Japan's Ghost has always been a truly enigmatic kind of rock band. From the beginning, they've only recorded when they felt it was necessary, and only when they had something utterly new to say. In other words, there isn't a set Ghost sound. They turn themselves inside out on each recording, and no two sound the same. In Stormy Nights is no exception. It is as different from 2004's Hypnotic Underworld as it was from 1999's Snuffbox Immanence and its completely separate companion album released on the same day. Ghost can play everything from strange mystical folk music -- notice the gorgeous Celtic-Asian flavor of "Motherly Bluster" that opens this set -- to flipped out, spaced out psychedelic rock; give a listen to the cover of "Caledonia" by freak noise rockers Cromagnon, and get your head ripped open. The centerpiece of this set is the completely genre exploding "Hemicyclic Anthelion," clocking in at over 28 minutes. This cut was taken from numerous live performances and edited together by Ghost's spiritual leader and guitarist Masaki Batoh, who has spearheaded Ghost's direction since 1984. It is a series of sonic universes showcasing all the elements of Ghost's sound from folk to noise to free improv, feedback drone, and psych terrorism, and never loses its momentum despite its utter self-indulgence. Merzbow, John Zorn, the Holy River Family Band and Derek Bailey would all be proud. The sheer staccato piano, guitar, synth and drum workout that follows it in "Water Door Yellow Gate" is, conversely, a tautly scored song, where the riff is monotonous, played as a simple set of chords carved from the lower eight keys of the piano. With numerous layered typmpanis washing out middling noise textures and roiling, razored electric guitars played by Michio Kurihara haunting the background, a chorus of backing vocals underscore Batoh's voice like an opera choir in a horror film while a constantly throbbing and pulsing bassline by Takuyuki Moriya wrenches up the tension. Conversely "Gareki No Toshi" is the piece's mirror image. No less a formalist construct, its shouted -- not sung -- vocals are relegated to the background and are distorted, almost buried under waves of seductive synth wash (courtesy of Kazuo Ogino), guitar feedback, bashed drums (Junzo Tateiwa) and a syntactical cadence that inverts the entire sequence in another key. It's remarkable how seamlessly the two pieces fit. The album closes with the gentle medieval sounding folk that is "Grisalle." A crystal clear acoustic guitar played by Batoh and his voice in its lower register is supported by Taishi Takizawa's flutes, Kurihara, and sonic atmospheres courtesy of the rest of the band with beautiful muted tympani pacing the verse; it's as gorgeous a psychedelic folk ballad as one is likely to hear and sends the entire thing out on a cracked, spacious wail as Kurihara's guitar and Ogino's analog synth carry it out. The rest of the band checks in -- especially that deep contrabass of Moriya's -- to make sure the thing stays on the earth. In Stormy Nights is another step. It walks out further than before, and yet, its melodic sensibilities, harmonic invention, and sonic exploration are utterly accessible to any listener willing to approach it with an open mind. Since Ghost has no set sound, there can be no "best" Ghost recording; they all appeal differently. This one is no exception, but it is a work of absolute beauty, chaos, seductive darkness and cosmic light.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek