Justin Smith fronts Ghostlimb. He also is in Graf Orlack, whose material encompasses grand ideas and trajectory. Their material cultivates knowledge from film school, from which the group was booted. He also owns Vitriol Records. This last bit is important in learning about Smith, because of their releases; the physical releases. Smith, bassist, Neal Sharma, and drummer, Alex McLeod have put together many interesting and limited vinyl releases in unique, artistic packaging. All of these elements portray a varied, impatient playground doubling as Smith’s mind.
Difficult Loves is the fifth full-length in Ghostlimb’s decade existence. The band renders frenzied hardcore that spans from dirge-like blues riffs to gnarly d-beat to spastic grind. Smith’s passionate lyrics draw from the wars of Ancient Greece to the drought of modern-day Los Angeles. Also embedded in the verbiage are the ideas of Bertolt Brecht, Aldous Huxley, and Italo Calvino. His angry growls punch hard while resonant atmospheres are created by coarse guitar lines. Most songs are quite catchy while still abrasive, “Hostility Compelling”, “Wall of Books”, “Life’s Blood”. Ghostlimb won’t shy from a melody as much as they embrace gritty riffs. Songs like “Brushfire”, “Nine”, “Addressee Relocated to Cemetery” eschew any groove and harness grind sensabilities of harsh time changes and blast beats.
Ghostlimb combine these elements into a balanced, compelling product. The end result is invigorating. The catchy – not necessarily melodic, but catchy – riffs and moments find Ghostlimb at their peak, their strongest. The production, handled by Jack Shirley, captures the band in full sync pounding away live and raw. The tones and tunings fit the ugly and visceral emotions. Nothing here is polished or too crisp. Shirley is reserved and never invasive in his approach. Shirley (known for Whirr and Deafheaven) also mixed and mastered this album. That level of connection to the process aligned Shirley with the band. When finagling the intricacies of the sonic chaos of the title track, Shirley weaves rapid drums, whirling guitars and poking leads with chugging riffs and militant stomps.
Shirley would not have the chance to mold if Ghostlimb did not show up with killer material. The songwriting is strong and complex, bold and brash. Moments of calm appear occasionally for an audience to catch their breath. But the band never waits too long to crash that audience’s senses. Catastrophic and climactic, the moods of the tracks are omniscient, foreboding. Smith’s rage is palpable, tangible. Rushed and confrontational, each song is expertly played and executed with sweat and exhaustion. Ghostlimb have released their best album yet of metallic hardcore with intense emotional sections.
RIYL: Dead Hearts, Converge, The Hope Conspiracy, Killing the Dream, Have Heart, Cursed (Hutch)