Artist: Ghost Horizon
Album: The Punishment of Life
Releas Date: 09/07/2021
Country: United States
Ghost Horizon is the project of Phoenix, Arizona based multi-instrumentalist Dan Stollings. The Punishment Of Life is the project’s third EP, following on from 2016s Astral Possession and 2017s The Erotics Of Disgust. In terms of tonality, Ghost Horizon definitely falls into a style more akin to the classic Norwegian black metal bands. The vocals are grim, raw and just on the cusp of inhumanity. The guitars are sharp and aggressive, but with a forthright presence that rarely lets you settle. The bass is kept tight and solid but the drums are full of subtle deviations and wild fills, and together this rhythm section provides a fantastic backing to the driving guitar melodies.
The album kicks off with a gentle but menacing clean guitar section, the intro to Sunrise & Sorrow (Morning Air). A drum roll signals and everything explodes forth into a Wolves In The Throne Room style mesh of melancholic guitar leads and crisp black metal chords. It’s catchy and powerful, and as the track continues the drama and tension steadily increases before an epic release. Oozaru opens with some striking clean chords before bursting out with a melody full of sorrow and longing, underscored by the tremolo chords and addictive blast beats. As I mentioned, sometimes in atmospheric black metal things drift into post-metal or even emotive alt-rock styles, and we get that throughout this track. The dynamic shifts between the huge gnarly riffs and softer atmospheric sections are brilliant, and really remind me of Deafheaven in particular.
The title track revolves around a rather sweet melody that’s swathed in reverb and echo in a way that’s very reminiscent of Alcest. The track continues on with variations on this wistful melody while the grizzly vocals drive things on. Again the dynamic structure of the track is excellent, offering peaks and troughs without lessening the energy or emotion. And then, suddenly, we take a massive left hand turn into Unholy Conjuration, an absolute ripper of old-school Norwegian black metal. The riffs are relentlessly aggressive and the ferocity with which every part is delivered is marvellous. This track could easily have come from one of the classic black metal bands of the early 90s, but Ghost Horizon maintain the same dynamics that they have throughout the record, and it keeps these quite somewhat familiar riffs from being in any way stale.
Finality In Brilliance takes us back on to the path we were on, and delves even further into the shoegaze and indie rock melodies than before. Amongst the furious double bass drum rolls, caustic vocals and vicious tremolo guitars, there is a tune here that could easily fit onto a Diiv or Gnoomes record. The final track Wretched Fiend (The Haunting) opens with a beautiful and slightly twisted folk interlude of vibrato soaked clean guitars before the track kicks off into full swing. Once again Ghost Horizon takes us into some new territory, mixing together traditional dark tri-tone black metal riffs with a spiky post-punk melody. There’s a wealth of unexpected chord changes and shifts in intensity throughout, and the track constantly keeps you on your toes. There are moments where it heads into old-school black metal again, but a subtle change and suddenly we’re transported forward into modern post-black metal.
I’m extremely impressed at Ghost Horizon’s ability to keep black metal sounding fresh and forward thinking without losing the essence of the genre. The Punishment Of Life is wonderfully dynamic and full of exceptional song-writing craft. There are intriguing forays into shoegaze, post-metal and alt-rock across the EP, but it’s all wrapped up in a sound that is unmistakably black metal. For a six track EP there is so much here to enjoy on every listen, and this is unquestionably one of the best black metal records I’ve heard so far this year.
Listen to and order the album: