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Energetic Music: I Am Ghost – “Lover’s Requiem”

Lover’s Requiem, the debut album of California sextet I Am Ghost has been described as, “A rock opera for goth kids,” by frontman Steve Juliano. While lacking spoken dialogue and an apparently coherent story, Lover’s Requiem is a concept album that fits Juliano’s description quite accurately.

Featuring an amalgamation of driving guitars and drums, violin arrangements, and male/female duets from vocalists Juliano and Kerith Telestai, the album would feel as comfortable played on the operatic stage as it would in the lineup of the Vans Warped Tour. I Am Ghost seem to have a strong taste for the theatrical, which largely plays to their advantage in a scene filled with a countless number of generic sounding hardcore acts. However, this theatrical spin permeates every aspect every aspect of their music, which leads to one potential negative: lyrics that may be perceived as cheesy.

Note: This was my final paper in my senior high school English class. I’m posting it here because 1) I absolutely love this album and 2) I’m super busy and would rather provide you with a quality review than something rushed. Please forgive any immature writing; I didn’t know any better back then.

I Am Ghost was formed in 2004 when vocalist Steve Juliano used the website MySpace to recruit band members. Starting out with members Juliano, Kerith Telestai, Brian Thomas, Timoteo Rosales III, Gabe Iraheta, and Ryan Seaman, I Am Ghost swept the underground hardcore scene with a blend of mainstream-sounding screamo and macabre atmosphere, all laced with very dark lyrics. The band released a full length EP entitled We Are Always Searching, featuring rainy sound effects, a dark atmosphere, and lyrics dealing with vampires and other dark subjects. In fact, the song Lady Madeline in Her Coffin takes much inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of House Usher. One year later, the band entered the studio to record their debut LP, Lover’s Requiem, which would be release on Epitaph Records. What came of those recording sessions is nothing less than a masterpiece.

The album starts out with the atmospheric intro Crossing the River Styx. While lacking the emotional vocal performance that Kerith provided on the opener to the band’s 2005 EP We Are Always Searching, this song serves as a good introduction to the atmospheric aspect of the record. Multilayered, chamber-style vocals are accented by a slow synth line. The lyrics on this track are delivered in Latin, a move that will either come off as very cool or very cheesy, depending on the listener’s tastes. When translated into English, they can be seen to be a prayer:

Lord, have mercy
By the help of Thy grace
May they be enabled to escape the judgment
Grant them to pass over from death to life
And they shall live in memory everlasting.

Though the song is filled with ambiguity (even when translated into English), it serves a great lead-in to the first real song, Our Friend Lazarus Sleeps. A torrential, chaotic song with multiple leads and sudden stops, this marks the point in the album at which I Am Ghost reveals a fair amount of technical talent. The song starts out with a fast, crunchy guitar riff, a sudden pause, and heads into another fast lead while Steve’s vocals come in. The drummer, while coming nowhere near Between the Buried and Me territory, provides a very tight backbone for the band and utilizes frequent and varied fills. However, perhaps the most prevalent and surprising aspect of this and almost every other track on the album is the violin, which takes a lead role for much of the time. Steve Juliano displays both a formidable scream and a pleasant singing voice, although the lyrics on this track are barely understandable; for example, “Shark people wear shark clothes!” may be one of the most culturally obscure lines ever heard on a hardcore album. (If you know where this reference comes from, do tell)

The next track, Killer Likes Candy, features another interesting lead and is one of the most straightforward, rock-styled tracks on the album. The chorus features a nice duet between Steve and Kerith, rounding out a solid track. Things again take a turn for the theatrical in Dark Carnival of the Immaculate, which starts out with a spooky carnival lead played on the violin layered with muffled voices in the background. The song creates a perfect atmosphere which then switches into high gear with Steve’s wild scream. The rest of the song is characterized by a fast rock beat, with a very impressive guitar lead coming in around the two minute mark. Steve and Kerith sing in perfect synchronization on every other line in the song, and Steve’s screams are layered nicely underneath.

