On the surface, New Age of Old Ways, the new release from British heavy metal outfit Stoneghost is an uncompromising, angry record. But underneath its difficult exterior lies a surprisingly human, surprisingly sensitive beating heart. The record was born of great pain, recorded during a particularly difficult period of lead singer Jason Smith’s life, and that very intimate suffering is what gives the release its real power. It’s not always successful, but it is, from beginning to end, an interesting listen.
Album opener Faceless Ghost is an example of one of the record’s missteps – it’s a thrashing fast-paced but ultimately flat listen. All They Need is The Light and Raynardine suffer from similar problems: although their harsh, pounding insistence draw the listener in, at least on a gut level, neither of the tracks add up to much, and leave little behind by the time they have drawn to their shuddering climaxes.
But these three tracks represent the only true failures of the album: every other track on the record feels fresh and alive. A song like the resoundingly successful Devil’s Motion feels born from a deeply human place, and the pain that keeps the track blistering along never feels artificial or constructed.
When Stoneghost get it right, they really get it right. Other successes include Second To Breathe, a track that contains powerful, Queens Of The Stone Age-esque vocals, and an insistent, demented sound. And although the track’s heavy duty auditory assault impresses, once again it is the emotional core that gives the work its real punch. “I need a second to breathe” Smith sings, and the refrain becomes a powerful, deeply felt plea that increases in intensity every time it is uttered. Smith has said the album was born from his concerns surrounding impending fatherhood, and in that way the song becomes a desperate paean for one’s own personal space.
Other highlights include the similarly dark Your Trigger My Finger, a song that contains not only arguably the album’s most ‘heavy’ vocal performance, but also the strongest lyric. It’s an impressive, endlessly inventive anthem that showcases exactly what Stoneghost are capable of when on message.
The album’s missteps make it impossible for me to give it anything more than three stars – but, despite the seemingly mundane score, this will be a record that I will certainly continue listening to. It’s a flawed yet epic odyssey through one man’s emotional world, and for its ambition and weight alone it’s certainly worth a listen.