Ghost Toast were new to me when I found their fourth album a couple of years ago and that made my highly recommended list for 2020. Here's the fifth and it's a longer and heavier album, though most of it was written at the same time. In fact, the bass is turned up so high here that it distorts on me at points, as if my speakers just aren't up to the job. As that continued, even after I fiddled with my graphic equaliser to minimise the effect, I realised that it was something the band had to be aiming at. It's an odd choice to my way of thinking, but it's the one they made.
Beyond being longer and heavier, as epitomised on the opener, Get Rid Of, which blisters out of the gate and has little plan to calm down, it's also a more varied album. Sure, Ghost Toast still play in a sort of electronically tinged instrumental prog rock/metal style, with samples taking the place of vocals, but they also add a female vocalist here who I haven't been able to identify. She's there on Leaders, playing with middle eastern melodies, and she's there on Reaper Man, albeit glitched for effect. She may be sampled on those two, but she seems to be singing along with the band on both the closer, Rejtekböl, and my favourite track, Let Me Be No Nearer, on which she's more Celtic. It's very possible that there's more than one female voice here, but there's a consistent tone.
As that might suggest, not everything here is frantic, though Get Rid Of never has any intention of letting up, almost black metal without the shrieks, and Deliberate Disguises shows some excellent buzzsaw guitars. Leaders crunches as well, highlighting how easily Ghost Toast slip over from prog rock to prog metal. But there's peace even in Get Rid Of, with late strings and the first sample the album has to offer, from my namesake, HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The band definitely look forward rather than backward, but they don't see inevitable heavying up of everything. They see a richer palette for their dynamic play, which is probably why they resonate so well with me.
That's definitely on show in the first epic here, Chasing Time, which almost sounds like bagpipes as it kicks off, but they're not: they're keyboards and guitars playing a sort of modulated drone. From this point, delicate electronics and tender strings highlight that it's going to seriously build, which it does, magnificently so. Let Me Be No Nearer uses those strings even more effectively, not least through all the middle eastern play; Acceptance is sassier, looser and jazzier; and Rejtekböl finds a neat pastoral groove. There's a lot here to explore.
Once again, the samples are a highlight because they're used sparingly but effectively, so always stand out for attention, the music tending to lull to allow that. Leaders uses an old Frank Herbert NBC interview that feels utterly contemporary, as does the reading of T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men on Whimper, even though that's even older, dating back to 1925. Jim Carrey's here, not from a film but from a commencement address he gave to a graduating class at the Maharishi International University. However, the most hard to ignore is the creepy conversation on Deliberate Disguises, sampled from the movie adaptation of The Neverending Story.
I liked Shape without Form enough to give it an 8/10 and I like this even more. It continues in much the same vein, but it seems to be more mature and more ambitious with its musical palette. They were excellent anyway, but if they're improving at this rate, they're going to be unstoppable soon. I now have their earlier work at hand and look forward to album number six.