The Midnight Ghost Train

Cold Was The Ground

Written by: AP on 07/03/2015 13:44:16

Although their name is derived from the lyrics to Hank Williams' classic "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry", The Midnight Ghost Train out of Topeka, Kansas have little in common with the American country legend in musical terms. No, with their raging 2008 album "Buffalo" (its title signifying the birthplace of guitar wielding frontman Steve Moss) the trio burst into the stoner rock scene in some style, and after impressing at the iconic Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands two years ago, were picked up by the Austrian label Napalm Records for the release of this third LP, "Cold Was the Ground". Despite knowing little of them, the band's resonance in the genre has not passed me by and as such, lamenting the missed opportunity to watch them live at last year's Desertfest London, I'd made a strong note to not let this record slip past my critical eye when it was announced sometime last year.

As far as stoner rock goes, The Midnight Ghost Train is an artist who could be said to epitomise the style, the warm and natural fuzz; thick, absorbing grooves; and touches of Delta blues all capturing aspects of the genre that are held both sacred and crucial by its aficionados. Only Moss' vocal style - in the borderland between the deepest growling and the gruffest singing - circumvents these traditions, yet even without rediscovering fire, there is such stamina to this stuff that makes it nigh impossible to slate. "Along the Chasm" delivers one of those deeply energising introductions to the tune of which it's easy to imagine Moss and his companions, bassist Mike Boyne & drummer Brandon Burghart, triumphantly marching onto the stage before crashing to reveal seamlessly the first of a plethora of sizzling leads and assured base riffs in "Gladstone".

Already this early into the proceedings, "Cold Was the Ground" seems to build off the boogie and crunch of "Buffalo" with more diverse arrangements, the track frequently shifting between the dusty riffage of Kyuss, uplifting hard rock'n'roll à la Clutch, and gloomier parts in the vein of 'Sabbath. It doesn't feel as repetitive. "One Last Shelter" provides a fine example as it manages to pack both bombast and a moody, blues ridden quietus into just two minutes of running length; while in the standout "Straight to the North" Moss, Boyne & Burghart combine a mouthwatering assortment of 'Sabbath school riffs, stop/start dynamics, and Whiskey soaked vocalisations in a display of subliminal interplay. It's heavy, groovy and explosive, yet also tempered, the refined usage of effect pedals in exactly the right places giving the song an intoxicating, elusive character.

But unlike many of their peers (Steak, on their latest release "Slab City" in particular comes to mind), The Midnight Ghost Train abstain almost completely from meandering song constructs. The only real refuge from the high-octane approach by which much of this album is characterised, comes with the soft bass licks and violin of its bluesiest track, "The Little Sparrow", which boasts a spoken word testimonial from Moss about the kind of regret only a true love of music can bring. Indeed, my only concern with "Cold Was the Ground" is that while the songs certainly offer diversity within themselves, there is not quite enough of it between one track and the next. The album has its definitive highlights, one of which arrives at the very end with "Mantis", but nothing per se to send The Midnight Ghost Train into the stoner rock elite just yet.

Be that as it may, connoisseurs of stoner rock will find plenty to enthuse about here, whether it be the well balanced production (every instrument protrudes from the mix loud and clear), the overload of scrumptious riffs or the irresistible zest with which The Midnight Ghost Train play.


Download: Gladstone, Arvonia, One Last Shelter, Straight to the North, Mantis
For the fans of: Clutch, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, Steak
Listen: Facebook

Release date 27.02.2015
Napalm Records

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