Top Ten Songs: The Ghost Inside

As The Ghost Inside continue their physical recovery from that horrific 2015 bus crash that left two dead – their bus driver Gregory Hoke, and the driver of the trailer tractor that collided with their bus, Steven Cunningham – we’re still some time away from seeing the successful hardcore group even releasing new music. Let alone seeing the band tour and play shows again. Even with the Californian act having their first practice since the accident in April 2018 and more recently stating that “yes, there is a future“, don’t expect new material soon.

However, lately I’ve been listening to much of The Ghost Inside’s back catalogue, from debut LP ‘Fury Of The Fallen Ones’ (2008), right up to career-standout ‘Get What You Give'(2012) and certain ‘Dear Youth’ (2014) songs. And this has really reminded me just how special this band was and still is. Not just to me, but the huge connection they made with others and their importance upon the modern-day hardcore landscape as well. As such, here’s a ranking of what I feel are the ten best Ghost Inside tracks. No one asked for it, but you’re more than welcome all the same!

#10. ‘Dear Youth (Day 52)’

Frontman Jonathan Vigil once explained the concept behind their fourth (and last) album as a letter written to his younger self. While the record spawned multiple singles – ‘Out Of Control‘, ‘Move Me‘, and ‘Avalanche‘ – it’s the title track that lands the best musically and thematically of the entire LP. What with ‘Dear Youth (Day 52)‘ talking about what youth’s supposed “one big plan” was for the singer; the “unbreakable” quality of our younger days; and about pursing life through tough times to be, as the song itself ends on, “alive and well…“. (Time, fleeting existence, youth and growing up. are all large themes of TGI’s music, and this won’t be the last time I mention them either).

One thing that makes ‘Dear Youth (Day 52)‘ stick out – more so than it’s well-written choruses, brisk pace, hooky riffs, and cymbal-driven intro was – is how it was first experienced it. Dropped originally with it’s music video, the clip barely features the band, instead focusing heavily on the people who made it possible for TGI to travel the world: their fans. The Tried And True. Even in 2018, these guys still rack up a whopping 14 million streams on Spotify, showing that even in the absence of new music and shows, people still care about them deeply. Of course, this approach of having fans send in videos of themselves showing certain lyrics in a variety of ways isn’t anything new, it’s a highly effective method. (My personal favourite is the one dude sitting on the shitter who shows up a couple times). This method really does lend an added human touch to what is already pretty personal, inspiring music.

#9. ‘Shiner’:

With rapid double kicks and brisk snare rolls, a quick song meter, and one of the more melancholic guitar leads from the band’s earlier days, ‘Shiner‘ is an old-school favourite. (Well, if I can even label a song from 2008 “old-school”, but you get my meaning). The Ghost Inside have always balancen out mosh sections with moments of melody (usually in their guitar leads) and this is one of the first times said approach worked out really damn well. ‘Shiner‘ also just goes fuckin’ hard too, and that’s a big plus!

Back ten years ago, this was already an emotional song, yet I feel it’s taken on even more meaning in light of losses suffered in Vigil’s life and the rest of the band’s lives too. Horrible road accidents most definitely included. It now acts like a past message to the band”s present from their older selves, a time capsule imploring them to ‘shine on’ after such a tragedy. In general, it also acts like a beacon of hope for many with it’s central message of shining on and never dimming, even when you might really want to throw in the towel. It’s a swan-song for those fallen and for those who gave in, declaring that their legends live on in the hearts and minds of those who remember them and continue to strive.

#8. ‘Engine 45’:

While perhaps not their best track, ‘Engine 45‘ has more or less become “the hit” for The Ghost Inside. It sits at a massive 7.4 million views on YouTube for it’s film clip as of December 2018, and it’s also their most streamed track on Spotify too. The exposure and positives it brought to this band really cannot be understated. ‘Get What You Give‘ was actually produced by A Day To Remember’s Jeremy McKinnon and his influence on this track specifically is crystal clear. Namely in the track’s solid mixture of the band’s sense of melody and catchiness with their heavier, “freight-train-core” moments. You see these elements in the “All my life, I’ve been waiting…” refrain, that’s since become the biggest part of any later-day Ghost Inside set, and that damned hard, blood-boiling mid-song breakdown respectively.

The visual-metaphor for ‘Engine 45‘ is actually that of an old Eskimo-Inuit hunting trick. In which you cover a knife in blood so nearby wolves pick up the scent, making the wolf lick the knife in hunger without realising that the blade is cutting it’s mouth, slowly but surely bleeding the animal out. Grim, yet a solid and fitting metaphor for the things we love often working us right down to death; a fully-fledged anthem of both defeat and victory.

