Wiltshire-based Thought Forms have picked up a small but loyal following over the last few years and Ghost Mountain, their second album, arrives with some assistance from two better-established friends – both from the Portishead family. The album is being released through Invada, Geoff Barrow’s eclectic label, and the LP itself was produced by Jim Barr, a member of their live ensemble.
Newcomers might make the mistake of assuming that this is going to be a downtempo and dark collection of songs. It’s definitely dark but it’s also in a separate ballpark that has nothing to do with trip-hop. It certainly doesn’t take the trio long to command attention. Landing opens with a nasty two-note guitar riff that goes round in circles. It might be repetitive, but it is enough to leave you hooked, just because of how unrelenting it appears to be.
The rest of the LP doesn’t follow in the same sludgy vein, which is for the best. On the surface, this could be perceived as a difficult album to fully get into but it’s surprising how quickly it gets under your skin after the first listen. Ghost Mountain has a way of playing with dynamics that is impressive, both in terms of its individual components and in the grander scheme of things. In other words, this is a different way of doing ‘LOUD-quiet-LOUD’ that doesn’t revolve around grunge or any other lazy ’90s throwback.
This is best illustrated halfway through. Burn Me Clean is a 12-minute beast that begins with a drone and very, very slowly builds into a titanic monster – like an instrumental Nine Inch Nails piece that’s had its tension levels significantly increased. Try listening to it in a pitch-black room for maximum creeped out effect, as it cycles through its various stages of doom. Following this up with something a little more potent and even veering into radio-friendly could be seen as a disaster, but Only Hollow is anything but – a zippy tune that is by far and away the closest thing that Thought Forms has to something that could be described as accessible.
The high points keep on coming in droves and it makes for an exhilarating journey, full of unexpected surprises and even trickery right until the very end; O threatens to finish on a whimper, leaving everyone to believe that they’ve run out of steam, but this is before a shattering combination of drums and distorted guitars bring it back into life for one last salvo before slowly withering away.
One minor critique: better production values would’ve improved it. Whilst there’s much to admire about its raw sound, you can’t help but wonder what a little polish would do. Either way, Thought Forms are making some challenging material, and those who stick it out will be rewarded. Forever flipping between moody textures and moments of sheer brutality, Ghost Mountain is an album that’s focused on pushing the limits of what alternative rock can really do.