You know, I might give progressive metal a hard time in my reviews, but, being honest, I have nothing against the principle behind it. It’s a bunch of talented musicians making music that pushes them to be better and showcases to most people just how good those instruments can be in the right hands. The problem, as always, tends to come down to the execution: I usually find that songs which go on past the eight minute mark usually don’t hold my interest, so an album where all of the songs on it are pushing towards that direction tends to lose me fairly quickly, and the vast majority of progressive metal tends to focus far more on technicality than actually being an interesting listen to the average person, which isn’t an automatic turn off for me on its own (heck, I’m developing a fondness for technical death metal, so technicality isn’t a problem in and of itself), but, when combined with the first issue, it usually tends to result in me giving progressive metal a wide berth because I tend to just find Dream Theater worship in the scene and, since Dream Theater pretty much pioneered the sort of progressive metal that I take issue with…yeah, you can see why the execution of most progressive metal tends to lose me!
Fortunately, Austria’s Mayfair seem to be on my wavelength, as this album is about as far from Dream Theater worship as you can get (although they prefer not to be labelled as a progressive metal band, which could explain why they avoid sounding like Dream Theater). Forming in 1989 (the same year Dream Theater’s debut, When Dream and Day Unite, was released), Mayfair released three albums during their first time around up until their breakup in 2000 (1993’s Behind…, 1995’s Die Flucht (which roughly translates to “The escape”, if you’re curious) and 1998’s Fastest Trip to Cyber-town). However, the band returned in 2010 (minus original drummer Little and bassist Motle) and have put out one album prior to this one, 2013’s Schlage mein Herz, Schlage… (which roughly translates to “Propose my heart, propose”, if you’re curious). The band’s line up since their reunion has comprised of guitarist Rene (presumably not the same Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo!…OK, I’ll admit, that was a stretch for a joke, even by my low standards!) and vocalist Mario Prunster, who were both founding members of the band, alongside drummer Jolly and bassist Johannes Leierer, who some people might have heard of due to him also being a member of the progressive death metal band Divine Temptation and the symphonic gothic metal band Siegfried, as well as being part of the now defunct power metal band Art of Fear and Psycho Holiday, who I don’t even know if they’re still active or not, but who only put out a single demo in 1996, so it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to assume they’re not around any more!
Anyway, rambling aside, I have to say that My Ghosts Inside is…interesting. The content is not something that’s going to wow people already familiar with progressive metal and it’s not something that I feel I’d listen to a lot in my free time…but, at the same time, there’s something about this album which I can’t help enjoying when I do actually listen to it.
The band’s sound, surprisingly, is a more atmospheric style compared to the average progressive metal band, arguably leaning a bit more towards the alternative sound (or, at a pinch, a metal version of Pink Floyd) than what you might expect from the genre. Obviously, I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t listen to a lot of progressive metal, but I actually like this style of it by comparison to the Dream Theater worship, as it’s the sort of thing which shows a very tasteful restraint and appreciation towards strong songwriting that you actually will want to listen to if you’re not normally a fan of the genre, but is still technically challenging in a way that doesn’t shove itself into your face. It’s basically the Queensryche and Crimson Glory way of doing progressive metal, only with a lot more of a focus on atmosphere compared to them, which is completely fine in my book!
It’s here, unfortunately, that I have to start dropping the positive comments and say that the band’s sound is generally more interesting to me than the actual songwriting. The songwriting itself isn’t bad, admittedly (some of them, like ‘Loss’ and ‘Ghostrider’, are actually pretty good overall), but the songs just don’t manage to hold my attention much and tend to be forgotten once the next song starts. Also, I find the band’s songs manage to create the bizarre final result of an album which is too long (around ‘Ghostrider’, I kept checking the album again and was surprised to realise that I hadn’t actually reached the end of it), yet none of the songs feel like they’re overreaching themselves when I’m actually listening to them: if anything, my general thought is that most of them are actually too short, with only ‘When Angels and Demons Meet’ feeling like it could have done with a bit of a trim to tighten it up properly. It’s even more bizarre when you realise that most of the album is comprised of songs that don’t even cross the five minute mark (again, only ‘When Angels and Demons Meet’ defies that, being almost six and a half minutes long), so something about the songwriting is clearly failing horribly if I’m growing tired of the album around twenty to twenty-five minutes into it when it’s barely forty minutes long, the song lengths aren’t the problem (in the “too long for me to get through without needing a pillow and a nap to cope with it all” kind of way) and the band’s sound is one that I’m actually liking! That’s really part of the reason why I can’t say it’s an album I will listen to a lot, but will like when I listen to it: in small doses, it’s great, but, as a full album, it just doesn’t hold my attention.
Luckily, the band’s performances are a bit more noteworthy. Now, Mayfair aren’t exactly going to wow anyone familiar with Dream Theater at their finest, but that’s not to say that the band are bad: they’re definitely comprised of skilled musicians who know what they’re doing and can do it well. I can’t really single any of the musicians out for praise over any of the others, as I feel all of them did good jobs overall and employed a good variety of techniques across the whole album. Mario probably deserves some praise for adding death metal vocals to the album in a tasteful way (which basically means “used occasionally and not dominating the album at all” if you know me) while still using his clean vocals very well across the whole album, so I’ll single him out, but, really, everyone does a good job overall!
The production is mostly very good, with the mastering being very well done and the album having a very good feeling to it which is modern, but not overly studio sounding. I do think that the mixing for the bass could have been improved, though: there are some songs where I genuinely couldn’t hear it even after giving myself time to get used to it and some songs where it seemed to dip in and out of audibility. I’m not entirely sure why the bass seems to have had this mixing problem, as most progressive music is very good with the mixing of the bass, but it’s still an issue that I feel is worth pointing out.
Ultimately, My Ghosts Inside is the sort of progressive metal record that you’d expect me to like on paper, yet, for some reason, I can’t completely get behind it. I can’t call this a bad record in good faith, as I do like what the band are doing and there’s certainly some good stuff on here, but saying that I like the record isn’t exactly true either, as it doesn’t just doesn’t grab me and I feel it fails as a record because it wears itself out before it finishes every time I listen to it. I do think that progressive metal fans (and, to an extent, alternative music fans) should be able to find stuff to enjoy on this record, so it’s worth a look into in that regard, but, on a personal level, this record just doesn’t do enough to hold my interest.
That said, I’m not really the target audience for this record, so take my personal viewpoint on the record with a pinch of salt!
My Ghosts Inside will be released on the 15th of April by Pure Prog Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.