Hello Phantom by Gold KeyRelease date: October 27, 2017
Label: Venn Records
The members of Gold Key all hail from the musically fertile Watford area, which has certainly produced some very good musicians and a couple of great bands over recent years. But whilst Frank Carter is still blazing a trail after his beginnings in Gallows and Krokodil’s Alessandro Venturella now finds himself as bassist in Slipknot, some of the other artists have slipped from the limelight. This does not mean the end of the scenes influence, merely that the musicians are moving on, taking stock and finding fresh ways to express themselves, and Gold Key are a prime example of this. Made up of ex-members of Gallows, tech metal giants, SikTh and other Watford bands Nervus and Blackhole they stand ready for the next chapter. Formed by vocalist and producer Steve Sears and school mate guitarist Laurent Barnard (Gallows) in 2016, they eventually recruited SikTh bassist James Leach and Nervus/Blackhole drummer Jack Kenny to complete the line-up before recording their debut this summer.
Now, with those names and those musical pedigrees attached I really wasn’t prepared for Hello Phantom to be an album of polished, muscular, progressive rock. If I had to sum up their sound, not easy with the amount of influences and styles on display, I would say – try imagining Steve Hogarth era Marillion starting out now, having grown up not just on Genesis and Police albums, but also the operatic, sci-fi funk rock of Muse and the angular, white-boy r’n’b of Everything Everything.
Singer Steve Sears emerges as a real star throughout Hello Phantom, by turns tremulous, angelic, gritty and imperiously vicious on opener ‘Creep in Slowly’ and also able to carry off soulful, yearning, less theatrical sounding numbers like ‘Juvenoia’ and scream on out and out rockers, as on the chorus of recent single ‘Kerosene’.
Now, I’m no expert on the prog scene so there may be a plentiful supply of hard-edged, experimental progressive rock bands out there, but I certainly haven’t heard another band quite like Gold Key, and that opening number ‘Creep in Slowly’ had me twitching with excitement the first time I heard it. (Still does). It is probably the best opening track to a debut rock album I have heard this year, although of course the rest of the album cannot quite match it, if it did it would a contender for my album of the year. Never the less Hello Phantom has so many great moments, heaps of drama, musical invention and some fine songwriting that it’s standing amongst the years best records is assured.
Apart from the dazzling skill of the musicians, what really strikes me as a progressive rock novice, is that I find that the songs endings come as a mild disappointment. I am willing the band on into further sonic explorations, to push the songs into producing more spectacle, for Sears to reveal more of his incredible range. Listen to the twisting mandolin solo at the heart of bombastic closing number ‘Fall Through The Middle’and tell me you don’t want it to warp on and out into new dimensions. Gold Key apply the rigors of hard core and rock to their songs (none are over five minutes), whilst still packing in more incident, flash, daring and emotion than most bands manage in an album.
I shall resist the temptation to take you through the album track by track as I’m sure you’re getting the picture , but let’s look at a couple of examples of what Gold Key can do; ‘Crab Traps’ begins with sound of typewriters keys, leads into a high, ringing, almost high life style guitar motif, and then, over shuffling almost disco rhythms and flaring synths, Sears swoops and croons in a tale of some sort of apocalypse – ‘If the animals break the cage, we can cook them on the fire’…and finally…’It’ll be over in a flash’.
Certainly from my experience, progressive rock can be guilty of being easy to admire but harder to love, with virtuosity put above reaching out to the listener on a baser more emotive level. However Gold Key frequently get the balance between artfulness and soul just right, as they do on ‘Crab Traps’ and the even better ‘Hatches Down’. ‘Hatches Down’ features heroic guitar lines, powerhouse, stadium-sized drumming from Kenny and impassioned, paint stripping vocals from Sears in a song that suggests titanic struggle, fantastic endeavour and immense bravery in it’s stirring display, whilst the lyrics talk of curling up in ball, a common theme in the bands lyrics, the overcoming internal of struggles.
I haven’t even told you about the brilliance of glitch-tronica meets metal blow-out ‘Explode’ or the gorgeous, swoonsome charms of the title track, but I’ll shut up a minute whilst you pop off and buy the album…