Pretty People Never Lie, Vampires Never Really Die is one of the singles of the album and is a track punctuated by fast, driving guitars. Featuring an impressive guitar solo near the end, this song also displays the album’s downfall. Again, depending on the tastes of the listener, the song’s lyrics about vampires (“I’ll take the first bite…”) may be a tad too cheesy. However, for those that don’t mind, this song is one the album’s highlights. Of Masques and Martyrs is another track that features a prevalent violin lead. The violin actually overshadows the guitar in the great majority of this song, at times replacing it entirely. Another impressive guitar solo comes in near the end, leading into one last chorus. Afterwards, all that is left for the listener is a beautiful combination of the violin and piano, the atmosphere being accented by a drop in recording quality (reminiscent of the opener on Coheed and Cambria’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade).

Fall Out Boy’s Dance, Dance is the next track – or so the drum line would lead listeners to believe; however, the guitar lead soon comes in and starts what is actually the title track, Lover’s Requiem. Kerith’s vocals really take center stage here, especially in the choruses. Steve also provides some intense screams, and the synth lines provide some needed variety to the verses. The next track is a re-recording of We Are Always Searching, the title track of I Am Ghost’s EP. Starting out with the line –

It’s a cold dark night
Hallows Eve upon the crest
In a parking lot of vampires
(in suits to look their best).
And the music
In these coffins made of gold
With friends and lovers freshly buried,

– this song comes off as one of the more cheesy on the album. However, it also features one of the most memorable violin leads on the album as well. The Ship of Pills and Needed Things features the strongest intro on the album, starting with the violin alone and leading into strong drum line. Steve’s best vocal delivery is showcased in the opening line (“Die by the sword…”) and proves his singing talent.

The Denouement marks the transition in the album towards soft ballads; the driving rock heard on the first half is much less prevalent from this point to the end. This track is more of an interlude; it features the same chamber-styled Latin vocals heard on the album’s intro. About halfway into the song, the drums and violin trade lines to form an epic buildup, leading into a minute-and-a-half long, violin driven instrumental permeated only by a small choir interlude. The track fades out and then listeners are treated to the first ballad of the album, This is Home. Kerith assumes the duties of lead vocalist on this track during the verses, and provides hauntingly beautiful background vocals in the choruses. Her delivery of the line, “A heart that isn’t cold, isn’t cold…” at the 3:36 mark is absolutely stunning. An emotional guitar solo is thrown into the middle of the song, and Kerith ends the track on a soft note with the lines, “Love has given me a reason to live, and love has given me a reason to say goodbye.”

The album’s closer, Beyond the Hourglass, is another ballad of the same magnitude as the former, although Steve takes a more prevalent vocal role in this track, and parts of the song feature a mid-tempo rock beat. A soft guitar line flows underneath his and Kerith’s vocal exchanges until the song explodes with the epic line, “Save us from all the evil that we do…” which leads the song into a faster section punctuated by a driving drum line. The song again falls into a soft duet, driven by a smooth violin section, until the lead guitar comes in again and flows into the epic chorus. A drum roll then leads the song into a long guitar and violin exchange with a double-bass driven beat. The song ends with another dose of chamber-style choir vocals, ending the record in a very “epic” way. (An extra track, The Malediction, was included in the Japanese version of the album. It’s excellent, so I’ve included it in the playlist)

I Am Ghost have succeeded in creating a masterful album that blends technical rock and atmospheric backgrounds into one stunning work. Lover’s Requiem is a highly original, emotional work that utilizes many instruments and places I Am Ghost well above other bands in the hardcore genre. This album is a masterpiece, hindered only by what some may perceive as cheesy lyrics on some songs. For me, the lyrics only enhance the romantic vision I Am Ghost was trying to achieve. I give it five out of five stars without hesitation.

One final comment from my older, wiser self; be fair warned that this is the last good album I Am Ghost released. After this album, literally half the band left; unfortunately, this was the good half. Words cannot express the disappointment I felt when I bought their followup the minute it was released. Seriously, it was trash. Steve Juliano actually got worse at singing. In any case, I’d recommend not even acknowledging the existence of that album, and just enjoying this one.