Ghoul are back with what appears to be their fifth full-length release, after what seems like a tremendous period of wading between various EPs and vinyl. Unfortunately, I wish that I could say this long period of short recordings was worth the wait, (and I certainly never found a problem in any of those releases) but after hearing Dungeon Bastards about three or four times (it’s quite short) already, I’m quite distressed. Have the mighty Ghoul fallen? I wouldn’t quite say something as heinous as that, but if they did manage to make a slip-up here, it will lead them right into the arms of mediocrity.
While browsing Metal Archives, I noticed two significant changes to the lineup that I feel are worth mentioning. (Disclaimer: Since no one in the act uses actual names and all of the band members claim to be from the fictitious haunt of Creepsylvania, Romania, it is very hard to discern this information as being truthful.) In my search, I was able to find that longtime guitarist Dissector was replaced by guitarist of thrash metal/crossover act Voetsek back in 2014. Since then, we’ve only heard a small number of tracks before this record to justify his presence. Additionally, judging from the 70% rating that appears on Voetsek’s last release (Infernal Command, 2008) we can’t say that this inclusion actually helped the band. Aside from this, there is also a new drummer to replace the longtime Fermentor. He also plays in the prog-metal act Girth and was a former member of Secret Chiefs 3, so you should already know by now that his chops are up to speed. Yet Dungeon Bastards is a pretty basic thrash and death metal crossover album, so he doesn’t have to go above and beyond to keep up with the riff-matter on this one.
We’re still getting a couple of interesting riffs here and there as well as some nice solo bits and what comes off as a relatively decent thrash record. However, it is not as experimental or different musically as some of the band’s previous records have been, which is what turned me onto Ghoul in the beginning. It can almost be summed up by asking the listener if they like death/thrash with no real frills or excitement beyond what they’ve heard already from other acts in the genre. Aside from the gore vocals utilized on the album, there’s nothing here that really tells me that I’m listening to a record made by a bunch of Ghouls from Creepsylvania (but there used to be!) and I’m a bit shocked by that. It almost seems like they’ve changed up their image for a new audience, kind of like Gwar did when they went from a type of punk and heavy metal hybrid to just playing straight punk and then finally moving onto an experimental type of thrash and heavy metal. The Gwar similarities don’t end here though, as “Word Is Law” reminds me as much of Exodus’s “Toxic Waltz” as it does anything that Dave Brockie might have cooked up in his mix of hilarity and hell-raising. There’s definitely some humor to the lyrics as well, which you should expect from an act that seems to have taken pride in Gwar worship, right from the image down to even some of the vocal ideas utilized here – it all sort of smells like the inside of Dave Brockie’s sweat-drenched costume.
I can’t say that there aren’t some experimental things, like the album’s creepy intro “Ghetto Blasters” as well as it’s voice clip ridden instrumental “Guitarmageddon” and the disc’s closer “Abominox” which shows longtime frontman and vocalist Digestor having a bit of fun with those surf-rock riffs. Even the outro (which seems to suggest a battle against some kind of giant monster they summoned) reminds me a lot of Gwar’s battles. When I go back and listen to a record like this, I keep thinking about what maybe should have been and never was. I’ve been a Gwar fan for years, and always felt that Ghoul were one of those bands that had enough potential to be the rival Scumdogs. A band that could have gone toe-to-toe with Gwar in an onstage battle. Perhaps a collaboration record could have even been made about it, as well as a tour where fans of both acts could see these guys go at it with all the onstage antics that have made both acts memorable. Couple of Lordi jokes sprinkled about, that sort of thing. Ghoul hadn’t been as well known back then, but perhaps there’s a chance they could do it now. With all the hassle that’s been surrounding Gwar over the past number of years as well as the unexpected and rather dull changes in this act, a collaborative attempt like this could possibly save both bands.
Aside from a few tasty cuts, there’s really not much to go on and the album probably won’t seem as memorable to fans of the act; especially if you despise the unexpected gang shout vocals which are more common in most traditional thrash and hardcore acts. Ghoul has never used those before if I recall, and I’ve no idea as to why they’ve started using them now. I really think that they were trying to take us back to a vintage style of death/thrash where the production sounds like it crept out of the eighties, albeit with a foot still firmly wedged into the death and gore scenes of the modern era. If that definition sounds tasty to you, then you might just want to take a bite out of this one. But for those of you expecting a more familiar performance, this record is definitely not as memorable as what came before it. I don’t really know what lies in store for the future of Ghoul, but I’ve known these gentlemen to be quite innovative and unique – this whole thing comes off as some sort of weird fluke and I’d be willing to write it off as just that. For now, Dungeon Bastards comes off as just another drop in the bucket. That being said, I wouldn’t be so willing to count out the Creepsylvillian quartet so soon. (The Grim Lord)