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‘Ghost Stories’ (Mediaskare)

Review by Greg Maki

A lot can happen in four years. Just ask Jonny Santos, vocalist and guitarist of Silent Civilian. Since the 2006 release of his band’s debut album, Rebirth of the Temple, he’s gone through about a dozen bandmates, and rejoined, toured and started to a record a new album with Spineshank, the band he left in 2004. So it’s almost miraculous that he made it to Ghost Stories, Silent Civilian’s second album.

Everything has changed around Santos except the Silent Civilian sound—the sound that has made Rebirth of the Temple my favorite album of’s four-plus-year existence. Critics like to throw around “metalcore” in a derogatory sense, and yes, there are a handful of hardcore-style breakdowns. But the opener, “Let Us Prey,” has a section with blast beats and a death metal vocal attack. So can we just classify Silent Civilian as metal and move on?

A few things immediately struck me about Ghost Stories (aside from the incredibly tight riffing and solos that make me check to see if my fingers are bleeding): one, the production is not as slick and polished as it was on Rebirth, giving the recording a rougher, rawer feel that is more in the spirit of classic thrash metal; two, for the most part, the atmospheric intros and outros that marked a handful of the songs on Rebirth are gone in favor of getting straight to melting the listener’s face for the entire running time; and three, instead of delving into politics and world affairs as he did on the first record, Santos just sounds angry throughout the album’s 47 minutes—and I don’t mean a little annoyed or pissed off about something that might have happened in the recording studio; he comes across like he’s trying to break out of your speakers and strangle the first person he sees.

Though Silent Civilian is Santos’s baby, credit must be given to guitarist David Delacruz, his chief collaborator on Ghost Stories, and drummer Ryan Halpert, whose performance might not make fans forget Chris Mora but at least fills the sizable shoes he left behind. Bassist Robbie Young is a little low in a mix dominated by guitars and drums, though the overall sound does not suffer for it.

One of the band’s strengths, on both Rebirth and Ghost Stories, is that Santos is as much singer as screamer—well, maybe a little less so on the new album, but that only heightens the impact when he swoops in with a huge, hook-filled chorus. The first single, “Atonement,” features clean vocals almost exclusively. Some might dismiss it as an attempt to chase airplay or court the Hot Topic crowd, but it’s still a well-written, heavy song that beats Bullet for My Valentine at its own game and a strong point of the album whether it wins the band new fans or not.

Other highlights include “The Phoenix,” which settles into a slower, menacing groove, and “Last One Standing,” for which a video was available online well before the album’s release. The best song, the one that sums up Silent Civilian better than any other, is the title track. Building from a moody intro to fast, thrash-metal riffing to a mid-tempo groove leading into and out of its sweeping chorus and throwing in one of the band’s best solos to date, “Ghost Stories” is a dynamic, dramatic masterpiece of epic proportions.

Ghost Stories the album is a relentless attack, proving Rebirth was no fluke. It has not been an easy road for Silent Civilian so far, but Santos has shown himself to be a true survivor and one of the most compelling talents in modern metal.