Many critics have harped on the fact that Theocracy draws from a well of influences that include European power metal bands such as Sonata Arctica, Edguy, and Blind Guardian, but the band doesn't merely ape these artists. They have formed their own brand of power metal here in the United States, and have dared to dream of a musical vision that is known both for its epic songwriting and its grounding in the Christian faith. Hot off the heels of its predecessor, As the World Bleeds, and daring to challenge Theocracy's opus, Mirror of Souls, the new album Ghost Ship does a more than adequate job of living up to the band's stalwart legacy.
Ghost Ship leaps out of the gate with the opener "Paper Tiger," and while the title of this track suggests a dual fragility and ferocity, the ferocity wins out in the end. It's immediately apparent that guitarist Van Allen Wood is no slouch. Accompanied by Jonathan Hinds on rhythm guitar, he capably shreds his way through the first track. Theocracy also experiments with what I will tentatively call a "rap" at the end of "Paper Tiger." It's similar to a vocal style used on the song "I Am" from the previous album, except this time it's grittier and faster.
Then it's on to the title track, "Ghost Ship." This song is strongly influenced by the past musical styles of the band, featuring obvious thrash roots and a crunch that has been present on songs like "Laying the Demon to Rest" and "30 Pieces of Silver." But there's also a raucous posturing by the lead guitar as it whizzes overhead (show off!) and eclipses the other instruments on the song. Arguably, it's one of the standout efforts on Ghost Ship.
"The Wonder of It All" continues in this thrashy vein, and Matt Smith demonstrates why he is one of the premier vocalists in metal today. His voice soars between lower and higher octaves with ease. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the lower, more baritone aspect of his voice. "Wishing Well" begins with orchestration that segues into an anthemic monster. It will certainly give me pause the next time I cast a penny to make a wish. Theocracy shows off their song writing skills on "Wishing Well" as it builds to a crescendo and then backs off into a melodic bridge, but the ending is pure angst framed by pointed drumming.
The beginning of the song "Around the World and Back" comes off as a bit gimmicky with the sound effects, and the band arguably loses a bit of steam at this point. But Theocracy "Stirs the Embers" again, as guitar riffs surge like waves slamming into the shore on the next song. The two dueling guitars bounce off of each other with perfect timing, and some of the riffing on this song puts modern-era Metallica to shame.
"A Call to Arms" features heavy syncopation, which gives the song a pointed edge and musical focus. The chorus is one-hundred percent "We Will Rock You" material, and you'll be singing it as you drive to work and humming it as you take a shower. "Currency in a Bankrupt World" slacks off the pace for a moment, but its rolling melodies and impetus are as infectious as The Walking Dead.
"Castaways" heralds our ears with an aggressive early '90s thrash riff, and as the bass guitar kicks in, it's clear that even Fast and Furious can't hold a candle to this pace. The imagery on this song does an excellent job of complimenting the album's nautical theme.
"Easter" is the band's opus, and while it's obvious that this is one of the most technically proficient and passionately inspired songs on the record, it doesn't quite hold up to the epic qualities of "Mirror of Souls" or the frantic pace of "I Am." After debating inwardly with myself about this track, I've come to the conclusion that what bothers me is its lyrical content. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not critiquing the band for what the lyrics represent, but rather their approach to it. They come across as rather cookie-cutter in the end. It lacks the originality of the lyrics of the two aforementioned songs. Of course, this is merely a quibble, as the tremendous uplifting atmosphere of the song wins out in the end.
By any standard, Ghost Ship is a phenomenal album. Fans of power metal, thrash metal, and heavy metal will find moments to enjoy on Ghost Ship. Theocracy is a talented bunch of musicians, and it's hard to believe that this vision started with just one man, Matt Smith. So, let's not wait any longer. Grab your headphones and a cup of cider or ale, as it's time for the ride of a lifetime. Hold on to the nearest railing or spirit (on second thought, you might want to just grab the railing). All aboard the Ghost Ship!