If you could write a message to your younger self, what advice would you give? That’s the question frontman Jonathan Vigil sets out to answer with The Ghost Inside’s fourth LP, Dear Youth. Along the way, he explores themes of uncertainty of the future, complacency, and getting older. Though it’s framed as a pseudo-concept album, Dear Youth doesn’t feel like a reinvention, either in lyrics or sound, for the LA metalcore quintet.
Simply put, those themes aren’t exclusive to this record — lost innocence held sway on tracks from the band’s third LP, 2012’s Get What You Give. While the idea behind Dear Youth is compelling, its execution doesn’t feel entirely new or fleshed out when expanded over an entire record. Even some of the imagery from that previous album repeats itself here. On Get What You Give highlight “Deceiver”, Vigil howls, “Overturn the throne/ I’m here to turn the tide of war.” On Dear Youth’s “End Note”, he screams, “I won’t fight for a throne that doesn’t exist.”
Beyond those lyrical echoes, this is very much a Ghost Inside record, with chugging riffs, double bass drum wallops, and earth-shattering breakdowns throughout. (The adrenaline-pumping breakdown on “Mercy” — “Life’s swinging hard/ But I’m swinging harder” — will play great at their high-energy shows.) A higher-pitched guest verse of clean vocals from letlive. vocalist Jason Butler provides a strong contrast to Vigil’s deep, distorted delivery on “Wide Eyed”.
There’s a persistent self-awareness and vulnerability to Vigil’s writing that has worked well on previous records and still subverts genre conventions. So much of metalcore revels in anger and machismo; on “Phoenix Flame”, over the crash of cymbals and strings, Vigil simply and poignantly sings, “I can’t do this alone/ Can you help me?” He even went as far as to tell Alternative Press that “My Endnote” is about feeling fed up with the competitiveness and judgmental elements of the scene.
“Mercy” features the band’s biggest gamble on the record: The track opens with birds cawing, a chime ringing out, and faint explosions popping in the background before Vigil bellows, “For whom the bell tolls!” At first listen, it seems like an obvious, contrived way to nod to Metallica. But when Vigil repeats the line in the middle of the song, it actually works. He’s singing about a war that nobody ever wins: a war against time.
Essential Tracks: “Mercy”, “Wide Eyed”