Friday 13 March 2020

Ghost Toast - Shape without Form (2020)

Country: Hungary
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 3 Mar 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Now, here's an interesting album! Ghost Toast, a name of which I thoroughly approve, play instrumental prog rock out of Debrecen in Hungary and they're on their fourth album here. With no vocalist, that role occasionally filled by samples from movies, the line-up is guitar, bass and drums with a fourth musician on keyboards and cello. You could call it art rock, post-rock and experimental rock without being wrong and sometimes switch the rock out for metal because they have some serious power behind them.

Certainly, the opener powers up a minute and a half in from a soft piano to driving guitar. That a keyboard swell floats over the top of it for a while doesn't dissipate the way that guitar gallops and stabs. However, the return of the piano adds a melancholy contrast that keeps the guitar from becoming too vicious. It's called Frankenstein's and it's not as iconic as the Edgar Winter instrumental of almost the same name but it's still a solid opener.

The band's experimental edge is obvious in the way that László Papp sets up Eclipse with unusual drumming. It gets more interesting a minute and a half in when those drums play with the bass in what almost sounds like electronic music but isn't, except for a helping hand from the keyboardist. I feel that the riffs in the heavier sections, as solid as they are, almost function as interludes between more the experimental sections rather than the other way around.

Y13 is where the samples kick in, this time from Assignment: Outer Space, a 1960 sci-fi flick by the ever-prolific Antonio Margheriti, and the music is suitably cinematic. It's been a long while since I've seen the movie so I'm unaware of whether the band play with any of the themes from the soundtrack but they do acknowledge that movie scores are an influence for them. That's no surprise because, like all the best post-rock, they conjure up visuals.

Beyond movie scores and "heavy, trippy music", they're clearly well read in the diversity of music because Hunt of Life is a cover of an Icelandic folk song, even though it's drenched in electronica and even finds a reggae-like groove at one point. There are vocals here, but they're a sample too, from an a capella version of the song on YouTube by Kelly Jenny. While that makes it sound like they just added music behind her, there's really a heck of a lot more going on here than that, to the degree that she's hardly in it and it's mostly an instrumental.

The other song with samples is the epic closer, W.A.N.T., which stands for We Are Not Them. The piece opens with Big Brother from 1984 introducing us to hope through the "land of peace and of plenty in Oceania", but it isn't alone: it's spliced with Kurtz in Apocalypse Now reciting parts of Eliot's The Hollow Men, the poem that also gives the album its title. I thoroughly appreciate the imagination that went into combining two samples this way as it's not common. However, the imagination that went into a composition this advanced is even more appreciated.

Before W.A.N.T. are a couple of tracks that don't do anything special and so could be easily skipped over by someone only looking for special things, but they're excellent tracks on their own, even without samples or other source material to boost their presence. In fact, they're a couple of my favourite pieces here. Follow kicks off as delicately as anything on this album but it heavies up as it goes and the contrasts are neat. Compositions with dynamics always interest me and this one's done right. Before Anything Happens may be even better, with some catchy lines and more neat contrasts.

Ghost Toast have apparently been doing this for a while. Formed as a trio in 2008 with János Pusker joining a year later on keyboards and cello, they say they didn't have much musically in common but exploring the focal points is how they've come up with such interesting music. The line-up hasn't changed since and this is their fourth album. I'd very much like to go back to discover those other three.

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