Everything about Gazpacho seems effortless and unassuming, which is probably why they are the best band most people have never heard of. I know, they are not alone in the category but they are at the top of the list... The band, not to be confused with the argentine rockers of the same name (... like the Amazon web site does) confirms their talent with March of Ghosts. The album was recorded pretty much in one single week-end at the end at the Missa Atropos tour, with the band as tight and efficient as possible but not worn out. And yet, it sounds as good as if they had spent a month with multiple takes.
Following up on 2010 Missa Atropos, for my money that year's best album, was of course difficult but it is clearly in the same vein. The two previous albums, 2007's Night and 2009's Tick Tock, each had a different personality but March of Ghosts is clearly a musical and mood follow-up to Missa. With one variation: Kristian Skedsmo -aka The Duke- guest polyinstrumentalist who had brought a lot of texture to earlier band releases but was absent from Tick Tock and Missa Atropos, is back with a vengeance and lends his arsenal of flutes, whistles, banjos and mandolas to create a more varied sound that even drifts sometimes into celtic territory (Mary Celeste). As they observe in the liner notes: "if it sounds strange, there's a chance it's The Duke!".
But in general, it is classic Gazpacho sound dominated by the voice of Jan-Henrik Ohme, always delicate, sinuous and expressive, always finding odd but easy phrasings to deliver intelligent and poetic lyrics. He is richly supported by the rest of the band, fine-tuning a formula pretty close to what made Marillion's Marbles so good and not so easy since Marillion had a lot of difficulty repeating with Somewhere Else and Happiness Is The Road.
Where Missa Atropos was a concept album, March of Ghosts is more a collection of short stories based on the same theme, our perception of ghost stories or their emotional equivalent, memories or regrets. It comes across as sad and mournful (sometimes very much so on songs like Black Lilly) even though it has a serenity about it and does not set a depressing mood. Even more than Porcupine Tree's The Incident, though, it is more one long piece of music coalescing in several songs, separate but belonging to a continuum.
Most of the songs are highly emotional, from the four parts Hell Freezes Over (not played continuously) to highlights Black Lily, Gold Star or Golem.
Ironically, Gazpacho confirms that it is one the most interesting progressive bands out there without being that progressive in the standard sense. They are not progressive in the sense of chasing complex song structures, key shifts and signature changes like a Dream Theater of old or last year's Arch-Mattheos quasi-Fates Warning reunion with Sympathetic Resonance. They are more akin to bands innovating by using accessible and often familiar music but exploring it to create their own path like Knight Area on 2011's Nine Paths or Sean Filkins on his brilliant debut album War And Peace & Other Short Stories.
Like any Gazpacho album, March of Ghosts does not contain any hit per se. But it grows on you organically and is, once more, very very good.