Tuesday 18 April 2023

Ghostlight - From Above (2023)

Country: Poland
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 16 Feb 2023
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Everything I seem to review from Poland lately seems to be progressive rock and here's another to add to that list. It's a tasty album that's far more mature than its debut status might suggest, so I would love to know the background of the musicians involved. The sound is elegant and thoughtful to the degree that I started to think of this music as being in black and white or, more properly, in many shades of grey. I have little idea why, but maybe it comes from black and white film providing a very different sense of nuance to colour film.

For something so thoughtful, it feels clean and commercial, even with In the Ashes opening up the album at almost ten minutes in length. That's not likely to ever see daytime radio play, but it feels like it's built out of components taken from melodic rock: smooth keyboards, a clean guitar, even a pair of voices intertwining, even if they, as I suspect, both belong to Paweł Hinc. There's some post-punk here and even some AOR in the chord choices, but it's all filtered into a prog rock framework. That guitar often reminds of Steve Rothery and there's plenty of Steve Hogarth in the vocals and songwriting, but I kept hearing progressive Fleetwood Mac too. Think The Chain rather than Little Lies. However, Ghostlight have a sound all their own.

This is not a short album, so there's twenty minutes in the first three songs alone, enough to seem like a serious chunk of music. I found all three of these songs immersive, in the sense that I let the album just flow over me, never quite becoming background music but certainly partway to it. With repeat listens, I'm finding all sorts of depths in each of these songs that are well worth exploring, but initially they played in a similar style that lulled me into a false sense of security, with a guitar solo from Maciej Snowacki grabbing my attention here and there.

And that all changed with The Reason for My Pain, which is an absolute peach of a track. It's a fresh epic, one of four tracks here to reach eight minutes, but it does a heck of a lot in that time. It finds a neat groove early, with intimate vocals by Hinc and teasing piano by Mirosław Skorupski, but it's always ready to do something new. There's a cool moment a minute and a half in in when the core riff suddenly shifts into bold print. Then it finds a melodic groove that works gloriously as a grand sweep and we're off and running. Except then, almost at the three minute mark, it suddenly leaps into a theatrical staccato reminiscent of Sparks.

It's a song that wants to keep us paying attention and it's almost impossible not to deep dive into it even on a first listen. I paused the album after this song so I could replay this one a few times. It got better with every listen, with new details coming to the fore—the synth lines, the way a violin plays with the piano, a Spanish sounding guitar and, increasingly, what Rafał Nycz does on drums. The longer the song runs on, the more the drums steal my attention, especially once we reach six and a half minutes and they get vehement. It even has a good ending and it's that rare song that's all subtlety but which needs serious volume.

I liked this from the outset, but it was The Reason for My Pain that totally sold me on Ghostlight. The best news is that it's not alone. It's still my favourite track here, but others challenge it with solid claims to be listed as highlights. A.M.O.C. is close, with excellent use of Hinc's violin, but the stellar basswork under the opening of Colorblind elevates that one too. Eternal Rain, in between those two, has a tough job to enforce its presence but it's a solid track too.

Crucially, nothing here is eager to outstay its welcome, even though the album lasts an ambitious hour and fourteen minutes. Albums that long tend to get old quickly because the imagination runs out before the songs do, but that's not the case here. The best songs get better and the rest keep on improving with each further listen too. It's a pleasant album on a first time through but it's an impressive one on a second and it only gets more impressive with repeats. Ghostlight may not be Amarok or Collage yet, but they're up there with Fren already for me and this is a debut album.

Now, can someone explain why there's so much fantastic prog rock coming out of Poland lately?

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