Theocracy is a difficult band to review. Some bands are polarizing for their musical style. Other bands are polarizing for a dynamic, mouthy front man. Theocracy is polarizing because of their obvious Christian stance. Their lyrics require confrontation by your mind, as they don’t pull punches. So, how do you begin to review something like that? There are plenty of atheistic albums out every year, even 2016. But an album that clearly speaks to my heart is hard to ignore.
Theocracy are getting ready to release their fourth album “Ghost Ship”. After a more underground first and second albums and then a huge third record, the expectations for this album were through the roof for me. The results of this new record are satisfying for me as a fan, as the ante has officially been upped in some capacities. “Ghost Ship” is an incredibly technical album with heart, just like the band’s other offerings.
This Atlanta-based band consists of Matt Smith on vocals, Jon Hinds on guitar, Val Allen Wood on lead guitar, and Jared Oldham on bass. Drummer Shawn Benson, whom doesn’t seem to be an actual part of the band, provides his thundering percussion. These guys are really something to hear. For a band that rides the edge of progressive metal, the music is incredibly complex, though still melodic, with lush keys present throughout the record. It does come across as a bit cheesy sometimes, and the music from the beginning is rather more upbeat than I usually prefer, but the band is unapologetic about all of this. Additionally, I’m not always a fan of the speed and thrash influences in the music, but the total package I always end up appreciating greatly.
“Ghost Ship” brings the technical fireworks more than any of their other albums. I feel that the first half of the album is stronger, with better riffs and choruses, but the whole album will grow on you over time. The first four tracks are especially strong. The album begins with the upbeat “Paper Tiger” that is completely catchy, but then delves into some serious riffage with “Ghost Ship” and its seafaring sound. My favorite track “The Wonder of It All” comes next, and feels more progressive than their normal music. From a great opening riff to the hands-raised feeling of awe throughout, the track has really captured me. My second favorite comes next, called “The Wishing Well”. This track simply kicks ass, or should I say that for this band? Oh well. Many of the tracks, by the way, have this oceanic feeling to them, but not quite on a “pirate” level, thank the Lord.
The rest of the album has some high points, too, with songs like “Stir the Embers” or the celebratory “Easter”. Like I said, though, the first half of the album is stronger. None of the songs here achieve the level of “I AM” off their previous album, but, then again, that is one of my favorite songs of all time, so I really don’t think it’s fair to compare. The songs on the album are all polished and very strong. The technical level is through the roof, as can even be seen in the music videos they’ve released, and the headbang-ability is compulsive. Matt’s vocals are wildly ranged and clear, Jon and Val’s guitars are crushing with excellent solos, and the rhythm section from Jared and Shawn is basically second to none when you really compare. I’m not sure who plays the keys here, but they form the basis for the thematic and melodic part of the album, and I really dig them.
Like I said, though, the lyrics demand confrontation. I do find that some reviewers would rather not review Theocracy’s work sometimes, despite the obvious technical brilliance of the band. It’s a testament to this band’s abilities that many critics pass on reviewing when they hear the lyrical content. Much like the figure of Jesus Christ himself, Theocracy’s lyrical content is something that must be dealt with mentally: It doesn’t just fade vaguely into the background, but drives and explains the passion felt in the music. You must have an opinion on it. Obviously, as a Christian, I embrace the lyrics wholeheartedly, especially “The Wonder of It All” and “Easter”. But I can see how some listeners would not find the experience enjoyable for the lyrics alone. I respect Theocracy for writing music from their hearts.
So, Theocracy’s “Ghost Ship” satisfies my itch for more Theocracy, and, like all their albums, it will grow on me more and more with each listen. Its lyrics and vocals are passionate and sincere, which may be too much for some listeners, but the level of expertise when it comes to the music and performances cannot be denied. These guys rock on the same level as any other prog metal band, and they deserve your attention.