Friday 22 February 2019

The Ghost Next Door - A Feast for the Sixth Sense (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Doom/Stoner Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 8 Feb 2019
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I listen to a lot of music that doesn't make it to a review and this one came close to being passed over but there's something here that kept me listening. This is The Ghost Next Door's second album and it's primarily stoner metal with a heavy dose of doom but there are points when it veers off into completely different styles and somehow it all works.

For instance, it begins exactly as you might expect a stoner/doom album to begin, with Sabbath-inspired riffs and Ozzy-esque vocals, but the guitar is more melodic in nature, the sort of thing that brings Gregor Mackintosh from Paradise Lost to mind.

One track later, Fodder for the Meat Grinder, a title which ought to mean goregrind but completely doesn't, finds a couple of completely different sounds to mix on top of that doom/stoner base. It gets a lot quicker for a while and, at times, it's frantic stuff with some powerful vocal sustain from singer and The Ghost Next Door's main man, Gary Wendt. Then it shifts gears into a sort of modern alternative rock sound.

Doubt demonstrates how Wendt's vocals aren't always remotely as strong as his guitarwork. This is a weaker song because it aims for sheer power but fails to reach it, mostly because of those vocals. However, there's some real experimentation going on in the music that backs them because that's hardly a standard doom metal drum pattern. There are hints of Voivod here and Tool too, which is an enticing combination for something progressive and new.

I should add here that Doubt also shifts into an oddly soft interlude of noodling guitar. While most of this album is slow, it's not soft. There's a heaviness throughout that only dissipates on very deliberate occasions so that we can feel the contrast, kind of like feeling a deeper affinity for rain after the sun finally comes out.

The rest of the first half of the album continues on in this sort of vein, in the sense that it mixes the band's core stoner/doom sound with whatever seems to come to mind. Is that a slide guitar as American Nightmare kicks in? I do believe it is, and there are some recognisable Motörhead riffs in there later to keep things interesting.

Event Horizon shows how a Black Sabbath feel doesn't have to be there for a song to be heavy. This is oddly like a Pearl Jam 45 played at 33rpm. I get the downtuned rhythm sections in metal bands but this sounds like it features downtuned vocals. "We make the rules," sings Wendt. "We pull the strings." There are more traditional doom sections later in this song but the rhythms go back to Tool again and I guess Wendt is making up his own rules, which I think is the main reason this is staying in my head.

The vocals are a problem, because they're neither consistent enough nor original enough to work with a band that's agreeably all over the musical map. He has two go to voices, that Ozzy impression that slips on occasion to become a lot more nineties alternative and a shoutier style that never quite makes hardcore but certainly feels like trying.

The biggest problem, though, is the second half of the album. It would be easier if it just sucked, but it doesn't; it's just underwhelming after the diversity of the first half. None of the songs are bad, per se; they're merely not particularly good either, once American Nightmare gives way to Behind the Mask. The only aspect of note in the entire second half is the odd chantalong that The Sacrifice Person goes for and I'm hardly keen on that approach.

Gary Wendt is clearly an interesting character. I remember him from the thrash band Sacrilege B.C., a gig of whose I reviewed on a handwritten note and mailed off to Kerrang! magazine. I was only seventeen or so at the time and still wasn't shocked that they didn't print it. He was also part of Skinlab, who went from groove metal to nu metal, and Release, an alternative thrash band. Apparently he also studied with Joe Satriani, so it isn't surprising that his tastes are highly varied.

I like The Ghost Next Door and I love that frickin' cover, but Wendt has to either figure out a vocal style of his own or hire a singer if they're going to move on up. Also, diversity is great except when it's applied to quality. A Feast for the Sixth Sense is half of a feast and it's a tasty feast at that but, sadly, the other half is takeout.

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