Theocracy is back!
Matt Smith founded christian progressive power metal band Theocracy in Athens, Georgia in 2002, originally as a one-man project with Smith playing and singing all the parts, but it is now a full quintet. Their last album, As the World Bleeds (2011), included some of my favorite ever recordings by the band, including I Am, Nailed and 30 Pieces of Silver. But that was then.
New album Ghost Ship has a theme culled from the feelings Smith encountered whilst on tour, from fans who found camaraderie and a community of shared presence. As Matt explains: “So many kids were coming up to us after shows and telling us their stories. A lot of them were searching for purpose and a place to fit in, and having grown up as an awkward and unpopular kid myself, their words really stuck with me. I started thinking about what a band of misfits Jesus’ disciples were: fishermen, tax collectors, and people of little consequence in the eyes of the world. Sometimes the ones most people don’t see, or choose to look straight through — the ghosts of society, as it were, dead to the world — end up having the biggest impact. That’s where the title and idea for Ghost Ship came from: all the misfits, the uncool, the outcasts, there is a place where you do fit in.”
And so the voyage begins…
Paper Tiger opens things up with battering drums, thrashing guitar chords and rhythms, building immediate intensity into an anthemic rallying cry, the perfect way to kick off the album as Smith sings;
“One more rally cause and off we go.
We got ’em primed and ready to explode!”
The title track is another inspirational rallying call as Matt calls the fans together;
“Messenger of ages, carried on the wings of second birth.
Unto the silent secrets of the earth.
Justice generation, anthem for the sense of purpose we lost.”
“There’s a place for you here.
Raise the anchor, all aboard, as the Captain calls His misfits.
This Ghost Ship sets off to shake the world – let’s go!”
Later Smith implores “Come aboard and leave your darkness behind” as a chorus sings “There is revolution in the air” behind him, guitars and drums helping to beat out this anthem for the ages.
The Wonder of it All opens with an excellent Dream Theater-like whirlwind blitz of lead guitar, bass and drums, Smith yelling “Boom!” as the band kicks it up another notch. The vocals have the sound of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong about them as Matt sings;
“All our knowledge and our plans, every circumstance of man.
All the wisdom that we’ve gathered never reaches The Divine.”
“Giving to receive, you’ll be exalted through humility.
True freedom found through slavery.
Behold: what a mystery!
Last shall be first, a living water for eternal thirst.”
Three swashbuckling anthems to steer the voyage on the choppy seas of disenchantment with the state of present days. Too many thrashing guitar anthems in a row can get tiresome and Wishing Well opens with well-placed orchestration. The power is still there but the expanded orchestration creates a much fuller soundscape and Smith’s vocals sound much better within these deeper, more intricate songs. Here he brings out his best James LaBrie sound for one of the best songs on the album;
“One waits for a rainy day, while there are stories left to tell.
One more chose to look away, a penny for the wishing well.
Blood in the water, the saint and the martyr will stay.
“One lonely vessel, scarred imperfection converging pieces in the Master’s design,
To work in the potter’s field while there is still time.”
“From vision to action, there’s a new story to tell.
When living beyond the wishing well!”
Around the World and Back opens with bells and innocent children’s music. Smith sings “Hey weary traveller, have you finally lost you way?” a capella, a unique opportunity to hear his voice without the powerful instrumentation behind him. It’s the lyrics…the story they tell, the ability to convey a message without forcing it. “Reaching out”…yes, that’s it.
“You dream of turning back the clock to yesterday
You grabbed the simple gift and held it as a child.
You’ve been around the world and back.
Love and loss, vanity.
Just believe and leave the rest to Me.”
The pulsing and grinding guitars return with pounding drums for Stir the Embers, lightning guitar solos weaving in and out to enhance the image of a fire ignited. You really need to read the lyrics to these songs to feel and understand the inspiration being dramatized in the music and words;
“A supernatural visitation of the highest order.
Reanimation of the flame once blazing.
Somewhere along the way we lost the spark of passion to replacement.”
A Call to Arms is the song that all of those disheartened fans were searching for;
“We march to the beat of a different drummer.
Duty, decree, and a sense of wonder.
Enemies gathering on all sides.
A single voice echoing deep inside.
Destroying the fear.
And drowning out the thunder.”
Then later, “This is a revolution, this is a call to arms!” with the instrumentation helping to support the power of the images being brought to life. Currency in a Bankrupt World is a reminder not to fear the consequences of economic circumstances and mistakes beyond or within our control while Castaway is appropriate given that this is, after all, a ‘Ghost Ship’, full of every kind of lost soul. Drilling drums and revving guitars rip things up as Smith sings;
“Destitution, all the others have gone.
Left you there all alone.
Don’t be afraid, this world is not your home.
Disillusioned, just a pilgrim passing through.
Disdained in everything you do.
But there’s a single light that’s shining through the dark.
Because of you.”
“One by one they sailed away…
So fly the flag ‘til your ship comes in.
Keep the faith, my friend, and one day we’ll be together once again.”
Finally, Easter re-tells the famous story of Jesus which is celebrated with jubilation each spring. Theocracy’s version is anthemic with deeply emotional lyrics and epic music. Half of the song comprises powerful guitars, bass and drums, the second half uses quieter, more reflective music to convey the message which comes to a potent conclusion worthy of the epic tale; “Glory! Hope is alive. What an ending to the story. My Son, arise!”
This is another excellent album by Theocracy, complete with fine musicianship throughout, but it is the lyrics which set this band apart. They are unafraid of declaring their faith and do so with power.
If you are in search of metal music outside of the regular doom and gloom, this is your ticket. It is meant to inspire and provide witness to the multitudes of fans who also believe and are not afraid to do likewise. It is music that is fearless and driven by a sense of awareness of the moment… of the present disenchantment in the world and the fear for all that we have lost. The album points to what can still be discovered if all of the world’s material possessions and treasures still leave you lacking. Join the castaways on this Ghost Ship and sail the journey over troubled waters with others…like you.
01. Paper Tiger (5:13)
02. Ghost Ship (4:39)
03. The Wonder of it All (6:38)
04. Wishing Well (5:01)
05. Around the World and Back (4:57)
06. Stir the Embers (4:07)
07. A Call to Arms (4:39)
08. Currency in a Bankrupt World (4:41)
09. Castaway (4:43)
10. Easter (9:53)
Total Time – 54:31
Matt Smith – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Bass
Jonathan Hinds – Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards
Val Allen Wood – Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jared Oldham – Bass, Backing Vocals
Shawn Benson – Drums
Record Label: Ulterium Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 28th October 2016