In Stormy Nights
n the grand scheme of things, Bands That Wouldn’t Sound Out of Place at a Renaissance Faire probably end up pretty low on the totem pole of rock ’n’ roll daydreams, be they of Lester Bangs, Chuck Berry, or Jon Bon Jovi (Jimmy Page, as usual, excepted). But Ghost, a Japanese troupe who’ve built a niche American following by imitating English folk music, have been responsible for some of the most consistently fulfilling dragon-related music of the last decade and a half. Still, their reliance on folksy instruments—banjo, lute, tabla, flute—keeps them at less than even odds to release the type of deformed psychedelic heave that is In Stormy Nights.
Big, fitful, noisy records require a passion that Ghost’s prayerful compositions rarely, if ever, expose. Their last release, 2004’s dense Hypnotic Underworld, felt a smudge academic, and was undeniably the beneficiary of numerous “Shit! Ghost still exist! And they’re kinda good!”-type reviews. In Stormy Nights will need no such charity; Ghost sound cattier and more instinctive than they have since 1995 career peak Snuffbox Immanence, snuggling in for long, abstract improvisations and wrestling big, marching rhythms over the cliff.
In Stormy Nights recoils from the band’s past, wading into the type of extended noise-break and drum waves that they previously only visited after long, slow ascents. Singer Masaki Batoh is likewise drawn from his shell, coerced into aggressive chants and mad yelps. The strident drums that usher in “Water Door Yellow Gate” give fuck-all about Ghost’s bathhouse ambience, instead demanding blood from Batoh and his flag-carriers. “Gareki No Toshi” sounds like The Stooges, Ron Asheton and all, having their way with a naked raga. 1960’s psych-rock cover “Caledonia,” which completes the mid-disc assault, grates insistently, with Batoh shrieking over an insistent, Celtic flute.
The bulk of the album’s runtime belongs to “Hemicyclic Anthelion,” a gory, wordless patchwork of live recordings. The band fill nearly 30 minutes with sawing feedback and ranting percussion. Sporadically trying, “Hemicyclic Anthelion” both justifies the album’s title and makes a case for Ghost as an underrated and satisfying improv group. Closer to Metal Machine Music than the Incredible String Band, it is Ghost’s most disorienting hour, all sweat and bile.
Only during In Stormy Nights’ bookends, the surprisingly lyrical “Motherly Bluster” and closing vignette “Grisaille,” does Ghost return to the well, propping up atmosphere and songcraft. In Stormy Nights is by no means the first time Ghost have plugged in and upped the volume, but it is easily their most unhinged, aggressive record; they make a show of steamrolling their subtler instincts. Neither is In Stormy Nights an unqualified success: Batoh occasionally overextends himself, especially during the violent mid-album trilogy, and “Grisaille” languishes placidly, lamely even, for seven minutes before swirling north and delivering the type of fulfilling climax In Stormy Nights begs. But Ghost don’t need In Stormy Nights to be a career pinnacle, less still another psych-folk oddity. Veterans now, they spill the blood of psychedelia, looking up with feral grins and young eyes.