Ghoul, the four piece Death/Grindcore/Thrash Metal act that claims roots to Creepsylvania returns with their fourth full-length album. Not many are aware of this group, thanks largely to their sticking to the underground with much of their discography on Razorback Records. However, this time around it’s Tankcrimes issuing the band’s material. Following a reissue of the group’s first two albums in 2008, both parties bring us the much anticipated (within the circles who happen to be in the know) follow-up to their 2006 album Splatterthrash entitled Transmission Zero. But, does this self-realizing group bring home another great, catchy, and intense old-school Horror soaked effort?
Despite the horror themes and some of the more meta-lyrics of self referencing and b-movie atmospheres, the album’s audio is pretty clean, which shouldn’t really shock fans since many of their previous albums have that more modern sound to them. The guitars sound moderately heavy with a nice sharper distortion, backed up by louder bass riffs that don’t dominate the guitars in any way but do manage an extra layer to the music that helps make many songs catchy enough to headbang along. The drums have a click to the bass kicks, which actually sound a bit further in the back then you would like them to be at times given that they can be drowned out by the guitar a bit, the snares have more of a thud to them then anything largely due to how muffled they sound in the mix, as well as the lower volume they are at in the recording, and the cymbols are a little louder though and do more to fill the music then the other parts of the kit. The vocals, of course, vary greatly throughout the release between the higher pitched rhasps, gutturals, spoken word for what seems comedic effect but only at appropriate times, and even some robotic distortion used here and there. Typically the voices reflect a specific member of the band on here, which works out well to give the release that bit of conceptual presence the band has always been known for. The audio doesn’t really come off as being that strong, and while some songs like Morning of the Mezmetron” and it’s attempt to create a creepier tone to the song end up failing sometimes, it’s the b-movie atmospheres this release can create that stand out nicely.
In true old-school Crossover Thrash fashion, Ghoul start off the album with a great instrumental that lasts over four minutes, establishes the more Science Fiction aspect of the band’s lyrical presence and sometimes even sound of this recording, and shows that while the instruments may not be up to the highest quality, the group still makes the best of it with some great Thrash and Death Metal coming together to create a semi-creepy yet building intensity track. This song feels more like a lead up to the next song, “Off With Their Heads” through the drums sort of bleeding into it. The more self-realization lyrics that seem to carry on from the last album and explain the condition of the characters put a conceptual spin towards the characters as the song outlines the degree of “Off with their heads!” through gang chants representing the people demanding it. Of course, these sort of varying lyrical concepts appear in each song, and some seem to loosely tie together here and there. Of course, “Death in the Swamp” doesn’t really seem to have to do with any sort of connection to a previous or upcoming song, but the track is just great. The music takes hold of a surfer theme and atmosphere, which works out well for the swamp setting of the track and it’s simpler lyrics, putting together a catchy song that would make you want to mosh on the beach, or just the driest of parts in some swamp land, during a surfing contest. This same sound does carry over into “The Mark of Voodoo,” but the song itself is not that strong and the atmosphere is the same way.
Sadly it’s around the time of “The Mark of Voodoo” the album starts to really become a bit dull. The music on many of these songs are still good, but it ends up feeling nothing too special or as if you’ve heard it before. “Blood Feast” brings a good deal of energy into the track, but even though this is one of the stand out tracks, you can’t help but feel that some passages don’t hold onto it and are simply a bit dull with a matching less enthused sound to it. There’s also “Morning of the Mezmetron” which lasts over eight minutes. The song’s slower pace tries to establish a creepier atmosphere, but it sadly doesn’t work out too well, though the sense of a Romanian or regionally related physical environment similar to something one might expect out of a Dracula or Frankenstein film can be found on the song, and for that it does stand out. The problem is that slower pace often becomes a bit dull only because it doesn’t offer much to the song and can feel a little drawn out after a while.
But as you reach the end, the songs do pick up speed and bring the album back around to the more intense or energetic approach it started with. “Transmission Zero” makes for another strong track that seems to have a bit of that surfer sound to it again, though really pushes for an energetic and somewhat conceptual lyrical theme again that ties into some of the earlier material a bit, and “Tooth and Claw” takes on more of the traditional Grindcore influenced Death Metal without the blast beats, but not afraid to lash out wtih some catchy and faster paced Thrash influence, though the latter doesn’t necessarily show throughout the song and focuses more on a heavier, more brutalizing sound, especially towards the end of the track. “Metallicus Ex Mortis,” however, is not the most engaging and that’s largely due to the less then exhillerating performance and more standard sounding material that seems to be found more in the middle of the album.
What it all boils down to it the energy of the album. Given the band’s sound and crossover approach to the varying styles, the slower tracks don’t quite come through as the most enjoyable a good majority of the time due to the creepier atmosphere not working out too well. The start and end to this release are both fantastic sections, while the rest of the middle material to Transmission Zero isn’t really filler material, but it jumps between standard music with unenthusiastic performances, and some impressive atmospheres with catchy tracks. If you like Ghoul there’s no doubt that you’ll look into this album, and in the end you won’t really be let down, but some of the material here simply could have been better.