Something strange occurred at the turn of the millennium. A strange mish-mash of rock genres fused together, into one all encompassing rock genre. It was a rock genre that synthesized frantic energy of punk, the melodic guitars of The Smiths, the guttural screams of metal, and the depressed lyrics of alternative rock. It was new, it was strange, and it was at the top of the charts.
I am of course talking about emo. Emo has taken on a kind of negative connotation. Even when it was first termed, the pioneers of emo rock despised being called “emo”. After all if you’re a hardcore punk band, and you’re labeled emo(tional) hardcore it’s kind of insulting. Imagine whatever genre of music you specialize in, then imagine some asshole music reviewer calling it emo-(music genre). It’s beyond perplexing. Isn’t all music emotional? Why is it a bad thing to be emotional? Isn’t the goal of music to express yourself? Now some journalist just called the way you express yourself, “emotional?” Who wouldn’t be pissed off at that?
Now take that bizarre label, then add some teenage angst to the mix, sprinkle in some consumerism, and what was before a sincere music genre becomes a commercialized suicidal death cult. It got to the point where I knew that if someone wore an Alkaline Trio t-shirt I could tell you their favorite movie, their favorite store, their hobbies, hell I could even tell you their socioeconomic background. Then, of course, like anything in the entertainment business, if one thing is successful, then there has to be 1 million copies of said thing.
Emo became bland. It become mediocre. From what was once a deeply personal, emotionally expressive music genre, became the soundtrack to every teenager slamming the door on their parents, “Because they just don’t understand me!” Teenage angst maybe profitable in the short term but eventually teenagers grow into adults. Then the whole, “Fuck you Dad you just don’t get it!” Turns into “Holy shit I was such an asshole to my Dad.” That’s how angst turns into cringe, which turns into all of us being lame adults.
So now we finally get to Gh0stboy’s album Red Ep.2 . Which when listening you can hear a lot of those old Emo band’s influence. Yet it’s morphed, and mutated into something wholly different. After all Emo is dead, along with Myspace, and flip phones. Yet it’s when a genre is dead, and other artists have time to reassess things when art becomes interesting.
Take synthwave for example. If you were to invent a time machine, show synthwave to someone in the 80’s and they’d have no idea what the fuck you’re listening to. Yet synthwave is inextricably tied to the 80’s. Now why is that? Well it’s because time has passed, fans of 80’s music sieved through the shitty part of 80’s music to find the golden nuggets that made 80’s music so endearing.
Likewise, Gh0stboy is accomplishing the exact same feat with Red Ep.2. For example if we take the opening track, Hart Filmpje. It doesn’t remotely resemble what we would consider, “Emo” music. It’s atmospheric, dark, ambient, experimental, etc. All things that emo music could have been, yet never explicitly were. Yeah you could say songs about cutting yourself, suicide, and blah blah blah are dark. Hell even some emo guitar riffs are really dark.
Yet there’s a world of difference between sinister guitar chords, and a sinister atmosphere. While one sounds sinister, the other envelops you in a sinister environment. Or a better comparison, it’s the difference between a jumpscare, and The Shining. While one is a director showing off how he can make his audience jump out of their seats, and fling their popcorn in the air. The other director (Kubrick for those who didn’t know) creates an atmosphere that lingers with you for days. It gets into your psyche and disturbs you. It makes you bring a flashlight to a dimly dark room, checking every corner of the house, and haunts you in your sleep.
If we go further with the horror movie comparison, it can be said that The Shining is a slasher flick. After all it’s a crazed man wondering a hotel with an axe. Yet at the same time to categorize it like that would be missing the mark. It’s the same principle with Red Ep.2. While yes, it could be seen as being emo, it’s missing the mark. It’s an artists own interpretation of all the great bands we grew up listening to, and god damn does it sound good.
Which brings me to my next point on reviewing this album. This album isn’t really a typical emo album. Sure there are rock songs in it, yet you can hear A LOT of cloudrap influence. In fact it gets to the point where this could be categorized as cloudrap. Yet I’m not going to do that, and it’s mainly to illustrate a point. That point being that emo music died because it refused to adapt.
Let’s rewind a bit, and go back into the mid 00’s when VH1 was having a special on the history of Heavy Metal.
