A mad scientist reveals a patrol of wolf-headed soldiers. Four masked creatures worship some sort of radioactive slug emerging in front of a severed head. And then, front and center, a gas-mask-wearing, cudgel-wielding demon figure forebodingly raises some sort of…anchor? If all this seems to toe the line between creepy and tongue-in-cheek, well…it’s all from the cover illustration of Dungeon Bastards, the latest album from Ghoul. And luckily for listeners, the band’s latest set toes that line nicely as well — setting campy horror themes overtop some of the catchiest tunes the band’s given us to date.
For the uninitiated, there are essentially two sides to Ghoul. There’s one where the band’s comprised of guys from Impaled, Exhumed and other bands, who formed this project to show their love for crossover thrash music. And then there’s another, where they’re four demons from a fictional horror realm called Creepsylvania with a collective penchant for death and dismemberment. (Which stage names like Digestor and Cremator and album titles like Splatterthrash are meant to make abundantly clear.) A ton more could be written about that dichotomy, but we’re here to talk about the music. So how’s it hold up on Dungeon Bastards?
Pretty damn well, actually. Five albums in, the band’s settled pretty comfortably into its retro-thrash sound, having all but abandoned the more contemporary, grind-oriented roots of their early material. The occasional tinges of death aside, Bastards maintains a comfortably old school vibe, with melodic overtones and gang choruses galore. On a scale of sheer intensity, it’s arguably the band’s tamest and most refined effort to date, but that doesn’t stop it from being a good time.
The best testament to the album’s success is its centerpiece, “Ghoulunatics.” It’s impossible not to get hooked in by the catchy, melodic leads the band sets between their verse vocals, and drummer Fermentor’s tornado-like patterns ensure that all four minutes and 40 seconds of the song are spent furiously banging one’s head. In other words, the music’s excellent enough to remind you that it doesn’t really matter if the song’s chorus goes: “We are Ghoulunatics! / Pantaloons sodden and skulls all benumbed / We are Ghoulunatics! / Easily led ‘cuz they’re so fucking dumb.“
That’s the key to Dungeon Bastards: have some damn fun with it. Not every song hits, and the album’s not a ground-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but then again, that’s not really what it’s supposed to be. It’s here to change the pace of a generally self-serious genre and put a stupid grin on your face. And you know what? Mission accomplished. Ghoul’s in fine form, and pulling off their schtick arguably better than they’ve ever done.
Keep it heavy,