I hold Van Williams, the drummer for GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS, in very high regard. He’s also, for the record, formerly of NEVERMORE. His other current band, ASHES OF ARES, saw him join up with my hands-down favorite vocalist, Matt Barlow, and Freddie Vidales, a hugely underrated musician and songwriter. Together they formed a trio sans-bassist that put out my favorite self-titled release of 2013. And it looks like history is set to repeat itself in 2015 with GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS.
Where ASHES OF ARES brought former members of ICED EARTH into a band in a similar but different vein, so too does GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS bring Van into a band that gives off strong vibes of NEVERMORE without ever sounding derivative. The dual guitars of Matthew Wicklund and Adōn Fanion lay down a sonic landscape that is both ethereal and immediate. It begs for a visual metaphor to properly describe it. Consider a mountain peak wreathed in clouds, inspiring an unmistakable sense of presence and gravity if you will. The interplay between melodic playing and distorted palm-muted chords is heightened by a strong sense of texture that gives GSO its own unique fingerprint while keeping it consistent with itself.
“In Dreams” is a great example of this, carried by Fanion’s commanding clean vocals, which maintain a diverse approach and seem to draw influences from outside of metal too. He’s the kind of vocalist that elicits genuine emotions. It’s not the first time I’ve heard lines such as “Am I the dreamer, or am I the dream?” but it’s easily the first time I’ve heard them sung with such stirring conviction. That example is a poor one for the lyricism on display here, which stays admirably clear of metal clichés for the most part. It has one foot in personal lyrics exploring oneself and the other in more grandiose fantasy themes.
The diversity of this album is often found within the same song. “Mills of the Gods” is an excellent example of mixing personal and fantasy. You could interpret it as a metaphor for a personal awakening or simply take it as a fanciful tale. Whether you like melodic lines, heavy grooves, shredding solos, or complex noodling riffs, all can be found on GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS, which heightens the emotions with exactly the right guitar parts to set the mood. Dagna Silesia’s bass playing provides some interesting moments as well, even adding a solo. Van’s drumming is almost beyond description; he pulls out rhythms and patterns uniquely suited to the dynamism of the music, being technical and unique without ever throwing off the groove. As a drummer by nature, I find myself frequently let down by repetitive and similar drumming in metal albums. Van is one of those who seem to constantly challenge what a drummer can do and how they can contribute to a band’s overall sound. No mere metronome is this man!
Nailing down a genre for this album is tough, which begs the question: Why bother? The simple answer to that is because it gives us a context to put the album in and compare it to. GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS falls closest to a progressive metal album, while successfully bucking many of the awful trends of that particular subgenre. No overly-long songs with unnecessarily bombastic solos to be found here, folks. Nor jarring transitions that look cool on paper but sound like a mess. It’s a truly groundbreaking work deserving of the word “progressive”. The next 8 months may see an album to top this one as AOTY for me, but I’m not holding my breath for it.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM
-INQUISITOR OF DAGON
Editor’s note: As music fans, “supporting” the music is a very important part of what we do. Recently, Van Williams’s wife Dore was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. As if medical bills aren’t enough to deal with, Van has his hands full taking care of her and his son and is unable to tour or perform for additional income. If you enjoy any of the work Van has done, or just to support a great guy and stellar musician, please consider donating to the Williams’ HERE.