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Scott Kelly and the Road Home | ‘The Forgiven Ghost in Me’

I mentioned to a Neurosis-loving friend that I was listening to the new Scott Kelly album the other day.

‘Cool, what does it sound like?’ he asked. ‘What do you think?’ I shot back to which he stated, without hesitation, ‘Apocalyptic dark folk?’

Got it in one. There you have it – without having heard a note, you pretty much know straight away how this record is going to sound.

Gravely, ‘gargling with sand’ confessional vocals underpinned by sparse, coarsely-strummed acoustic guitars, occasional minimal country-esque twangs and an undercurrent of simmering, barely contained fury/despair.

Not that there’s anything wrong per-se with the whole ‘angry metal man unveils more reflective side’ approach and Mr Kelly is certainly more qualified than most to deliver such tense, stark soundscapes.

The songs here seem weary, pained, parched and scorched by the desert heat. In this, the sincerity of the delivery cannot be questioned – when Scott barks about ‘the blade of the reaper’ on ‘We Let the Hell Come’, you sense that he really, genuinely means it.

It helps immeasurably here that the subtly sinister undertones to the instrumentation lend the song an aura of spectral menace.

Elsewhere, the despondency is so thick, it threatens to overwhelm. Particularly on the album’s standout entry ‘The Field that Surrounds Me’.

Here, minimal percussion appears for the only time on the album and the gruff, mantric vocal refrains and subtle atmospherics combine to create something truly haunting. It reminds of latter-day Swans or Beyond Dawn at their most effective.

The same is true of ‘Within It Blood’ – darkly hypnotic, Kelly utilizes his voice to more subtle effect, intertwining with sinister synth swells and droning acoustic strums.

Again, a palpable sense of Michael Gira at his most brooding is brought to mind here.

Less successful perhaps are the more stripped-down pieces. These are obviously more direct, more to-the-point but whether due to composition or delivery, don’t quite hold the attention as much as those songs which have been developed and extended.

They’re claustrophobic tracks, close-mic’d and confining in sound but it’s perhaps a bit much. Indeed, there’s a sense of someone perhaps trying a little too hard to convince us of the weight of their ‘bare-all’ confessions.

So whilst you can’t doubt the emotion behind Kelly’s raw croon of ‘I love you like a flower loves the sun’ on opener ‘A Spirit Redeemed to the Sun’, the rather affected, countrified twang of the song seems jarring.

Similarly, ‘The Sun is Dreaming in the Soul’ doesn’t seem to have much impact either, lacking any real definition in terms of a vocal hook. For songs this sparse, the songwriting and interplay between vocals and instrumentation needs to be absolutely spot-on and there is something missing a little here.

Therefore, ‘The Forgiven Ghost in Me’ is something of an up-and-down encounter.

Kelly is a serious guy and a serious artist, that is indisputable. However, one can’t help but feel a little more is needed for material such as this to truly hit home than an appropriately cracked, pain-laden voice and a violently strummed acoustic guitar.

This notion is only lent weight by the power of the album’s more layered pieces and it is on these that as a listener, one really feels truly drawn into Kelly’s more reflective and despondent side. These songs really hit home and fully immerse you in the bleakness one suspects the man is trying to catharsise here.

It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next – and given his commitments to Neurosis and Shrinebuilder, it could be a while until we hear more from this project.

There’s definitely plenty of moody food for thought to keep us going on ‘The Forgiven Ghost in Me’.

3.7 / 5 – Frain Allain ::: 21/08/12

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