Ghostships, metamorphoses, and The Fall Of Troy.
At least, that was true of the version of The Fall Of Troy that appeared on "The Ghostship Demos." The EP's title gave me the idea that a fully realized version of the "Ghostship" epic would appear in the near future, one which, I assumed, would include the missing second and third parts of the epic. This was something I looked forward to excitedly. However, instead of that happening, the next Fall Of Troy release was their second album, "Doppelganger," which appeared in 2005 and included a rerecorded version of "Macaulay Culkin" but none of the "Ghostship" tracks. While I liked the new version of "Macaulay Culkin" as much as I'd liked the first one, I'd found that song to be the least impressive one on the "Ghostship Demos" EP, and the songs on "Doppelganger" as a whole were not much better. In fact, some were noticeably worse. It was an enjoyable album, but as a followup to "The Ghostship Demos," it was a bit of a disappointment. "Manipulator" was their next release, coming out in 2007, and while I liked it a bit better than "Doppelganger," it still wasn't quite up to the level of "The Ghostship Demos," and once again, not hide nor hair of the completed version of "Ghostship" appeared on it.
I was beginning to despair of a finished version of that epic ever appearing, especially since original bassist Tim Ward quit the band soon after "Manipulator" was released. Imagine my delight, then, when I learned from the band's wikipedia page last week that a limited edition EP called "The Phantom On The Horizon" had been released in November of 2008, containing all 5 parts of "Ghostship." I rushed to locate a digital copy online, since all 3,000 of the CD copies pressed had already been sold (which is a bummer, although the band apparently wants to release it on vinyl; I hope they do, because I would love to own it in that format). I downloaded it with the quickness and listened to it for the first time about an hour after I first learned of its existence.
And, well, I have mixed feelings about it. I've long felt that the three "Ghostship" parts that I first heard in 2005 were the three best Fall Of Troy songs I'd ever heard, and I'll continue to stand by that opinion based on these new versions. That said, the new versions are taking some getting used to. At this point, the band has had these songs in their repertoire for at least four years, and it makes sense that they'd go through some changes merely by virtue of being practiced and performed over and over for that length of time. However, I've gotten very used to the original versions of the songs, so the changes that have been made tend to throw me off when I hear them. I'm in favor of the keyboard textures that the band have added to the songs, especially when they make up introductions and interludes to songs that didn't previously have such things. When a part is played differently than it was played before, though, that takes some getting used to. It's tough to evaluate accurately whether my immediate distaste for these changes is due to them serving the songs badly or just because they're not what I've been hearing for the past four years. I'm going to have to reserve judgment on that question for a while, and give myself more time to get used to these new versions.
Even if, in the final analysis, I like "The Phantom On The Horizon" slightly less than I like "The Ghostship Demos," though, I know I like it better than either of the two full length albums that have been released in the interim. The Fall Of Troy has a bad habit, when given the entire length of a CD to fill, of indulging in genre exercises and out of character detours, which water down the effectiveness of their sound. Don't get me wrong, both "Doppelganger" and "Manipulator" have great songs on them, but their effectiveness as entire albums is lessened due to the fact that they tend to be kind of all over the place. "The Phantom On The Horizon," by contrast, is much more tightly focused. Although The Fall Of Troy consider it officially to be an EP, I myself am more inclined to think of it as a full length, as it is almost 38 minutes long. I grew up in the era of LPs being measured to fit on vinyl slabs instead of digital CDs, and since an LP can't hold more than 45 to 50 minutes of music without suffering a noticeable degradation in sound quality, the ideal length for an album when I was growing up was 30 to 45 minutes. "The Phantom Of The Horizon" falls squarely into this timeframe, and to me, that's an ideal circumstance. Since CDs can include up to 80 minutes of music, the temptation in recent years has been to make albums 60 to 75 minutes in length. I think that giving in to this temptation almost always hurts bands. The fact is that it's very difficult to sustain inspiration and consistent quality over that length of time. People often talk about how double CDs like "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" by Smashing Pumpkins would be better if enough songs had been cut from it to make it fit onto one CD, but they said the same thing back when bands would release 80 minute double LPs back in the 70s. An 80 minute double LP could fit onto one CD now, and no one sees that length as overlong anymore. But if you ask me, it usually is. Both "Doppelganger" and "Manipulator" by The Fall Of Troy are around an hour in length. This is often too long a length for an album to maintain consistency, and that's definitely true of both of The Fall Of Troy's most recent full-lengths.
