Tag Archives: Ghost

Dear Esther, Landmark Edition (PS4)


Dear Esther, and so begins the letter of a lifetime, as you’re immersed in a world you’ve always known but hardly seen.

Originally released as free to play modication, the game was entirely redeveloped for a commercial release in 2012. Featuring a relatively new gameplay model at the time, the game was later mockingly referred to as a ‘Walking Simulator’ due to its minimalist player involvement – ultimately the only physical thing for the player to do is explore a Scottish island.

Having always wished to travel to an uninhabited Hebridean island this game provided me with the chance to do just that. It’s tranquil peace and the history the island preserves, either through basic settlements, shipwrecks or geology, is immense and is created here in painstaking detail. As you wander throughout the game the character’s voice sporadically gives you information as to the nature of his recently departed wife, as he recounts instances which led to her sudden death and also comments on the nature and history of this island.

I found that the game is certainly endemic of mental health and mental illness. The character, player unnamed, is certainly suffering from grief and this has led – over time – to illness and despair. In his grief he has essentially come to the most remote place he can find; and his intentions, although morbid, are incredible to watch. As you join him on what is his last journey there’s a sense of hope and exploration, an understanding of your own life and a peace you simply don’t get from Black Ops.

Originally developed as a research project through The University of Portsmouth the game is the creation of The Chinese Room, responsible for such other BAFTA nominated masterpieces as Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture and Amnesia; A Machine For Pigs. But it’s Dear Esther which never fails to capture me, despite how many times I’ve replayed this game, and its entire journey would take you just 90 minutes – something that you can do in an evening, drawing the curtains and submersing yourself in gaming.

Accompanying the game is an incredible soundtrack from Jessica Curry, which is nothing short of immense, and has also been released on Vinyl and CD so popular is the demand. I regret deeply missing the opportunity to see an orchestra tour the UK performing this soundtrack while a gamer engaged in playing this game on a big screen.

One particular scene, perhaps my favourite in the game, involves walking uphill towards an abandoned bothy built by a long since departed Sheppard. As you climb you can realistically feel the strength in the effort it takes, the game adjusting for the end pushing against you. One can only imagine what might happen if this was ever developed into 3D, and despite the harsh weather conditions, it’s possibly one of the most hopeful moments in the entire game. There’s a real sense of achievement as you finally manage to reach the bothy’s door and enter its tiny space.

Eagle eyed fans should also note the original game soundtrack is also available as a free download online from the developer, and you’d be best advised to take advantage of this while it still stands. In August 2018 Sumo Group, the parent company of Sumo Digital, acquired The Chinese Room for GB£2.2 million and thus downsized it to a fourth UK based production under Sumo Group. One can imagine both the “end of an era” but also the developers and founders of the group taking some time to consolidate their achievements while playing Dear Esther.

Walking Simulators may face criticism because you can, of course, always just leave the house and walk yourself – but the additional location of this game, its unique perspective and narration make it quite frankly unmissable. Now I’m off to hunt down a sealed physical copy on eBay. To replay once more.

Ghost – Prequelle

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Of course you do.

The fans of Ghost certainly believed in Santa Claus. And Papa Emeritus. They kept the myth alive even when others attempted to defrock the fabled front man as Tobias Forge. It didn’t seem to matter, because ultimately, Forge was creating something theatrical which people enjoyed.

All this changed in 2017 when several members of the band were named in a lawsuit which challenged Forge for withholding monies owed. This has led to no less than 10 musicians, prominently all male Swedish male musicians, stating to have (at one point or another) been a member of Ghost from 2009 to 2016. It also defrocked Forge as the groups lead vocalist (a fact previously confirmed by the Swedish Record Industry) and left the band in a somewhat state of uncertainty.

Prequelle is the groups fourth album, which sees (presumably) newer members and also the addition of a second named member – Papa Nihil – return to reclaim their throne. Whether Forge and some of his former bandmates have settled their differences is relatively unclear, and how much work previous band mates gave to the overall project is obviously a question for debate, but this new line up is certainly something of a revival. 

Put simply, Prequelle is without question the album of 2018; it’s phenomenal music radiates from start to finish to produce an album of electricity. Previous favorite like ‘Ritual’ and ‘Elizabeth’ focused on choral choirs, thundering bass and Blue Oyster Cult inspired guitar work; whereas improved production and tuning now gives the band a more macabre Queen-esque 80’s sound. 

If ‘Opus Eponymous’ was the 1970s, then the 80’s have well and truly arrived.

