Album Review: "Isolated Dreams" (2021) by Ghost Echo
Dutch duo Ghost Echo released their debut album "Isolated Dreams" on 25 March 2021. The music is a combination of atmospheric electronica, minimalistic metal riffs, and immersive trip-hop beats. The band likes to call this creation, "cinematic electro-prog." Right after the release of Steven Wilson's The Future Bites, you can't help but draw a comparison. Projects/bands disrupting prog with elements from otherwise "mainstream" genres have increased recently. Obviously, Steven Wilson is the prime example. Leprous has gathered a lot of attention. Even Haken did it! (and it was delicious, just listen to The Endless Knot). Ghost Echo's disruption is blatant, and for the first time, we realize it works really well. Ocean II features a polyrhythmic trap beat. Yes, it was time to hear that. After James Blake's 12/8 beauty "You're too precious," it was time to bring that forward-thinking musicality to prog, and mash it up with the solos and riffs we all love. This is a release that you shouldn't miss.
Remy de Wal / Guitars, synthesizers, programming, and background vocals Karel Witte / Lead vocals, guitars, synthesizers, and programming
1. Black Era (4:50)
The syncopated electronic drums directly set the tone for the music, instantly showing what we should expect from the band: a wonderful production quality, an authentic approach to electronic music, and thorough complexity. The dystopian nature of the lyrics and song is represented by the reciprocating guitar— the distortion foreshadows the upcoming guitar interludes just as their futuristic music and lyrics foreshadow a "new life" in the upcoming black era. They did a great job combining all their different rock, prog, metal, and electronic influences in this song, while never giving their emphasis away from the atmospheric aspect of the song. A coherent album opener that shows the potential of the duo.
2. Dust (4:04)
The pessimistic start to the album changes direction with the second song —at least only for a moment. The Aphex Twin reminiscent atmosphere goes to an unexpected point after the modulation of the chords inoculates its creepy ethereal ambiance to the whole expression of "Dust". Once were expecting a lullaby, but the motion of going back and forth between reverbed dissonances certainly overachieves. The simplistic additions of guitar, late incoming synths meets with a high-quality vocal production to resemble the idea of "Dust", where all the instruments meddle and become small parts of a big wind.
3. Late Night (5:36)
The trip-hop beats are especially prevalent in the third song of the album: the dark ambiance that this beat and the deep, low melody create together remind the listener of the night, as the title of the song suggests. There’s some resemblance to Steven Wilson’s “Song of I,” but it’s safe to say that the layered vocals and their increasing pitch makes the song more original. An appearance is made by the electric guitar near the 2:30 minute mark, and without it, the tone of the song might have been a bit monotonous. But overall, Late Night deserves its place in the new electro-prog scene.
4. Monologue (2:10)
Composing one-two minute passages in an album is one of the hardest things that a musician can face. The song has to be a buffer between two major songs that actually contain the bigger idea of the album. It has to offer all the qualities of a band in the most simplistic manner but also has to offer more to further develop the album's authenticity. Some cool examples can be seen in Opeth's discography, like Patterns in Ivy — but apparently, Ghost Echo is also a part of this list and understood how to untangle the mystery of short passages. The totally avant-garde approach is a good resting point, where the piano work and Gilmourian peaceful vocals are combined to serve the album the best way it can. One of the best tracks of the album for sure.
5. Null Void (5:05)
A signature of the band at this point, the shuddery atmosphere created by the synths and pads welcome you for this aural journey. The echo effect on the vocals not only fill the empty space but also contribute to the haircurling sound layers. To balance this layering, the band kept the same simple drum rhythm throughout the song (it also morphs into a synth part at the end). On top of the synths, carefully placed guitar layers with just the right amount of distortion truly make the song a treat for a more general audience. They are slow and sinister, very much like what the track was aiming for tone-wise. The choruses feature louder and fuller instrumentation but overall, the song could've benefitted from a more dynamic range. However, the song still achieves to awaken a sense of falling into an impenetrable and impending void.
6. Ocean II (5:31)
The piano instantly creates a melancholic atmosphere, and the contribution of soft vocals embellishes this atmosphere. It’s important to note how successful the vocals are, especially in Ocean II: Karel Witte’s voice is definitely one of the many aspects that make the song (and the album in general) sound so well-produced. The electric guitar is also used in the middle and last section of the song, and it might have been included for even longer to switch things up a bit. As the guitar draws the song to closure, the listener is left wanting more.
7. Stranger on a Train (5:46)
The song opens with the same calm piano chord repeated, almost like a church bell signaling a conclusion, or perhaps a new beginning. The train metaphor along with the vocals repeating the phrase "Go home" indicate an alienated narrator far from where he's supposed to be. The vocal melody, harmonized with different instruments, is sad and resigned; so we must warn you before you start singing it by yourself at home. It is just another example of how good Karel Witte's vocals blend with the whole atmosphere. The emphasis on piano and the slow burn guitar solo reminded me of Steven Wilson's "Drive Home", but just as I thought of it, the band once again surpassed my expectations with the layering of the vocals. Throughout the song, you almost don't realize that there isn't a drumbeat because it feels so complete on its own. It is, something that we can say for the whole album, an experience only worthy of the best headphones.
8. Pitfalls (06:57)
It's an interesting coincidence that Ghost Echo is so reminiscent of Leprous when both have a release with the name "Pitfalls," both atmospheric and electronic metal masterpieces. An inside joke amongst the Prog Loop team is that a certain kind of riff makes you almost cry. Soen has a lot of those riffs, and so do Leprous and Klone. For that effect, the song should follow a slow tempo and then ramp up the dynamics and boost distortion to induce tears in the listeners' eyes. You can recognize the same effect in Ghost Echo's music, and most certainly in Pitfalls. When the song starts out with that slow and tight beat, you can't help but feel the "1 e and a"s to your bones. The vocals fade into the background, the synth swells up, the bass slides in to say "I'm here!" Yet there's no rush. Chords are held as long as they need to be held, no less. When needed, they go to the 5th to introduce a bit of a transition. The ending chorus, even with these basic principles, manages to fill the whole soundscape. Too satisfying to hear...