#7. ‘Faith Or Forgiveness’:

Faith Or Forgiveness‘ is just one of those quintessential Ghost Inside cuts, really. That killer opening drop B riff, the thick downbeats, the two-steps parts, those emotionally-driven vocal performances from Vigil; it’s classic TGI from a somewhat simpler time in hardcore music. It’s definitely more of a “bare bones” sound for the band, whilst also being quite indicative of the late 2000’s era of hardcore and metalcore music. However, it does show-off many of the already then solid songwriting hallmarks they’d later polish up even further come future records. It’s also just a wicked pit-lord song too. Catch these hands when the sun sets, motherfucker.

#6. ‘Face Value’:

Get What You Give‘ is just banger after banger, easily the best Ghost Inside album of the lot. It’s just got a tonne of great songs; ‘Slipping Away‘, ‘The Great Unknown‘, ‘Outlive‘ and the other songs that’ve made and will make this list. And then there’s ‘Face Value‘.

In all honestly, I don’t think there is anything better or more exciting in hardcore than a track containing a really good vocal feature. If there’s one man in hardcore whose voice can take a song from ‘good’ to ‘fucking great’, it’s Comeback Kid’s Andrew Neufeld. One of the dad’s of modern hardcore, Andrew’s voice has elevated songs from Stray From The Path (‘Bring It Back To The Streets‘), Antagonist A.D. (‘Wanderlust‘) and Architects (‘Stay Young Forever‘), among others, from the realm of decent into full-on barn-burning status. In the case of ‘Face Value‘, Andrew also pushes the track further, lending his vocals from the 2:25 point onwards. (It also helps that the song is pretty dang good before this point too). Then, once that outro section kicks in at around 2:45, it’s just pure aggro bliss as Vigil and Andrew join vocal forces for one hell of an energetic section. Tough as bricks!

#5. ‘The Lion War’:

By far one of the best deep cuts in The Ghost Inside’s discography is the building-levelling nature of ‘The Lion War‘. Sitting on the shorter side of their normal song lengths, ‘The Lion War‘ is straight up pure adrenaline. With the album title, ‘Fury of the Fallen Ones‘, this is what was meant by fury – this thing is pissed-off and runs at a million miles a minute, chugging along with real force. Well, it does until the band drop into one of the best-placed and toughest-sounding breakdowns of this era. You know when Michael Crafter says that Parkway Drive had “the biggest breakdowns” in that band’s 2009 DVD? Well, The Ghost Inside put that claim to task with this song’s closing mosh-fest of a hard-hitting breakdown. And man, that short-lived-yet-kickass breakdown about 50 seconds in? Mental stuff!

4. ‘Chrono’:

With better production, more melodic guitar work, landsliding drum fills, and a mean guest feature from Bury Your Dead’s Matt Bruso (a BIG influence on TGI if you couldn’t quite tell), ‘Chrono‘ is a massive standout for ‘Returners‘ (2010). This song is a clear blueprint for other more anthemic, melodic-centric tracks that the band would pull off later in terms of sound and form, yet it still remains one of their greatest attempts at it. ‘Returners‘ has plenty of good songs to its name, (‘Overlooked‘, anyone?), but this tune is right up there as one of it’s strongest segments.

The core ethos of ‘Chrono‘ is of having the guts to stop and really think about your life as it passes by; knowing that you can’t halt ageing and understanding the difference between having many years in your life and the life that was actually lived during those said.I told you those themes of youth and time would come back around! One thing I always liked about ‘Chrono‘ is that there’s conflict in the lyrics: “Looking forward for a taste of things to come/I can’t see familiar faces on anyone” versus “Life is trying its best to pass by/But not this time/I am not afraid“. It’s like a question from Vigil if his band is doing the right thing with their limited time on earth by playing music, or if there’s a “better” way to live? To be honest, whether I’m wrong or not, I don’t really care: this song is fucking sick no matter how you spin it’s yarn!

3. ‘Dark Horse’ / ‘Test The Limits’ 

Being an underdog and pushing yourself harder are basically the core two tenants of the The Ghost Inside church, and that’s what ‘Dark Horse‘ and ‘Test The Limits‘ fully embody. Hence why they both come together in a tie on this here list. (Because I love both songs equally and because “Top Eleven Songs” doesn’t have as good of a ring to it for a title).

A “dark horse” refers to a competitor who has little known about them, who no one has any expectation to win, yet they still go on to succeed. And if that doesn’t sum up the career, the intent, and the music of The Ghost Inside, than I don’t know what fucking does! This is the sole drive behind ‘Dark Horse‘ itself: to fight your way to the top (literally and figuratively), to be greater than what you currently are. Which is ironic because it’s without a doubt one of the better TGI songs ever written too – this thing is HUGE. With the strongest clean-sung chorus in their discography, with some tightly-wound catchy riffs, and with drummer Andrew Tkacyzk’s finest tom-work, ‘Dark Horse‘ is a beast. It takes what ‘Engine 45‘ did and pushed it all even further. This was the band’s time to rise, indeed; a prime example of the total dedication they had to their craft.

