Ghouls – ‘Run’

By Matthew Wilson

Saxophones, riffs and basslines, oh my. Three albums in, and London based punks Ghouls have unleashed ‘Run’, a mature wake up call that sees the band move onwards and upwards with their songwriting abilities. It’s hard to place Ghouls within the context of the various punk scenes, but as a record ‘Run’ fits alongside some of the more significant releases of the last few years that have dealt with destigmatising mental health in the punk scene.

Musically, this album sees Ghouls focusing on a more straight forward, guitar based sound. Sure, Ghouls have a saxophone, but this isn’t the beginning of seventy-sixth wave ska punk, it’s just an alternative tonality that gets injected into their music, whether swaggering at the start of ‘Better Places,’ brooding at the beginning of ‘Salt’ or adding cheeky little flourishes in ‘Antagonist’. The closest they get to ska is on the groovy ‘Facebook Friend’, yet even here, Ghouls mix up offbeat rhythmic riffs with a crushing chorus anchored on a half-time rock beat.

Whilst it may be a surprising instrument to hear in the mix, the saxophone isn’t the main musical focus here. Ghouls are at their best when they’re riffing, evident from ‘Run’s opener ‘Seasonal Affective,’ a full bodied riff sitting atop a Sublime-esque beat. Not quite ska, not quite pop punk, Ghouls carve out their own sound and own it wholly.

Besides, the lyrical content on ‘Run’ is pretty far flung from most skacore bands’ choice topics of getting stoned, getting drunk or kicking pigeons, instead choosing to deal openly and honestly with anxiety and depression. Frontman Benjamin Goold chooses to lay himself bare on ‘Run’, whether it’s confronting his ego’s lack of self-esteem and fear of validation on ‘Disavowal,’ or fear of loneliness on ‘Autophobia’ through blunt, simplistic lyrics.

Sometimes the simplicity of the lyrics work in Ghouls’ favour, ‘Seasonal Affective’s sloganeering of “seasonal affective, winter can be depressing” and ‘Hard Day’s “I wish we got paid back for what we put in” becoming a rallying cry for all jobbing bands everywhere. Sometimes they’re clunky; the clumsy couplet “I used you for my low self esteem, I’m sorry cos I know it was mean” of ‘Better Places’ comes across as pretty jarring on an otherwise flawless song with the album’s best riff.

What we take from lyrics is subjective and talking about mental health isn’t easy. If these lyrics give people hope, or the courage to confront their mental health, then their simplicity should be welcomed. Growing as a person means confronting your own shortcomings and that’s what Ghouls are trying here. There’s a lot to welcome on ‘Run’, especially the honesty in owning up to the mistakes that depression and loneliness can cause. On ‘Autophobia’, Goold sings that “I’m a bad person, but my feelings remain worthless all the while,” but the value of their music has a worth in itself. Ghouls are a band committed to growing and ‘Run’ is a step towards new heights.

MATTHEW WILSON

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