Theocracy started in 2002 in Athens, Georgia as a one man project by Matt Smith who managed to release a progressive power metal album as a solo effort in 2003 to critical acclaim. Given that Theocracy fall into the genre of progressive power metal, which typically features epic orchestration and larger-than-life sounds, one has to be impressed that the debut, self-titled album was recorded solely by Matt Smith, who played all instruments and supplied all vocals. Matt went on to add band members and Theocracy has released two other albums before Ghost Ship, with Mirror of Souls in 2008 and As the World Bleeds in 2011.
A fast drum roll and this album is off to the races with “Paper Tiger” leading the way. Fast, melodic, clean, smooth, heavy, driving, , with an epic chorus and you pretty much have described a great power metal song, one just like “Paper Tiger”. For the uninitiated, Matt Smith’s smooth and powerful vocals come in fairly early in the song and the song shows off what makes his vocals special. Add in a couple fitting guitar solos and the ever present melodies and harmonies one would expect and you pretty much have this song understood, but then there’s an unexpected section featuring some ultra-fast spoken, darker sounding vocals that adds another level to the song. Needless to say, at this point the album was off to a great start.
Immediately following is the title track “Ghost Ship” with a pounding riff and some great pummeling drums driving the song along. Smith’s vocals here are a bit more soaring and brighter than the rest of the music and provide a nice contrast in sound. In general, Theocracy have mastered song arrangements and the often difficult aspect of balancing sound and silence within a song, so that no aspect overpowers another. Production and mixing are literally exactly what one would expect in the genre, clean but heavy and full with noticeable heavy rhythm section. Always one to appreciate a tasteful guitar solo, I found plenty to like in that regard as well. Some bands seem to build songs around the guitar solos but that is not the case here as they are perfectly timed and mesh well with the rest of the songs. Of the many songs to check out in that regard on the album, “Castaway” is one not to miss.
Riffs abound on this album and the beginning of “The Wonder of It All” is probably my favorite on the album with its great single guitar beginning then with the second guitar coming in and the double bass pounding, you have one phenomenal intro as it ventures into near thrash territory. Some of the chorus seems a bit too bright and airy but the band does manage to bring things back to the heavy side in short order. There are many points on the album, particularly the choruses, where if that was all you heard, metalheads would not be impressed, but in contrast, there are other parts that would likely drive away those not looking for something as heavy. Together it all fits and really does balance out, especially as this situation typically happens within a single song.
To my ears, the songs that just didn’t seem to work are the ones most reminiscent of the 80’s power ballads. Songs like “Currency in a Bankrupt World”, and especially “Around the World and Back” were ones that made me want to hit the skip button in all honesty. Being one who lived through the 80’s, I do have a certain affection for metal from that era, so when a riff like the one at the beginning of “A Call to Arms” starts off with the lone guitar, I can’t help but relive the days when some Ratt songs like “You’re in Love” and “Lay it Down” began similarly.
As others have pointed out, lyrically Theocracy have managed to talk about their Christian beliefs but have done so in an intelligent manner that does not drive away those who are not Christians and even a couple critics who are generally opposed to Christian bands, so that really speaks to the appeal of the band. Personally, I have to say I was a bit surprised given that the album ends with the 10 minute “Easter” opus, which tells the Resurrection story. The song itself opens up acoustically, but twists and turns through power and progressive metal and back to a glorious finish in a great bit of songwriting. Along those lines, the title track and “Castaway” present the theme of how the rejected and the unseen are often the ones who can end up having the greatest impact on the world. Much along those same lines, there will be wide variety of metal fans who will find something to like on Ghost Ship.
Written by John Jackson
“Ghost Ship” track listing
01. Paper Tiger
02. Ghost Ship
03. The Wonder Of It All
04. Wishing Well
05. Around the World and Back
06. Stir the Embers
07. A Call To Arms
08. Currency In A Bankrupt World
Matt Smith: Vocals
Jon Hinds: Guitar, Vocals
Val Allen Wood: Lead Guitar
Jared Oldham: Bass
“Mirror of Souls” (2008)
‘Mirror of Souls’ [single] (2009)
‘All I Want for Christmas’ [single] (2010)
‘Wages of Sin’ [single] (2011)
’30 Pieces of Silver’ [single] (2011)
“As the World Bleeds” (2011) [review]
‘Wynter Fever’ [Single] (2012)
“Ghost Ship” (2016)
Record Label: Ulterium Records, Oct. 2016
Video for ‘Ghost Ship’
Lyric video for ‘Wishing Well’
Official “Ghost Ship” album teaser clip