Ghost of the Machine – Scissorgames (2022)
Immediately upon hearing the name of this new British prog band, a bell started ringing and not entirely unjustified, because there is indeed a connection with that other upcoming band. I am of course talking about This Winter Machine (review of Kites on page reviews), the band around singer Al Winter. The core of Ghost of the Machine is formed by former members of This Winter Machine and I can tell you right away, you can hear that very clearly. Where Al Winter has surrounded himself with new musicians, his former companions have formed this new band and have chosen a name that is not entirely coincidental. Was this a good choice? After listening to Scissorgames many times, I think it is. There is not so much difference in the music and where the vocals at TWM are of course very good, with GotM we are dealing with another very good singer, Charlie Bramald. He has been active in several prog-like bands, Harmony of Spheres and Nova Cascade, but to be honest I don't know them. A fine singer who also writes intriguing lyrics and that is not that evident with every progact.
That they have got guts is clear because they start with an epic of more than 17 minutes. The song Scissors, together with the last song, Scissors Reprise of more than 10 minutes, forms the backbone of the album and what immediately stands out is the typically English approach that is reminiscent of Marillion in the early years and other names from that time. A lovely keyboard motif opens the ball and a song follows that has everything a good prog-epic needs with a lot of variety and dynamics. I have to admit that the guitar solos are not all equally spectacular and that is also due to the very corny sound that one of the guitarists, presumably Graham Garbett (not sure), has chosen. Disturbing for me, but maybe not for others. For the rest the guitar work is very tasteful and there are really nice parts in all of the songs. Second guitarist Scott Owens does a good job. Mountain is a lot heavier and that also sounds good, but it is not my favourite of the album. The two ballads, Just for Reference and Dead to Me are really sensitive and Charlie's voice stands out again. A strong point on the entire album is Mark Hagan's keyboard playing, who often opts for a drawn-out wide sound but also just as easily sprinkles a solo through it. The piano pieces are also very tasteful. The rhythm section, Stuart MCauley on bass and Andy Milner on drums, do what they have to do with verve, but I don't notice any extraordinary escapades. January's Child and Mercury Rising are just very nice neoprog songs with calm but also more spicy parts. However, I continue to struggle with the guitar sound on most, not all, of the solos. If that were a bit cleaner and more pointed they would stand out from the background a lot more because they are quite melodic in themselves. That is a thing, the mix could be much more transparent and open. It sounds a bit muddy at times.
For a debut album, it's a really good album that I somehow keep playing over and over again. That is certainly due to the choice for longer tracks, which means that the balance between vocals and instrumental parts is very good. In my opinion Ghost of the Machine is not inferior to their old employer and if they do something with the small criticisms the next album could be a real hammer. I can’t wait.
Oh, nice cover too.