Published Jun 03, 2020Much has already been said about the tragic events in 2015 that led to the Ghost Inside taking a four-year hiatus. However, it's been more than just an uphill battle to arrive at the release of the Californian metalcore outfit's eponymous fifth album, as members of the band continue to wrestle with the death of close friends, an ongoing series of surgeries, hours of physical therapy and adjusting to life with severe chronic injuries. And yet, while the Ghost Inside have always used narratives of triumph over adversity to ground their musical endeavours, this time around it's a touchstone that's both deeply personal and harrowingly introspective.
On The Ghost Inside, this journey back from the abyss is framed as a figurative baptism by fire, forged in redemption, reckoning and rebirth. Vocalist Jonathan Vigil affirms this notion during album opener "1333," as he screams the band's name and mission statement ("T.G.I./ From the ashes brought back to life") over the top of a skull-rattling breakdown. The album's pace continues to surge, barrelling straight into the urgent cry of "Still Alive" and "The Outcast," bolstered by roaring gang vocals, drummer Andrew Tkaczyk's bouncy grooves, and staccato mosh mayhem from guitarists Zach Johnson and Chris Davis.
While the Ghost Inside's variant of hook-laden metalcore has been oft-imitated and poorly replicated by others during their absence, the difference between transitory bandwagoners and scene-defining trendsetters ultimately comes down to execution. And it's here that The Ghost Inside proves that the band are back to operating at their creative peak, with an expert synthesis of theme, composition and delivery that makes for their strongest material to date. Heavy hitters like "Pressure Point" and "Overexposure" recall the fury of the band's earlier albums. Elsewhere, tracks like "Make or Break," "Begin Again" and lead single "Aftermath" clearly benefit from the input of long-time friend, collaborator and co-producer Jeremy McKinnon (of A Day to Remember fame), refining the anthemic explorations of 2012's Get What You Give and 2014's Dear Youth with sharper songwriting and catchier hooks.
Throughout much of The Ghost Inside, Vigil's pensive lyricism produces sincere reflections on suffering, self-doubt and sacrifice, most notably on album standout "Phoenix Rise," which brings the album's recurring imagery of fire and rebirth full circle. Off the back of a mammoth pre-chorus from Vigil and bassist/backing vocalist Jim Riley ("I'm more than my mistakes / What more can one man take and still survive? / Face forward into the night"), the track hits every aspect of the band's dynamic range before landing on a haunting and plaintive bridge. It's a staggeringly cathartic moment for the Ghost Inside — a brief glimpse into their collective turmoil, at once transcendent and gut-wrenching. As the band brings the chorus back, Vigil then turns towards hope: "Thrown into the fire / Like the Phoenix reborn, I rise / The new dawn burns brighter / So, face forward into the night."
Despite its subgenres and stylistic bifurcations, there's an underlying ethos to hardcore that has always rested on ideas of inner strength, solidarity and resilience. This is something Vigil and his colleagues in tragedy now understand better than most. And yet, despite the odds and the setbacks, for them the path forward is clear and resolute: "No more 'What could have been?' / Win the war within." Against that metric, The Ghost Inside is a resounding and well-earned victory. (Epitaph)