18 December, 2015
Ghost Embrace - Quantum Heart
1. Alone Again, 2. Neon, 3. Heartbeat, 4. Closing In, 5. Catch Me, 6. Remember, 7. People, 8. Still Here, 9. Quantum Theory, 10. Question of Faith, 11. Pirates, 12. School Yard
After a year in the making and getting together the best matching line-up, the latest (second) album of Colorado based Ghost Embrace has finally arrived.
The band is led by multi-talented vocalist, song writer and producer Annette Freeman. Morgan Rose who is best known as the founding member of Sevendust played drums. The bass player, Mario Pagliarulo, has toured and recorded with Serj Tankian (System of a Down) and Larry LaLonde (Primus) amongst others. There are also two skilled guitar players - Nema Sobhani and Chance Gallagher. Orchestration and piano arrangements were created by virtuoso Eric Moon who also worked with Victor Wooten, Nina Hagen, and Bjork. A line-up like this definitely helps with delivering a massive final result, so let's take a closer look at what this collaboration brings.
'Alone Again', the album opener, already suggests a possibility that Quantum Heart's essence relies on rhythmic melodies. There's the symphonic metal feel thanks to juicy orchestration, but also heavy textures brought by the guitar-bass-drums trio. Annette demonstrates a strong, brassy vocal and great interpretative skills. Her lyrics match with the arrangements and overall composition very well. A distinctive symphonic part which can be associated with movies set in The Middle Ages remains in the memory long after the song is over, but it's worth noting that the track ends on a heavier note.
In contrast, 'Neon' brings groovy, smooth jazz warmth with faster metal drumming, a pulsing bass line and lively rock soloing. Annette thrills with a predatory aggression in her voice, then it washes all away like an ocean wave leaving a beach. The instrumental parts and backup singers' voices play an important role here although the main vocals stand out - regardless of that, the songs keeps its balance perfectly.
A distinctive groove begins 'Heartbeat', along with a short lyrical verse, quickly followed by a chorus. This motif may suggest that the song is either short and repetitive or that its structural complexity may develop further. You'll discover the truth after a bit of listening. The melody is crucial here, making 'Heartbeat' a highly memorable, radio-orientated track.
'Closing In' sounds like a song to spend an evening with, thanks to its peaceful, repeating patterns. This is yet another jazz & soul based composition on this album, with medium tempo, a warm rhythm and a harmonious melodic flow. The arrangements here should let listeners relax in any environment, but perhaps are best experienced during a rainy night.
Ghost Embrace won't let you fall asleep yet, however. 'Catch Me' obviously sounds like a catchy hit thanks to its graded melodies and uplifting energy, making it another song on this album strongly recommended for radio play. It provides a tight, proportional mix between symphonic metal and pop/rock - definitely something for fans of Lacuna Coil, who may feel delighted upon discovering this particular track. Annette's voice is used here as an additional instrument, giving the composition a comprehensive and balanced sound.
Gentle, peaceful piano sounds in the intro of 'Remember' bring up a fairy tale image of delicate snowflakes falling during a winter evening. The entire instrumentation here deserves applause thanks to the compositional maturity, offering Annette's voice a desirable background. The song is pleasing to the ear, and its dynamics don't distract. An additional solo guitar makes for a classy enhancement, and is placed in the right spot. The mood is nostalgic and romantic, already indicating the song's message - a romance is over but it's alive in the lovers' memories.
'People' brings a social vibe since its title and introductory motif already suggest the best venue to play it. Imagine a Friday's night spent in a stylish music club, drifts of cigarette smoke coming from the shady corners, subdued conversations with individual bursts of low masculine or high feminine laughs - flirt and relaxation in the air. A pianist soloing on a small, intimately looking stage, eventually joined by the full band, fronted by the singer and supported by backup singers who gently swing to the rhythm of the song. People come out to dance once they are encouraged by the dynamics of the unfolding rock'n'roll tune. The drummer and bassist have steady parts to perform here, while the guitarist adds a quick solo on the side.
Contrary to its predecessor on the album, 'Still Here' opens with metal heaviness along with a progressive melodic line. Bass and drums are emphasized and rise up to the level of the vocals. The lively tone of the guitar may enchant you, together with the overall tight dynamic range. 'Still Here' could also be considered for use in advertising or media (for vehicles, travelling, music-related gadgets etc.) thanks to its strong, positive vibe and a memorable melody.
'Quantum Theory' is the only entirely instrumental composition on the album. Delicate electronica meets almost ambient-esque arrangements here, with traces of a rhythm that could make a ballerina dance. The song was written by Chance Gallagher who also played on a single guitar.
The founder of Ghost Embrace's must have an awesome musical empathy, since it let's her adjust own songs to the general vibe of certain genres along with types of instruments used. 'Question of Faith' is entirely based on an acoustic guitar along with the ethereal sounds of a keyboard, both often heard in Christian music, even though the song doesn't necessarily refer to religion but rather faith overall. Vocals are equally matching through their tender yet distant tone.
When you see a title such as 'Pirates' you may suspect the song is going to sound dark, intense or at least very dynamic. Instead, you get a lot of sweetness and a positive impression. Judging by the melody, it is a good follow up to 'Question of Faith' but when compared, 'Pirates' sounds more epic thanks to its running tempo and arrangements spread within the composition. The instruments build the song's steady core, but then vocals and guitar riffs reach higher tones, dispersing the melody beyond the beat delineated by the rhythm section.
According to Annette, 'School Yard' was the most difficult song to finish due to her busy schedule - vocals were put together with music on the plane to Vancouver. Nevertheless, the song sounds solid and energetic. It also has a dominating yet easy-going feel thanks to jazz fusion elements such as repetitive background choirs which support boldly performed vocals, a bit of guitar soloing, then lots of cymbals and piano play, too. Moreover, Annette's joyful laugh finishing the song may suggest that making 'School Yard' was actually fun.
There's evident stability and maturity found in the music of Ghost Embrace. Each of these twelve relatively short songs brings a different yet coherent vibe, mostly thanks to Annette Freeman's voice. Their sound is strong, distinctive, recognizable, and can bring both nostalgic and rapacious tones with equal agility. If you are familiar with the band's self-titled debut however, also recorded with a different line-up, you'll have some idea what to expect - Ghost Embrace loves jazzy groove but doesn't shy away from rock and metal heaviness. It doesn't mean that the band have already established their 'sound', considering the various guest musicians on each of the albums. Therefore, it will be interesting to track the direction of the band's future endeavors.
On the engineering side, Quantum Heart was mixed by Randy Staub (Warehouse Studio, Vancouver) who worked with all-star bands like U2, Motley Crew, or Alice in Chains. Mastering was provided by Ted Jensen (Sterling Sound, New York), whose name also rings a bell when you look up albums by The Alan Parsons Project, Billy Joel, Foreigner, and RATT, amongst others.
Clearly, lots of hard work and financial investment have been put into the making of this album, so send your positive feedback the band's way once you get it, to make sure you gratify these professional musicians' effort. A must-have 2015 release.
(Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, Fabryka Music Magazine, December 15th, 2015. Proofreading: Mike 'Vesper' Dziewoński)
Interview with Ghost Embrace - read here
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Reviewed by Fabryka Music Magazine