Now the interesting thing about this documentary is the transition of Hair Metal to Thrash Metal, and then the saga of Metallica being sellouts and playing a more melodic sound. Which is coincidentally what Hair Metal sounded like, albeit with less makeup and hairspray. But what was really interesting was how ardently defensive they were on their definition of Heavy Metal music. How Van Halen’s Jump was garbage because it had a synthesizer, how Punk was too political and wasn’t Metal enough. Then at the end nearly every one of those Metal elitists joined arm in arm to praise Nu-metal. The most cringey genre of music humanly imaginable.
Now we get back to Gh0stboy’s Red Ep.2. Immediately after the first track you’ll begin to notice the amount of collaborators, producers, and other groups. Where usually the criticism that “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the dish” is a pretty good rule of thumb when judging collaborators on an album. Yet this principle does not apply here. In fact listening to each individualized track is a complete joy, not only for the song quality, but each interpretation of the genre.
Which should be every musicians aspiration when making an album. Just think of how many times you hear actors complain that they don’t want to be typecast into a role. Yet for some reason when it comes to music, musicians have no qualms whatsoever about being pigeonholed into one genre. Not only that, but they get angry when another artist strays away from that genre!
So now we get to the individual tracks, starting with Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) which starts with that stereotypical emo sound. With the melodic melancholy intro, to the the heavy distorted chorus of guitars. The vocals carry that kind of anthem for adolescent angst, with morose lyrics, and a chorus that just rouses the rebel in all of us. While yes, it is one of the more straightforward song in terms of it’s influences it still shouldn’t dissuade you from listening to it.
While the first song was kind of a shock to the system, Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) brings you back to a familiar state. Because after all if every song was like Hart Filmpje then this I wouldn’t be talking about emo rock. I would be talking about electronic ambient music. Yet because Hart Filmpje exists, followed by Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) it does something to the listener. Which is, it expands their perception of what an emo album can be, or even what a modern music album can be.
Take for instance the common tv/movie trope of the “Fish out of water main character.” It’s something that we as an audience take for granted, when exploring say film, novels, video games, or any other fantasy world. Look at Harry Potter for instance, imagine for a moment that he was brought up in the wizard world. Imagine how much exposition would have to be delivered to explain what a muggle was, that wizards exist in our world, that they send kids to a magical school with a Cerberus in the basement, whatever the fuck quidditch is, etc.
The basic idea is that the audience needs a character to relate to, something familiar for them to understand what is going on. Because no matter how imaginative the world is that the author created is, we still need to know what’s going on. Hence the “Fish out of water main character trope.” Which is exactly what Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) accomplishes. It’s a song that is familiar to us, and something we can latch on to. Yet as strange as the first song is, it sets us up to understand the rest of the album. That this is an exploration, an “Expanded Universe” of emo music.
Which brings me to my next song, Dark World (prod. L I L C L O U D I E ). This is the song where the album gets in it’s groove. While the two other tracks were both great songs, they served a sort of secondary purpose of showing the audience what they should expect in this album. This is the song where we get to see those expectations realized.
From it’s moody, dark, melancholy guitar intro, to it’s trap influenced beat. This is the song which shows how Gh0stboy is willing to fuse together different genres, and work with other artists who are willing to experiment. Yet this isn’t like Nu-Metal where, “Hey let’s just rap over loud guitars!” Because there’s a lot more finesse that’s required to fuse together music genres.
So what’s the best way to fuse music genres? Well first look to the music aspect of it. Remove a singer/rapper’s vocals and I guarantee 99.9999% of people will recognize what genre of music that song belongs to. So if we were to go to rock music, what’s the most important instrument? What’s instrument that everybody pretends to play when listening to a rock song? It’s the guitar. What about hip hop? What’s the guitar of hip hop? Easy, it’s the beat. If you don’t believe me then listen to Dave Chappelle. So theory holds if you have a good beat, and a great guitar then it’s going to be a great fusion. Which is what this song accomplishes.
Next up we have Poltergeist (prod. D – Low) which further cements Gh0stboy’s hold into hip hop. From the creepy synths, to the beautifully distorted bass, and clear cutting percussion; everything sounds amazing. Then you have the vocals which are so well double tracked, and produced it creates this fun spooky environment. It’s such a cool song with the creepy ambience and just fucking amazing bass. It’s the kind of music that goth kids would walk slow motion down the street to, like in Reservoir Dogs, looking all badass.
