III: Ghost Tigers Rise isn't the album I was expecting, but it is the album I was hoping for.
For a band with a penchant for aggressive songs and macabre imagery, the fact that your drummer's been shot four times and has a bullet permanently lodged in his brain should (understandably) fuel some angered, raging tunes. Yet surprisingly this is most melodic, most intricate, and as it turns out most subtle record in Tiger Army's career. Maybe it's that Fred Hell's plight forced more introspection than anger, or maybe it's just that Nick 13's songwriting has reached that higher plateau he's always hinted towards, but this is the most musically accomplished and consistently enjoyable outing from the three piece yet.
It's always seemed that Tiger Army was stronger when leaning harder on their rockabilly roots than their punk side. At the end of the day material like "Power Of Moonlight," "In The Orchard" or "Cupid's Victim" always felt more complete and fully realized than the band's more traditional Misfits-fuelled rockers like "F.T.W" or "When Night Comes Down." III: Ghost Tigers Rise smartly builds up the style of the former songs, bringing the rockabilly and country influences to a new place of prominence and integrating a moody Smiths-like 80s pop feel on a number of tracks. The standouts seems to be the slower tempo tracks, like "Rose of the Devil's Garden" or the beautiful pedal steel guitar backed "The Long Road." Nick 13's vocals soar in these songs with more confidence and range than he's ever shown.
The band's rocking moments seem to fit better as well. Take the opening "Ghost Tigers Rise," a thrilling instrumental track that's shows the band raging out the gate with a showboating Reverend Horton Heat style vigour. The most striking thing is how good the band sounds in the song, particularly bassist Geoff Kresge. His playing here is worlds better than on II: Power Of Moonlight. He's admitted during interviews that he's learned much in both playing and recording the stand-up bass since then, and it shows on tunes like "Through The Darkness." Most noticeable is how percussive his playing is this time around, sounding closer to the style Quakes' bassist Rob Peltier employed on the first Tiger Army record. Fred Hell was still in recovery at the time when this was recorded, so drum tech Mike Fasano plays on the album. To his credit he's closely emulating Hell's own style and seamlessly meshes with 13 and Kresge.
III: Ghost Tigers Rise might disappoint those looking for a more rowdy and aggressive record, however considering the quality of the results the choice to take a more subtle approach was the best move Tiger Army could have made. Tiger Army's niche within the psychobilly movement has been that they're more in tune with roots Americana and less obsessed with shlocky horror than their peers. III: Ghost Tigers Rise captures that sound and vision better than anything Tiger Army has released prior.
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