"The Phantom On The Horizon" avoids that problem not only because it's noticeably shorter, but also because its five songs are all considered by the band to be parts of a whole, movements in a symphony if you will. OK, that particular pretentious phrase is my own, so don't blame them, but still, it's kind of appropriate. These songs are obviously of a piece, moving as all of them do from moody keyboard textures to epic, melodic sections to technical riffing and sometimes even including impressively brutal breakdowns. Frontman Thomas Erak's vocals shift at a split-second's notice from clean, melodic singing to frantic, high-pitched screams. Some might have a problem with Erak's tone when he screams, and I will admit that it's kind of shrill, but I think it works well with The Fall Of Troy's musical style. It is particularly appropriate when juxtaposed with Erak's often-trebly guitar leads. By the way, this is one element of The Fall Of Troy's music that I didn't take into account until recently; there are only three members of this band. For years, listening to them, I assumed I was hearing the work of a five-piece band: two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and a singer who played no instruments. Instead, Erak is responsible not only for all of the vocals that appear on Fall Of Troy records, but all of the guitar playing as well. Sometimes, this requires him to lay down complex, note-heavy lead lines, chugging rhythmic backgrounds, and complicated melodic vocal parts, all at the same time. Of course, in the studio he can take as many separate tracks as he wants, and it seems like there are at least three different tracks of guitar on every one of these songs; but the fact that Erak manages to do all of this at the same time when the band performs live is impressive to even contemplate. Of course, having not seen them live, I have no idea whether the truth of the matter is that he just can't pull it off in a performance environment, but for now, I'm just going to choose to be impressed.
The two songs on "Phantom On The Horizon" that are new to me, "Ghostship Pt. II" and "Ghostship Pt. III," had trouble registering on my consciousness at first, but now that I've heard the album about a dozen times through, I've started to really like them. In a way, these songs have the easiest path to my heart, as I have no basis for comparison between these versions and earlier ones. Both of them, particularly Pt. II, are very focused on melody, and they do a fair bit to pull "Phantom On The Horizon" back from the unrelenting heaviness that is generated for a great deal of its duration. For this reason, they stand in marked contrast to Pt. IV and Pt. V, both of which have tons of metallic guitar shredding and screaming all over them. In fact, the buildup and climactic release that makes up the last half of Pt. V has always been my favorite moment in Fall Of Troy's musical career. The complex, uptempo riff that makes up the song's chorus is particularly catchy, but what I really love is the moment when it drops into a double-speed raveup part that is almost reminiscent of that transcendent modal breakdown that gives the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" its immortal power. The guitar drops out at this point, and the bass and drums combine with keyboard bleeps and swirls to create an almost techno-sounding rhythm. Erak begins strumming a frantic, but somehow funky, riff overtop of this rhythm, and the entire band builds up to a break that would sound almost indie rock-ish if it weren't for the shred-heavy leads that Erak is throwing in under his melodic vocals.
Now see, this is where my basis for comparison becomes somewhat of a liability. On the original "Ghostship Demos" version of Pt. V, the drummer was playing an uptempo beat behind this section of the song. On this new version, he's using a beat that's only half the speed of his original beat, and it changes the feel of this section of the song in a manner I'm not sure I like. I mean, it's still decent, but it kind of trips the song up, as in the original version, the succession of parts that built up to the climax of the song were all pretty fast. Now, there's this half-speed section in the middle, and I'm not sure the buildup works quite as well as it once did. I feel this way for another reason, too--the climax itself, a ridiculously heavy chugging riff that is actually in 7/8 time but still creates a powerful groove, is played more slowly than it was in the original version. I'm sure the band thought it would just make it an even heavier climax to the song and the entire album, but I'm not sure I agree. It's almost too slow. I can still bang my head to it, but the groove just isn't quite as propulsive as it once was. I don't know, maybe I'm just still getting used to it, but it doesn't rock me the way it once did. And finally, one more objection--there's an added melodic riff at the end of the song, which extends its length for 45 seconds or so beyond the brutal breakdown ending of the original version. Maybe they wanted to provide a denouement for the album, some falling action if you will, instead of just giving us a ridiculously heavy climactic riff and then killing the entire thing. Again, I'm not sure that was the right decision. Where, on "The Ghostship Demos," the brutal ending felt like it was blowing the entire song to smithereens, the melodic riff tacked onto the end of the "Phantom On The Horizon" version just seems anti-climactic. Don't worry, though; you'll get a chance to decide for yourself at the end of this post.
I feel like this post is a bit rambling in nature, like I haven't done the sort of descriptive analysis that I usually provide in these blog entries, or at least not to the extent that I usually provide it. Blame it, perhaps, on the fact that I'm writing this on a Saturday night, when normal people with normal social lives are out having fun instead of typing away in an empty house. That said, I'm going to let it stand, as I always do when I write a less-than-impressive entry for this blog, as it's an accurate reflection of my thought process at the moment, for better or for worse. I hope you, the reader, won't let my misgivings where "Phantom On The Horizon" is concerned, which basically amount to the ridiculous objection, "It isn't exactly what I expected based on a four year old demo," keep you from checking out this particular record. Fact is, it's pretty awesome, personal misgivings be damned. And if nothing else, you can have fun doing your own side-by-side comparison of two different versions of the same song, four years apart. Trace the metamorphosis from the comforts of your own home. It's fun and worthwhile.
The Fall Of Troy - Ghostship Pt. V (from "The Ghostship Demos")
The Fall Of Troy - Chapter V: The Walls Bled Lust (from "Phantom On The Horizon")
The Fall Of Troy - Chapter III: Nostalgic Mannerisms (from "Phantom On The Horizon")