Things constantly change in our mad, mad world, often pulled apart by a wide variety of human attributes of the lesser kind, namely jealousy, conflicting egos, falsehoods, mood swings (natural or externally ingested), and of course, the grand daddy of them all Control. Not necessarily angry but still often requiring to move on to loftier heights. And then came the pandemic, which served to isolate even more the above intricacies of social behaviour. During the 2020 lockdown, guitarist Scott Owens having left This Winter Machine, got together with singer flautist Charlie Bramald , (both later creating Ghost in the Machine in 2021, along with other former members of TWM) and keyboardist Tim Lofthouse to knock some ideas around which eventually led to launching Shadows on Mercury. Charlie Bramald has discovered himself as a world class vocalist having shown his lung power on epic The Haunted by Nine Skies, taking over the lead vocal spot with Ghost in the Machine as well as adding flute to the Nova Cascade recordings.
This EP is an absolute sonic adventure that certainly will feature mightily as among the finest recordings of 2024, a ‘special kind of fire’, laden with lush textures, well paced electric sizzle, and an expressive voice that some have described as Peter Gabriel meets Geoff Tate, not that far off. Needless to debate, Charlie can hit the high notes with seemingly little effort (you need lungs to play the flute!). The opener “The Silence” is anything but, a rousing and punchy track with slithering guitars and booming drum programming from Owens as well as keyboard tapestry from Lofthouse, Charlie grasping the mike and telling his tale, with a huge chorus that crests boldly. The lyrical content is quite current and foreshadows what everyone seems to fear, being reduced to molten mercury. Pandemics, never-ending greed, deliberate disinformation, and silly politics can do that to any planet in the solar system.
Speaking of control, “Calculate (Control)” keeps the foot on the thematic pedal, while Owens’ rampant guitar spares no one, a gruesome sense of algorithmic despair and the spirited vocal acrobatics that dive into the hushed nadirs and sputter briefly before swerving upwards into the heavens above. Yes, it’s stark, doom-laden, with “a false reality” and far from any respite. Brilliant paced and delivered.
Salvation is certainly required but not messianic as that seems to have failed many times before, more like Noah reappearing for an encore performance with “The Flood”, gathering two of each and flinging humanity into temporary orbit while Mother Nature heals itself by drowning away EVERYHING! The melancholic guitar weeps in pained sadness, the voice pleads with unrestrained emotion and the listener is left wondering what can we do now, but reflect on all the false promises?
Progressing like it should, “The King of Broken Things” surveys the disaster and wonders, should we be angry, should we be just start all over again or should we just give up and wait for some deliverance from beyond? Challenging questions within a tired Earth, as exemplified by an Armageddon piano intro that sounds hopelessly romantic, a churning organ floating above the destruction, guitar slashes that lead astray and a sombre disposition as Charlie’s grumpy vocal implies. The harmony vocals are stupendous, very much in tune with the streaking guitar solo that defines the reckoning of our folly.
The spectral title track “Worlds Apart” crowns this little gem with a final liberation, looking at the grandiose universe for a way out, perhaps reshaping ‘the cosmic dust’ into a new beginning. As expressed by a delightful e-piano synth spot, offering a sense of freedom, Charlie evokes ‘a brand-new start’ and Owens slashes through a hurricane of sound with a fiery solo for the ages. A confident electronic outro seals the deal on a positive tomorrow. We all hope and some will pray for that day.
Very strong debut foray for this trio, this has definitely all the ingredients for a successful future, as long as we don’t mess up the planet even further. Evocative artwork, fantastic sound and memorable content and delivery. Good show!
4.5 Earthy Ghosts