A powerful embrace & processing of grief, loss & despair.
Words by Rohan Abeckett:
FOOL'S GHOST is the name of a new outfit from Louisville, KY comprised of Amber Thieneman (Liberation Prophecy, Sandpaper Dolls) & Nick Thieneman (Young Widows, Breather Resist), that are set to release their debut album Dark Woven Light via Prosthetic Records on March 20, 2020. It stands as an unflinching exploration of the concepts of loss, despair & isolation through an ambient but densely textured soundscape of both programmed & organic instrumentation.
Born out of a response to a family tragedy, FOOL'S GHOST is a project that Amber & Nick formed as a result of several overlapping circumstances. Nick shared that:
“I’ve known Amber for a really long time, even before we were married. She sang on the YOUNG WIDOWS album In and Out of Youth and Lightness, but we hadn’t worked directly on a project together until after we were married. This project came about in two ways: we had an awful family loss that was very sudden, and simultaneously YOUNG WIDOWS was not very active. The frustration of working with a band with multiple people and schedules can be difficult, especially the older you get, and we were having frustrations with that, so we were like why don’t we just come together where we’re only relying on each other and see what happens”.
The result of this impulse is now ready for all to hear. Quietly haunting in parts, sonically rich & layered in others, the album has an incredibly lush, spatial quality to its sound. This space allows the full force of the subject matter to hit you square in the chest, and leave you nowhere to run but to turn and embrace then process the lyrical content.
Dark Woven Light tackles a variety of subjects in a painfully revealing manner. Adding complexity to this experience is the creators own relationship that sits at the center of the material. When asked about the self-reflective nature of the concepts explored on the album Nick offered:
“It’s a really intimate thing to work with your partner. It becomes very personal, and you almost want to try and take yourself out of it a little”.
The overall mood of the album is dark and sullen, and backing instrumentation varies between gentle single note guitar picking & somber piano chords, alongside layers of programmed beats & a live drum kit. The vocal approach is single layer, heavy on reverb and delicate in its delivery, especially in the lower registers. These softer moments are nicely contrasted by times when Amber soars and the instrumentation swells behind her, such as the tension that unfolds on the early track Golden. When her vocal lines begin to self-harmonize over layers of loops, drum sequences, light organ flourishes, and forceful bass lines, the power of this duo suddenly materializes.
The success of Dark Woven Light hinges upon the duo’s ability to create a foundation of subtle, densely layered sonic textures upon which Amber’s vocal talents are given the room & space to shine. While upon first listen the song structures and vocal lines may appear simplistic, the beauty in the compositions rests within the intricacy of layers & textures that sit just slightly out of focus. The moments of deep reflection, explorations of pain and isolation are made even more impactful by the contradiction between the heavy subject matter and the tender, subdued style of delivery.
The stand out track on the album is the sublime & cathartic Chasing Time. A simple keyboard melody begins alongside Amber’s restrained, somber vocal lines. The underlying drum beat builds, a haunting slide guitar floats above, and on each repeat verse the tension builds and another layer of instrumentation & vocal harmony is added, culminating in a final chorus sequence where the vocal harmonies dense layers of sound reach a painful, emotional climax. These lines instantly lodge in your psyche, and resonate profoundly:
“I want to break my body
To free my bones
What am I made of?
Will I ever know?”
This example is emblematic of the style of writing across the entire album. The lines are concise but powerful. Direct. The emotion is unmistakable. There is something about the entire feel to this album that is the audio equivalent of being drenched in a layer of mist and fog, an airy, spatial quality to the sound that gives each cut a level of depth & despair far greater than the simple keyboard or vocal melodies that holds each track together. The sheer weight of the subject matter is so direct & transparent that it pierces directly to your core. Reflecting on finding the right balance within each piece, Nick indicated that during the recording process:
“There’s very little that wasn’t written together. The writing was all very much in the moment. Sometimes we took out whole patterns in the song because it did feel very cluttered or they felt too rigid.
The cool thing about the record as a whole is that even though it was a drum machine that provided most of the beats, it doesn’t necessarily sound like that, it has more of a human element. Part of that is having Kevin (Ratterman, who engineered & mixed the album) play drums on all the songs, and then we did kind of a mash up of electronic and live drums, which added a more humanizing touch to the drums."
From beginning to end, the vocal performance of Amber Thieneman is a revelation. There rests an instantly comforting warmth & sensitivity to her measured phrasing throughout each verse, which expands with each swelling, driving melodic chorus. None of it sounds forced or strained. Nick clearly agrees:
“I feel very strongly about Amber’s vocal abilities, she’s got a beautiful voice and I trust anything she wants to do. I leave it to her discretion - she can come up with a melody almost instantaneously for any song."
The tenderness of her style belies the burden of subject matter being explored, providing an ever-present contrast that makes the record so appealing. Dealing with a subject matter of this emotional weight and collaborating creatively with your partner is not something that many can do successfully, a reality that Nick is very much aware of:
“It definitely takes certain kind of couple to make that work, we’re extraordinarily lucky to have found one another. We work really well together, it’s never been an issue. Amber went to school for music, she knows how to read music, she knows how to write it; I do not. I come from a very non-traditional method, and what I use to describe things may not be in technical terms or correct. So I’ll say something and she’ll be like “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. That’s about the extent of our frustration.”
This creative comfort and fluidity of the songwriting process is very much apparent once the album is absorbed after multiple listens. Part of the success of the album is that the subject matter is entirely relatable and cemented in the harsher life experiences that we all share at some point. It is without question heavy. Whether or not it fits into your own definition of “heavy music” is really up to a point of personal distinction, but dismissing this work on that basis alone would be doing yourself entirely a disservice, as Dark Woven Light serves as a powerful achievement in the exploration, acceptance & processing of grief, loss & uncertainty.
Such a categorization is something that the band is very much aware of, as they are one of the latest additions to the Prosthetic Records lineup. The label has been on a creative tear for the past 24 months and has successfully built up one of the most eclectic, diverse rosters of any in the extreme music field. It’s an interesting home for a group like FOOL’s GHOST, as Nick himself agreed:
“We are definitely not a typical band for them, which we like, we are not their standard."
FOOL’s GHOST is not necessarily labeled as “heavy music”, but I disagree; It’s clearly not metal, but I don’t think you really have to have those similar elements in your band to make it “heavy”, there are lots of heavy records that aren’t so "in-your-face”. The relationship first came about from an introduction made by bassist Marc Najjar of now-labelmates HUNTSMEN (themselves having just released their own storming brand new Prosthetic album), and is a relationship that both sides are now very pleased with. Nick adding:
“We’re very proud to be a part of it”.
Amongst the topics of pain, loss & isolation is a glimmer of hope and moving forward, through the track Sparked. The positive outlook of this track is coupled with a more upbeat, driving rhythm behind it and a brighter, powerful vocal melody. “Don’t give up // Don’t give in”, a notion as powerful as its brevity and delivered with strength & hope. While many of these tracks deal with a subject matter that is deeply personal to its creators, this well of material will undoubtedly resonate with any listener, and serve as a source of self-reflection and catharsis.
If the notion of heavy music to you is more than just a distortion pedal, a scream or a blastbeat, and if textured, darkly melodic cinematic soundscapes sound appealing, you will be rewarded by spending some focused time & energy with Dark Woven Light by FOOL’S GHOST. It stands as a unique standout in a year that has already witnessed no shortage of impressive releases.
Dark Woven Light arrives on March 20th via Prosthetic Records. Stream the latest single Shut Away below and pickup your copy of the record HERE.