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I became a fan of Ghoul after first being introduced to Impaled. My first taste of these chums from Creepsylvania was through their third album Splatterthrash. What really caught my attention was how the band was obviously having fun both lyrically and musically. I mean dressing up as monsters and writing songs that could easily made into campy horror films, whats not fun about that? Another thing was this sort of surfer sounding type of music they liked to add to their songs. It was refreshing for me at the time. Transmission Zero tries to play at the same gimmicks Ghoul are known for, but this time it just doesn't seem to work, at least not fully.
The core elements of what makes Ghoul an enjoyable band to listen to are still there. You have the fun gang shouts in Off With Their Heads and Brain Jerk, the thrashy goodness of Bloodfeast, and the surfer themes of Death In the Swamp. But they feel kind of tired. Perhaps the gimmick is all used up, but it no longer has the same effect that it first did. In fact it might be that they have stuck so closely to the formula they laid out previously that TZ lacks anything real interesting or exciting.
Outside of that the production just bugs the hell out of me. The guitars sound very thin and have no bite to them. The solos are actually pretty vibrant (listen to The Mask of Voodoo), so there are no complaints there. But there is no heavy feeling in the guitars. In fact for the most part I want to say it sounds as if the band recorded the album in a cardboard box. It just sounds muddy and this emasculated of any strength.
I am still a fan of the vocals. There are two styles used the majority of the time. One is a higher pitched gravely snarl that is very reminiscent of Jeff Walker from Carcass. The other is a lower death growl that is around the norm for the genre. The gang shouts are sort of a highlight, they are fun and really compliment the bouncy melody driven style the band seems to have been going for. Then there are the vocals that seem to be driven through effects programs to give them an even further garbled deeper tone that pepper the album throughout.
Like I said before most of the material is melody driven. The album is great if you want short catchy bursts of music you can play in the background and bob your head to. In fact I've used it for background music while playing video games a few times and it seems that's when its at its best. Well the songs are short with the exception of Morning of the Mezmetron. This one comes in out of left field at a bit over 8 minutes long and has a much slower doomy pace to it. Its kind of different and seems to be more about telling a story lyrically then being very musically interesting.
I was looking forwards to the next release by Ghoul but have to say Transmission Zero didnt quite live up to my expectations. The band offers short mid-paced death/thrash with heaps of melody. But it comes of as tired and gives me the "been there done that" mentality while giving it a listen. Still it is a half decent album and if you enjoy what Ghoul has had to offer in the past its likely you might enjoy TZ. But I think I will stick to Splatterthrash, and would suggest that to anyone who is looking for fun catchy death/thrash.
Originally reviewed @ http://abaddonsmetalshop.blogspot.com/
Ghoul are one of those gimmick bands that beg the question: can a joke be told one too many times? Like GWAR before them, they tramp around the country in wild costumes that pay tribute to the horror and gore camp of the 80s, and tie their characters' persona directly into the themes of the lyrics. But don't let my use of the word 'gimmick' dissuade you into thinking I have a problem with this sort of approach: it can be a positive or negative. When done right, with music written at the same level as the image and theatrics, a band can survive for decades using the same schtick. Look at an Alice Cooper, or KISS. And fortunately for the Californian alter egos of Digestor, Fermentor, Cremator and Dissector, they generally bring the music to back up their slasher/exploitation/horror film antics.
Half the band hails from Impaled, and so it's no surprise that the construction of many riffs on this album shares that same clinical Carcass inspiration, with a dash of late 80s Exodus to fuel the thrashing foundation most of the sound is built upon. This is felt very early in the four minute instrumental "The Lunatic Hour", which honestly felt a bit dry for its lack of lyrics, even if it does muster up one horror-worthy riff that would make Deceased fans weep joy. I realize it was a pretty common practice in the 80s for a thrash band to open up a record with such a track, but I just don't feel that it worked quite so well here. That said, it fuels up the band for "Off With Their Head", which uses gang shouts and glazes of descending melody to dress a pretty typical base of thrash and old school death metal rhythms while the vocals gnarl and growl above the fray. Sad to say that I enjoyed the lead sequence more than the remainder of the song, but it's not bad.
Alas, this is the way I felt about so many songs here. "Destructor" has the one ascending melody at around 1 minute and then the later lead bridge which are both more dynamically appealing than the garden variety chop of the thrash rhythms. The stock, mid-paced riffing of "Brain Jerk" and the title track also did very little for me. "Morning of the Mezmetron", which is an 8+ minute jaunt into slower, doom-laden terrain is meant as more of a story narrative to the concept of the overall album, but despite it's use of atmospherics I felt it was a bit of a slog. However, I must say that all is not lost here. Once Ghoul picks up the pace a bit, as with "The Mark of Voodoo" or "Blood Feast", the album seems so much more exciting, and the more clinical mortuary slab architecture of the guitars is far more interesting. A few of the later, mid-paced tracks like the finale "Metallicus Ex Mortis" are also better than their predecessors in the play list, and the obligatory rockabilly/surf thrash piece "Death in the Swamp" is also mildly entertaining.
Ultimately, I enjoyed enough of the album to spin through it a few times, but it's clearly not a match for any of its three predecessors, which were more intense, engaging and vibrant. The concept here does feel like it's losing a bit of steam, and the self-referential character narratives in the lyrics don't feel as fun to read through. The production is adequately clear, with a boxy, ruddy guitar tone to deliver the rhythms and a nice slice of effects on the leads, but I felt that it was a bit more barren and sterile than the earlier records. Most importantly, this just doesn't compare on a riff for riff basis with We Came for the Dead!!! or Maniaxe, but rather feels like just more of the same. That's alright if that's what you're looking for, but personally I found it a bit disappointing. Transmission Zero is a decent broadcast, but the next time Creepsylvania opens its gargoyle gates, I'm hoping for a less rusted chainsaw straight to my nethers.