What can you say about a band like 3? The cryptically titled US quartet have changed genre more times than Spock's Beard change time signatures and somehow still manage to remain relevant. 'The Ghost You Gave To Me', the sixth album in their 12 year career, sticks close to the formula they've been working on with their last two releases. Their brand of radio-friendly slightly-prog rock is infectious and catchy.
3 blend dark themes, grim lyrics and gritty undertones under flowing guitars, interesting percussion, effects and soundscapes and then lay Joey Eppard's high end vocals on top of it all, resulting in something akin to the bastard child of Dream Theater and The Beatles. Listen to the lead single 'Numbers', a funky, hard, heavy track jumping huge dynamic gaps and pushing a catchy as hell chorus right into your brain.
And just when you think things couldn't get more interesting, a technical lead guitar breakdown from Billy Riker just sets things off. Furthermore, compare it to the song it follows, High Times, a light pop-rock romp, the change is staggering.
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This has to be one of the most musically interesting albums I've heard in a long time. Even the light songs like 'One With The Sun' are mini epics, constantly moving around, never content with verse-chorus-verse-chorus conformity. They all do something unique and interesting, always injecting a new layer, or subtly changing key, often with Eppard's vocals gaining another harmony.
And then things change again, with the title track sounding remarkably like a Tool song. Low tuned, odd timed riffing with a pulsing rhythm courtesy of Chris Gartmann. While we're on the subject of drums, Gartmann is an excellent player, coping with multiple signature changes and poly-rhythms with absolute grace and efficiency. The patterns he plays are clearly very complicated yet he manages to make it all sound effortless. Very impressive, all drummers should take a look at his work with 3 and take some inspiration.
I don't have to worry about my usual sticking point with 3. The bass is audible throughout the whole album. From what I can hear (considering that all but one listen through of this album have been done with some notoriously bass-omitting Apple iPod headphones) the guitars aren't overloaded in gain, so they don't wash out the bass guitar. This pleases me immensely, especially considering how well the bass fits in on this album.
Daniel Grimsland slots in between the two guitars very nicely with tracks like 'Sparrow' and 'Pretty' showing exactly what he can do. He rarely plays along with the guitars, more often fitting in around the chords and lead lines, exactly what a bass player should do in a band like this.
As the album draws to a close, Eppard keeps his catchiest moments for last. 'It's Alive' is pure prog-rock, clearly taking inspiration from The Mars Volta, has a grand chorus that had me singing it in my head after the very first listen. The huge 'Only Child' segues between acoustic, almost arabic sounding quiet sections to heavy, Zeppelin-esque passages then building up to the truly Metal ending section. Huge is the only word for it.
The album comes to a close with the acoustic ballad 'The Barrier'. Its a deceptively lovely song, sounding very much like a love song, but the meaning behind the lyrics is so much darker. As an album closer I think its a bit weak, I like albums to crescendo and after the enormity of 'Only Child', I would have preferred 3 to take things up another notch and truly end the album on a high.
'The Barrier' is what I would qualify as a mid album track, maybe even a B-Side. It's just not memorable enough and a bit of a disappointment compared with the rest of the album.
Its very hard to describe this album effectively. Every single song is very different to the last. I've never heard a band move between genre conventions like 3 do, changing the sound of each track with its instrumentation and composition yet retaining the constant in Eppard's lush, multilayered vocals.
'The Ghost You Gave To Me' is a forward thinking, incredibly intelligent album. If you like your Metal considered and interesting without ending up sounding derivative, then I can't recommend this album highly enough.