With Scissorgames a new relatively “old” band releases its debut album. Kind of. Ghost Of The Machine are, by and large, five of the musicians that comprised The Winter Machine prior to the split with vocalist Al Winter. They are now joined by singer Charlie Bramald, who used to work with covers band Harmony Of Spheres and is flautist with Nova Cascade. Charlie had played with The Winter Machine at Wolverhampton back in 2019 as a stand-in vocalist, though for one night only.
From the very beginning, Ghost Of The Machine wears its influences quite openly. The neo-progressive badge is worn brazenly, though with Marillion, Rush, Genesis, and Dream Theater being declared influences. Hearing much of the latter band isn’t easy, but there are lashings of other touchstones on display including prog rock bands new and old. There’s also an element of more general rock too at times, a more commercial element which hints at Asia or 80s Yes.
The major piece of the album actually bookends it. Scissors is a multi-part tune that the band has decided to present as two distinct pieces. It is a powerful piece with lots of atmospheres and twists and turns. From the outset it is highly influenced by Fish-era Marillion, with screeching moogs and a plaintive-feel to the vocals. It is neo-progressive rock written in stunning Day-Glo, and is very much the highlight of the album. Another piece very firmly in the neo-prog mould is Mercury Rising. Part one is a tasty instrumental, part two a more IQ-ish styled tune. Elsewhere there are hints at something else. Mountain is a fresh and breezy pop-rock piece that brings forward those hints of Asia or Rabin-era Yes with a modicum of …and then there were three…-era Genesis. Sometimes a track might not quite go where you expect though – Dead To Me benefits from its calmer more contemplative air compared to most of the material, the piano and voice being particularly engaging. Throughout the music is very melodic progressive rock. The songs deal with the tangled fine lines between love and abuse, about finding hope no matter how insurmountable problems may appear to be. The band sums it up as; “Hope’s promise can help us find the courage to make the hardest choices and cut the strings that bind us.”
The musicians all give excellent performances. Charlie Bramald’s vocal style is theatrical but emotionally thoughtful, while keyboardist Mark Hagan conjures up both textures, atmospheres and fluidity, mingled with melancholic soundscapes. The twin-guitars of Graham Garbett and Scott Owens give both bite and dexterity, as bassist Stuart McAuley elicits a balance of power, presence, and melody from his instruments. Drummer Andy Milner brings along muscularity, clout, precision and versatility.
It appears that the band and the album actually fell in to place very quickly. Within a month of the band’s formation the song list and the album’s title were in place, and by using Zoom and email the group progressed its ideas. Some of these ideas were very new, with others described as “some old, some very, very old” by the band. It was not until March 2021 though that the musicians were able to meet in person once again, and in October that year, production began at The Chairworks in Castleford, one of the North of England’s largest and finest recording studio complex. The band hooked up with the “outstanding” Bob Cooper to handle production, record and mix the album, with Grant Berry of Fader Mastering brought on board to master the record. The sound is very clear and distinct, lush without being overly opulent. The Scissorgames cover art was brought to life by “incredible” Italian artist Claudia Caranfa. By the Spring of 2022, the final touches had been applied and Ghost Of The Machine was ready to release Scissorgames to the world. A lead single Mountain was released on 16 May 2022.
This, then, is a very strong album from the band. It shows a wonderful collective imagination, good song-writing and great playing. There’s a caveat though. The music veers just a little too closely to the group’s inspirational bands and it would be interesting to see them take the same sounds and approach to create something with more originality. This album does, though, remain an excellent slice of melodic progressive rock.
3. Just For Reference
4. January’s Child
5. Mercury Rising (Pt. 1 & Pt. 2)
6. Dead To Me
7. Scissors (Reprise)
Charlie Bramald – Lead Vocals & Flute
Graham Garbett – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Mark Hagan – Piano, Keyboards & Mellotron
Stuart Mcauley – Bass, Pedals & Mellotron
Andy Milner – Drums
Scott Owens – Guitars
Release date: June 3rd, 2022
Format: CD, digital