climax. So it falls to the 10 minute plus epic “Battle of Barnet” to round off an album of diversity and invention by throwing a little of everything into the pot…folky airs give way to mighty riffs which it turn give way to mellow jazz and back again to monolithic doom and beyond without ever losing focus or sounding contrived.

And then the dust settles and it’s all over. Over the space of 50 minutes Crumbling Ghost have taken you from spring meadows alive with dancing fairies to the darkest Orc dungeons. They have quenched your thirst with flagons of ale and blown your mind with the finest hallucinogenics available to man then flayed the skin from your backs with a cat o’ nine tails. This is as rich an album as has been heard in the last forty years from a UK band, a quirky and quixotic ride through a broad and varied musical past. It would appear that prog is alive and well and doesn’t have to involve a million time changes and a thousand notes per second, it can beat with an emotional heart and throw melody in the path of musical wankery to trip it up. By rights this should be a big seller, and that my friends, is entirely down to you…I trust you will all do the right thing?


--Ollie

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