The Ghost – This Pen is a Weapon

The Ghost
This Pen is a Weapon

Sophomore albums are a bitch. Sure, there are second albums that unconditionally destroy any preconceptions about one might have about the band. Nevermind is an obvious example, and the millions of Radiohead fanatics would probably set their attack zombie’s on me if I didn’t reference The Bends at some point. However, second albums have also been the bane of a band’s existence, forever an easy target for faceless record reviewers bent on unleashing their frustrations over a piss-poor record. Find out your girlfriend is shagging the downstairs neighbor that borrowed your Belle & Sebastian CDs? No problem, why don’t you give me 500 words on the second Elastica album. Show up for that Mogwai show only to find out that it was cancelled but your tickets are valid for the Pink Floyd tribute band Muddle? No worries, just give us 300 words on Leftfield’s Rhythm and Stealth.

The Ghost’s second offering is a difficult endeavor. When I heard This is a Hospital, I swore I had found my new favorite band. I destroyed vocal chords singing along to “Diffuser” and “Red Slippers Red Wheels.” But This Pen is a Weapon scares the hell out of me. “Broken Ears/Poison Hearts” opens with a band plugging in, warming up the feedback and letting loose with a potent rhythm section. When the guitars start biting into the sound moments later, the song has built so much tension the relief of Brian Moss’ vocals is almost welcome. I say almost because it becomes apparent that he is not fucking around this time, kids. The opening shriek of “All comfort has its consequence / There is blood in our leisure” is a clear sign of what’s to come.

Gone are anti-relationship sentiments that appeared on tracks like “On and On.” Moss’ lyrics have taken a decidedly more serious tone. This is where we meet one of the albums few shortcomings. The opening track is heavy handed with Moss voice throwing out lines like “crowned butcher you’re far from civilized / claiming progress in poisoned hearts.” One can only assume that he’s directing his piss and vinegar toward everyone’s favorite whipping boy of the moment, “Dubya.” However, accusations such as “the pied piper has an agenda of crusades and material incentives” could be any number of politicians. In today’s world where half of the Warped Tour has appeared on one political compilation or another (hell Sum 41 managed to show up on that Rock Against Bush compilation in between making movies with Paris Hilton and making out with that Avril chick), vague references to the injustices going on inside the political machine that is the United States will not hit very hard.

After the first track, the album expands to crush with sound. Making excellent use of the bands’ screamed and sung vocals, “Exorcism in the Key of A Minor” sounds ominous as Moss quietly sings “there are demons inside of us” before channeling all that’s good and evil about rock into a tortured shriek of “this is an exorcism.” It is so gut-wrenching you almost believe the man’s head spun around and spewed hot water soup while recording the vocals. “…And Now for my Disappearing Act” is the obligatory ballad, and here the band allows itself to stretch out. Purists may be deterred by the electronic flourishes found on tracks like this and “The Skin We Shed Has Stories to Tell,” but hopefully they’ll see it as a band attempting to stretch beyond the boundaries set by the first album. The payoff is worth it, as the processed vocals on the latter add an nice urgent quality while the electronics on the former lend another layer of atmospherics to the mix.

Even the most critical of detractors will not be able to withstand the power of “A Letter from God.” The album’s stand-out track, this song alone is worth the CD purchase. For a little under four minutes, The Ghost lash out against the modern age, indicting “righteousness, you’ve built yourself a prison / how I wish you were all as smart / as you like to think you are / you filthy rat’s what have you done? / eat. Fight. Fuck and sleep / now fill in the blanks.” God is pissed and loving it, so better take cover because He’s liable to go old testament on us at any moment.

If the album has another shortcoming, it is length. With only nine songs, the last of which being an instrumental piece that sounds like a Tortoise B-side, it ends too quickly. The last track is indeed tasty, and while it adds a pleasantly warm coda to the previously unleashed chaos, the choice of including it on the record is odd. Only minutes before in “Modern Restless,” Moss is screaming “carry on with your pore-death post-rock / I’ll be drinking with the hip hop kids down the block.” While it is always nice to see a shout-out to the Atmosphere quoting backpack set, to follow up with an instrumental that sounds suspiciously post-rock is somewhat confusing. Still, The Ghost has made an album that expands on This is a Hosptial and spits a lot of meaning in its venom. At the time of this writing, the band’s website is displaying “Forbidden.” Hopefully this is not a forewarning of things to come; else The Ghost will take its place alongside Burning Airlines as a band that releases two brilliant albums and then quietly fade out.