Then we go to Past And Present (prod. Rodger) which is one of my favorite tracks I’ve listened to in a long time. Mainly because of that guitar/synth tone, or that melancholy atmosphere that reminds me of Silent Hill 2 which I’ve already written about how much I love that album. Even the lyrics about running away from your problems, combined with the melancholy atmosphere of the music just works perfectly with me.
Which in all honesty, I don’t think this track which I enjoyed so much would have been possible for any of the emo bands I listened to growing up to make. From the weird distorted synth/guitar melody, frantic hip hop beat, and even the vocal performance with it’s emotional falsettos. Every single thing comes from a variety of influences. Yet they all work together to create this melancholy song about running away from your problems. Could you imagine My Chemical Romance, Hawthorne Heights, or Alkaline Trio using a hip hop beat? Or using that bizarre guitar/synth tone? No, they limited themselves, and while they made great music, I don’t see many kids wearing MCR t-shirts or listening to Nikki FM. Which proves to show, if you don’t look for every tool at your disposal, then no matter how hard you fight it you and your art will be forgotten.
With our next song, Red (prod. CASE B1ZZIE), we have to go back to the VH1 documentary on Heavy Metal. The whole documentary seemed to have this destination of Heavy Metal becoming more heavy, more brutal, more harsh, etc. They lampooned Van Halen for using synths, Hair Metal for being too commercial and pop sounding, and Metallica for making acoustic songs. Yet, not once did they ever mention using, say, different instruments, or using different techniques to sound heavier.
Red (prod. CASE B1ZZIE) is the song I’d show to any death metal band to illustrate how can be heavier by using a synth, samples, etc. For example let’s take electronic music, with the advent of Electro Punk, Death Grips, and even Dubstep. Electronic music has found a way to capture the same heaviness that was only reserved for heavy metal. In fact it creates a whole different feel, and aesthetic.
Take this track for example, it sounds like the ambient music of a nuclear holocaust. In fact the 808’s in this track doesn’t clash with the heavy metal sound of the song. In fact having 808’s in what would usually be a pure metal song only enhances the heaviness of the track. And if you want to purity spiral into being the heaviest sounding rock band, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to use tools that make your music sound heavier?
Next up we have My Oasis (prod.gangabeats) . This is the track where we can see not only how Gh0stboy is willing to experiment with different sounds/ambience/moods but how he can write a song that is thematically tied into the sound. The first thing right off the bat that you notice with this song is that great western sounding guitar. Well, not really a western guitar, but one that is used so often in media about westerns that we associate that kind of guitar sound with westerns. It’s like Johnny Cash’s albums made with Rick Rubin, while not sounding like a typical Johnny Cash album, all of those albums are still the most Johnny Cash songs ever made.
Likewise the guitar captures this dry barren feel to it, and then Gh0stboys lyrics about “My Oasis” about having this emotional isolation. All of this works in tandem with that western acoustic guitar, that suggests this hot desert. The electric guitars sound dangerous, and the beat sounds like thunder in the sky. Then there’s the threatening lyrics about those who enter Gh0stboy’s oasis. None of this would work if the music didn’t create such a desolate environment. Change any aspect of the music, and I guarantee the lyrics, as strong as they are, would buckle down from the dark themes that are explored.
So now that we’ve addressed how Gh0stboy can write great lyrics, now we have to see how good he is at delivering them. Bringer Of Light has some of the best vocal performances on this album. Usually when Gh0stboy does falsettos he has that type of voice where you can hear a note off key, or some bizarre phrasing yet it’s so quickly corrected that it becomes a non-issue. Kind of like when you’re listening to some Post-punk, Brit-pop, indie or garage band where vocal virtuosity isn’t the center point but rather the emotion that’s conveyed with the vocals. It’s of course an acquired taste, and the argument could be made that while Ian Curtis couldn’t sing a Freddy Mercury song. Yet at the same time Freddy Mercury would be out of place in a Joy Division song.
With that out of the way, the falsettos in this track are done so incredibly well, and the harsh rap vocals in the beginning mesh beautifully with this smooth, harmonic, falsetto. Everybody notices the loud/quiet dynamic of, say the Pixies, but very few artists experiment with harmony and cacophony. We can say it’s rewarding as a listener to listen to a Pixies song, and hear the quite somber mood evolve into this loud grungy chorus. Yet there’s even a greater reward when an artist makes something that sounds unsettling, and morphs it into something beautiful. Which is exactly what Gh0stboy has accomplished in Bringer Of Light.
