CD REVIEW: Abigail's Ghost - Selling Insincerity
By Alex Jasperse - 09/19/2007 - 04:11 PM EDT
Artist: Band: Abigail’s Ghost
Album: Selling Insincerity 
Label: Aesperus Music
Genre: Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal and Art Rock
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Enter Abigail’s Ghost, a progressive art-rock group from New Orleans, Louisiana, with one of the most stunning debuts of 2007. Nothing ethereal here: the combination of emotional, innovative song structures, seamless transitions, atmospheric and vicious layers of instrumentation, vocal harmonies and well-written lyrics, come together to form a breathtaking musical presence that reaffirms itself with each listen. Removing twelve notes from reality's grip, they are among the select groups of musicians that can make you forget you're even listening to earthly music at all.
Maintaining a predominantly heavy progressive rock and metal sound throughout, Selling Insincerity draws from a wealth of influences that range from Pink Floyd, Steve Vai, Ozric Tentacles, Dream Theatre, OSI, Supertramp and Opeth. And considering that yes, this is a debut, and yes, just like most first-time artists, Abigail's Ghost's music has a tendency to sound like one group in particular. In this case, the indefinable Porcupine Tree.
Now, here’s the thing: utter the name “Porcupine Tree” in the prog realms, and you'll be sure to raise some considerable attention, as well as discover a tightly knit community (myself included) that will no doubt inform you the band is truly one of the best-kept secrets in music. So it would be only natural that any comparisons drawn to them would be met with a certain degree of hesitation and criticism – but hey, that’s the politics of music.
“[But] I think that opinion of us differs for everyone,” says Abigail’s Ghost’s bassist, Kenneth Wilson. “There are some who ignorantly claim that we're [Porcupine Tree] clones, but the majority of these people are younger than I am (I'm 23), male, and probably have no clue about the older progressive rock music that really influenced [us]. No one above the age of 25, that I've seen anyway, has been that negative, so I suspect the hostility comes from lack of experience with other similar music.”
Fair enough. While in some respects this may be the case, what makes Selling Insincerity an interesting subject for discussion is the fact that there really haven't been any formal counterparts that have come close to matching Porcupine Tree's sonic power like this before. While Abigail's Ghost is treading in the footsteps of Porcupine Tree, they are taking several steps further along the prog rock and metal paths that Porcupine Tree only began to explore in their last two releases, Deadwing and Fear of a Blank Planet.
Once “Mazurka's” devious three-four groove blends into the fiery guitar-driven and crashing drum rhythms of “Close,” it's obvious right from the get-go that disappointment doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance. As lengthy instrumental passages dissolve into cleanly-strummed electric guitars that carry over into “Waiting Room,” a low-fi guitar introduction soon erupts into layers of acoustic guitars, atmospheric keys and lead vocals. Nothing short of heart racing, it accelerates upwards, only pulling back on the reins occasionally, exploring (as the title suggests) the uncertainty, frustration and lack of control when it comes to waiting.
The cascading wall-of-sounds take a short break once a cold and distant drum loop enters in the beginning of “Love Sounds.” As the keys begin to warm the surroundings, Joshua Theriot’s breathy vocals enter with a Kevin Moore reservation, and within minutes, Wilson's bass moves upwards – cutting through the mix – with a growl that gives the thumbs up for the drums, guitars and keys to bring everything back up to full-speed once again. By the midway mark, “Sellout” effortlessly trades between heavy and light, becoming another explosive standout track, with a fair amount of thanks going to the power provided by John Patrick's drumming. Injecting a few unsettling rhythms, he masterfully plays with the beat – twisting and submitting each verse to his mastery – meanwhile, propulsive and crunchy guitars dip in and out before unleashing into an aggressive symphonic fury at the two-minute mark (indirectly reminding one that vocals, guitars, bass and drums can in fact match the sonic force of a full-fledged orchestra).
“You have to realize that this album was basically recorded live in the studio with only guitar and vocal overdubs in a period of one grueling week. We stayed in the studio from 12-14 hours a day hammering out the songs, and there are a lot of things we overlooked or didn't have time for that got cut from the final album,” says Wilson. Not only does this knowledge reaffirm the fact that Abigail's Ghost is composed of some damn fine musicians, it also adds another dimension that reaffirms that while they are heavily influenced by Porcupine Tree, at its core, Selling Insincerity is completely honest: nothing feels shadowy or concealed.
Just as there are plenty of anthemic and thought-provoking pieces, there are also a number of softer pieces that add another savory dimension to the mix. Don't let the thrash-metal introduction of “Dead Peoples Review” throw you for a spin, because thirty-seconds later, it becomes one of the best openings to a modern progressive folk song (which may act as a reminder that they can be vicious whenever they want, stop, and then dive full force into beautiful acoustic and vocal laden passages). Incorporating a few stylistic elements from the works of Blackfield (side project of Porcupine Tree's, Steven Wilson), “Windows” and “Seeping” add two sentimental and melancholic tunes with a deliberate focus on establishing a catchy melody. It wouldn't be fair to degrade them to the status of a pop song, because both tracks (“Seeping,” come the 3:40 mark, in particular) become even more rewarding with each subsequent visit.
Aside from the odd production touch-up needed here and there, and “Cerulean” sounding a little too much like Porcupine Tree's “The Creator has a Mastertape,” “Monochrome” and “Mother May I?” are (perhaps) the two standout tracks. Simplicity is a hard thing to master, and once “Monochrome” opens, the raw emotional elegance of musical reservation, becomes nothing short of destructive. But that's how it should be, because it becomes much more than sound that simply travels to your ears: it's an involving experience where you can feel your body becoming synchronized with the progression of the music. Although “Mother May I?” is running at a much quicker pace, even after it has finished, it will also leave you silent – your body will be traced with shivers, and you'll have no doubt made an emotional connection to all that is Abigail's Ghost.
All the ingredients of a great piece of art are here, but the final appreciation of the album unfortunately depends on how one decides to flavour it with comparisons to Porcupine Tree. Considering (again) that there haven’t been any formal competitors like this before, and when you compare it to the vast majority of the music that currently exists, in so many ways, Selling Insincerity is beyond the roots of what could even be categorized as impressive. It is emotionally fluent to the degree that it will consume your imagination for nearly an hour without any traces of disappointment, remind you why you listen to music in the first place, and why it's taken so long for another act to step up to the plate. Selling Insincerity is nothing short of a progressive rock and metal masterpiece that is highly recommended.
The Verdict: 10/10
For more information, please visit www.abigailsghost.com
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