Ghostfire - The Last Steampunk Waltz
Dan Round 18/06/2010
Here is a self-indulgent short story about how I like to think the band Ghostfire (straight outta Whitechapel, apparently) were formed… It's 1976. Five rockabilly hoodlums from the 1950s stumble out of a time machine at the CBGB club with Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, and are greeted by abrasive punk guitars and anarchistic attitudes. Interior and Ivy stay in eruptive New York as The Cramps, but the five other hoodlums move on with visions of psychotic punk in their warped heads. Their next stop is late 19th century London. Here, the old town reveals to the hoodlums the shocking secrets of life in the capital of the greatest empire in the world. The hoodlums revel in the horror of disease and squalor for the many and splendour and wealth for the decadent few. The time machine then steams forwards, this time towards the 21st century, taking a short pit stop in the 1980s where the hoodlums take a glance at Britain in decay once again. They listen to the soundtrack of the disenchanted - Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and their old buddies, The Cramps. Finally, dropped off in the mid-00s, the hoodlums stagger into a shop, read about The Coral in a copy of the once culturally relevant NME magazine (it had declined soo much in quality since their 1980s pit stop), and decide to form a band - part post-punk, part rock, part folk, part pop, part 1880s gothic, part 1980s goth. They bestow upon themselves the name 'Ghostfire' and set about developing the disparate genre of 'Steampunk'*, sadistically advising “this hellish symphony shall guide you well”…
(* - according to the band's website: “Steampunk started as a joke, but now encompasses a wide variety of input from a highly creative and artistic community, and tries to take some of the very best bits of the past and make them part of a bright future.” Hmmm…)
I hope you enjoyed that (!?!). But really, Ghostfire are so brilliantly bizarre that if anything less spectacular is true I would be well and truly baffled. What is really striking about the band - and what makes me think that they really have been time hopping - is their authenticity, and the ease at which their cultural and musical influences are unashamedly on display. From their Victorian costumes, complemented by other strange DIY punk attire, to their darkly rousing folksy guitars and dramatic fire (fun) and brimstone storytelling, Ghostfire - who could have ended up being simply a mock rock band if they weren't as good as they are - are actually, as odd as it seems, really great. And for all their goth(ic) references and iconography, they are amusing and entertaining as well. Like their mates The Cramps before them (sorry, I'll drop my annoying time machine story bullshit now…), Ghostfire's fiendish bravado achieves the perfect balance between fun gothic parody and serious, challenging rock music.
On this single, their latest release, the band well and truly steam ahead with two typically raucous and darkly comic tracks. “The Last Steampunk Waltz” begins with wispy windy atmospherics and cryptic keys, and contains archetypal Ghostfire imagery - “ghostlight”, “candlelight”, “devils and demons”, “too many turns of the season's clock” - all horrid omens for the song's ill-fated female protagonist. The chorus is a catchy sing-along, albeit one sang like part of a Confederate death march, and in the closing minute is joined by crunching, distorted guitars before the 'waltz' comes to an end with skeletal chimes and further atmospherics. B-side “Hand of Glory”, a roguish and rough drum-heavy stomp, is equally as catchy as its predecessor but sees singer Mister E apply a guttural, old bluesman vocal in contrast to the ranting Cave-ism of the acerbic A-side. Stridently energetic with edgy guitars and keys, it is only hampered by being restrained on record - played live, it must be even more of a belting graveyard smash.
With this release, Ghostfire confirm that they are: (1) darkly comic not comically dark, (2) fascinating not just bizarre, and (3) as musically impressive as their press releases are rhetorically impressive. This single is refreshing and unique, with Ghostfire's mahoosive melting pot of influences cohering surprisingly well. Truly a band to look out for. Though more likely, they'll be looking out for you… while you sleep! 'Orrible, devilish bastards!