One of their fastest songs tempo and rhythm-wise, ‘Test The Limits‘ acts as a thematic sequel of sorts to ‘Greater Distance‘; about surpassing what that you thought you could never do. It’s a burning musical reflection of inner-fire, of pushing yourself to be the exception and not just the rule. Delivered via quick chugs, some of the band’s melodic leads, hearty and squick vocal phrase, and plenty of unrelenting energy, it’s fitting this is the record’s closer, summing up the idea of ‘Get What You Give‘ perfectly. You only get out what you put in, and The Ghost Inside put in so damn much with this record and with this song.

2. ‘Between The Lines’:

Okay, I gotta own my personal bias here: ‘Between The Lines‘ is THE song that made me love The Ghost Inside. While the first two songs I technically heard of theirs was the aforementioned ‘Faith Or Forgiveness‘ and the gang-vocal-heavy, somewhat obnoxious bro-down of ‘Unspoken‘, this was what fully sold me on The Ghost Inside’s music.

Firstly, there’s just so much passion and conviction running through the veins of this piece, from the percussion and guitar leads, to Vigil’s gripping vocal performance. (There’s also a little guest feature from Betrayal’s Brendan Foley near the outro too). That massive “What do you stand for?” pit-call, followed up by a tectonic breakdown and some proper china-cymbal abuse, is hands down one of the band’s greatest heavy sections. Then there’s the lyrics here and my good god! When people talk about truth, passion and honesty in hardcore music, they’re actually talking about songs like ‘Between The Lines‘ and bands like The Ghost Inside, whether they intended to or not. Because those ideals define both the song and the band completely. But don’t just take my word for it. Other than being one of my favourite set of lyrics from any hardcore band ever, the following lyrics from the chorus breathes every part of that mentality:

What happened to the blood pumping through your veins?/You’ve scattered the ashes of an iron faith/The sun fades below the horizon, and you say goodbye to what used to be.”

The Ghost Inside, forever swingin’ hard.

#1.’White Light’:

Inarguably, ‘White Light‘ exists on a whole other emotional level to any other Ghost Inside track. Written about Vigil’s younger brother, Ryan, suddenly passing away in his sleep, this is a brutal moment of vulnerability. With heavy metaphors of death mixed in with personal sentiments about his brother – “the man in black, he rides alone…” references Johnny Cash’s nickname, Ryan’s favourite artist, and also acts as the embodiment of death as the reaper – it’s just such a heavy experience. Cutting lyrics like “Ryan, shine the light for me/I’m sinking, I can’t swim/I need you here to pull me in” still place a massive lump in my throat; making me think about what if something ever happened to my own brother, Matty. ‘White Light‘ is yet another undeniable shred of proof to just how much this band’s music positively affected people.

The emphasis on better voiced guitar melodies, the fact the song actually lets up at times, to the snare rim clicks that aren’t used by Andrew in other tracks; there’s a bigger sense of space and dynamic. And that bolsters the song’s emotion tenfold. That bridge section with the filtered spoken word part, for instance, is just so haunting. Then, when you wrap all of that up with the hefty emotion that the track brings, you get something very special. It never aims to be a glorified mosh track, or like some high-octane hardcore song; ‘White Light‘ and the band know exactly what it is and what it always should’ve been. It’s a moment of peace, of mourning; a lowering in musical energy and heaviness so that something deeper could be shared. It’s an introspective and heartfelt dirge, more so than just a loud outward expression of force. There’s really nothing else like it in the band’s storied song library.

I remember not long after ‘Get What You Give‘ dropped, the band toured Australia with Architects and The Amity Affliction. During their set at the Melbourne stopover (at the now long-gone Palace Theatre), Vigil commented to fans that when they landed in Australia, he received word from back home that his father had also sadly passed away. Jesus. Skip forward a year to their 2013 headline tour with Emmure and Antagonist A.D., and the band dug deep to perform ‘White Light‘ for one of the first times. I still remember the moving emotion coursing through Max Watts (then called The Hi-Fi) that night; how much it meant to everyone in the room, how good it sounded live, and what it also meant for Vigil and his bandmates. It’s sad that such an incredible song was born from the passing of a loved one, and it’s selfish of me to enjoy it and place it atop, but it is the best TGI song. From such indescribable pain, an amazing piece of music was made. Shine on.

What are your favourite TGI songs? Let me know!

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