Then we get to the 9th song of the album, Number 9 (Prod Rise From The Ashez & Axiom). This is probably the only song I believe in the whole album which kind of failed on its premise. The reason I say this is because the intro is so strong, so emotional, and brings back those nerdy memories of HAL being disabled in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Master’s final speech in Fallout. The reason, personally I find it kind of disappointing is mainly because it would have explored themes that aren’t really present in emo music. While yes, the lyrics fit thematically with the rest of the album. The intro of what sounds to be a dying robots last words, juxtaposed with a heavy rock soundtrack, doesn’t really work for me. It’s one of those things where it either has to be cut out, or further developed.
Better yet, I’ll provide an example to illustrate what I mean. Imagine you’re watching a science fiction movie. The opening scene has this really emotional scene about an astronaut’s robot being disabled. Tears are falling down off the astronauts face. The robot tries to reassure him, and slowly his words fall off into a stream of gibberish, as the robot just repeats his name over and over again. Then BAM! Jumpcut! To an army invading a castle in 1208 and now it’s a historical drama. No matter how well done the science fiction or historical drama of the film is, because there wasn’t a thematic link between them it doesn’t work. There needs to be a theme behind it.
Or in this case since we are talking about music, there needs to be a motif. Some piece of music that carries over between the two parts. While the heavy metal sound of the rest of the track works really well, and Gh0stboy has some fantastic screams. The beginning sets it up for failure. Which is an easy fix, and still deserves praise for the very least being bold enough to experiment with music.
This Fear (prod. NeighbouR Beats) on the other hand succeeds where Number 9 (Prod Rise From The Ashez & Axiom) fails. Not only that, but it shows off how well Gh0stboy can rap. Yeah, I bet I didn’t think you’d expect that. But everything works well here the intro fits perfectly with the rest of the track. The apathetic vocals in the beginning contrast well with the frenzied rapping. The creepy atmosphere of the synths, and 808s. Everything just works, and shows how well a song can sound when it follows through with a single theme.
This song is also perfect for showing how far emo has come along. With the advent of cloudrap, and the 2020’s soon approaching. Emo eventually is going to be in vogue. With artists like Lil Peep, $UICIDEBOY$, and XXXTentacion emo has infected hip hop. Yet we all have to remember this isn’t about emo becoming rap, or rap becoming emo. Rather it’s artists who are realizing that there are more tools at their disposal. Which is why it’s important to recognize what Gh0stboy is accomplishing in this album.
Now we get to Dog (prod. PENTA) which is 2 minutes of the heaviest, most vicious music I have ever heard. From the guttural screams, heavy distorted screams, and hip hop beat this is the most perfect song to illustrate what I mean by using every tool at your disposal.
Let’s do it like this, say if you as an artist are tasked with making the most aggressive sounding song. How do you do it? What tools do you use? I’m pretty sure that any musician has a thousand different ideas of what they would use. Yet most of the time those ideas are never put into fruition. Why? Because somebody is limited to genre. They’re tied down to their tropes. Yet here is Gh0stboy using every genre, sub-genre, humanely possible to make the most aggressive sounding song humanely imaginable.
Finally we get to Eyes (prod. Ichiban) which has that Yung Lean kind of mysterious intro. Then we get those thudding 808’s, and aggressive almost metal sounding vocals. This is by far the most hard hitting, and yet ethereal track. That combines this melodic dream like synth with harsh vocals and 808s. Yet it’s the most perfect track to end the album on. After all listening to this album, and hearing all of the various influences of different bands, genres, and subgenres. It’s great to hear something so unique, so special, as it’s finale.
Now a lot of what I wrote could seem hyperbolic, after all I am sure there are a thousand emo bands who explored the themes that Gh0stboy has explored. In fact I’m willing to bet that some emo bands even used the same musical genres to express themselves. I’m sure that there was an ambient electronic soundscape of a song in at least one emo bands catalogue. Yet that’s not the point of this review. This review is more about how to approach a genre. How to stay fresh, and to innovate. To keep your music interesting, take it into bold, new, emotional frontiers. As well as knocking down the barriers between genres, which more often or not, limits an artists ability to create.
There’s no other album which does this better than Gh0stboy’s Red Ep.2. As an artist your first, and most important mission in making music should be to express yourself. To do that effectively, and sincerely you need to use every tool at your disposal. A feat which Gh0stboy and his collaborators nailed on the head.
With his ability to give us this expanded world of emo music. I give this album my full recc. Definitely check this out.