Of course you could argue that Ghost are ripping off things they’ve heard decades ago. The problem you’d have there, is that they’re doing it better than the original composers. ‘Dance Macabre’ and ‘See The Light’ give tinged ballads and rock licks a run for their money while instrumentals like ‘Miasma’ confirm the talent isn’t just in the vocals. The saxophone work on the latter track reminds me of Axl Rose introducing the band during ‘Move to the City’

Just stop reading this and buy the album. Now. 

“Dance Macabre,” already with 15-million Spotify streams, is the second music video and radio single from the Grammy-winning rock/pop band’s most recent album Prequelle (6/1/18 (Loma Vista Recordings /Concord Records). Simultaneously apocalyptic with catchy, contagious hooks, the song tells of how some people coped with the devastation of 14th century Europe’s Black Plague that wiped out millions – by dancing and partying and seducing until they dropped. The music video puts its own twist on the celebration of the End of Days and beyond.

Twenty-eighteen has been a good year for Ghost. “Rats,” the first single from Prequelle, held the #1 spot at Rock Radio for a record-setting nine consecutive weeks. In North America alone, “Rats” has been streamed more than 14-million times, its companion music video has racked up more than 13-million YouTube views, and Prequelle has accumulated nearly 49-million streams. Ghost recently sold out the very prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London, and Metallica just announced the band will be Special Guest on its 25-date European stadium tour next summer. Ghost will headline its two-act “A Pale Tour Named Death” Fall North American tour that starts in Dallas on October 25. The North American trek includes two headline arena shows, The Forum in Los Angeles, and New York City’s Barclays Center.

Ghost will play Twickenham Stadium, London, on June 20th 2019 as special guests to Metallica.

Grave Formats

The other day I found myself in HMV while my parents visited in the run up to Christmas. As it was a festive occasion, my parents had suggested we purchase a gift, something they could enjoy wrapping and leaving under the tree for me before their return to France. Not being one to ever miss out on a present I gladly accepted and proceeded to rummage through a number of my mental ‘wish lists’ attempting to come up with something I’d like to physically obtain.

As I proceeded to leaf through the copious amount of Vinyl on offer I realised just how far HMV have evolved. December 2012 seems like a distant memory, but more tenured employees of HMV will remember the time well, as it spelt a certain end to the company. At the time, economists took great pride in appearing on news programs, telling us just how obsolete a store like HMV was in today’s marketplace. And yet, it remains. The store I was standing in, in Gateshead’s Metro Centre, had recently located to a more premier retail location and a new store, in Boston Lancashire, opens its doors in the very unit its predecessor was forced to close in March 2013.

In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that HMV has managed to remain, but commendable and worthy of praise all the same. It’s current business model meant that more high priced items like phones, electronics and games took a back seat; while shelves were recently filled with comics, collectables and even Vinyl. Having worked for the company briefly in 2009 and again in 2013, I defiantly experienced some of this change first hand. Vinyl itself presented something quite unique; as if we’d suddenly travelled back in time and embraced a format which should – by all rights – be extinct. Just as many analysts argue HMV should be.

Compact Disc has been a regular fixture in the marketplace since the late 80s, swiftly seeing off competition from Mini Disc, VHS and even Laserdisc; they even buried Vinyl considerably in an episode of Tomorrow’s World recorded around 1992. Whereas a lot of music fans have embraced the digital revolution a decade ago, retailers are limited in their selections, admitting that embracing MP3’s and Spotify subscriptions would leave them out of a job. So CD has found a bizarre and unchallenged equilibrium; until the return of Vinyl. Asides from their popularity with collectors, their physical appeal, their openness to customisation (who doesn’t love a good picture disc?) there’s also an exceptionally unique quality to Vinyl which makes it a more attractive proposition for retailers; it’s practically impossible to steal.

Consider for a moment walking into a store on a cold Christmas day and shoving a cassette tape into your pocket. Even a CD would fit snuggly into an inside pocket without much effort. Vinyl, on the other hand, presents twelve inches of self-resistance to petty theft; for both customers and staff alike, making it the perfect product. In 2017 HMV predicted its most successful year of Vinyl sales in almost 20, thanks in part to the efforts of mainstream artists like Ed Sheeran and Noel Gallagher embracing the format, with UK sales for that year topping four million.

In 2018 this trend continues, with the average purchase of Vinyl made by a consumer younger than those purchasing CDs, according to information from the website Kantar. According to their estimates, the overall value of the vinyl market in the UK for the latest quarter (in the 12 weeks to 1 July) was £25 million. 420,000 people bought a vinyl record in this period, up by 6.6% vs. Q1 (that is, the 12 weeks to 1 April). And this is despite the evident proof that not all collectors of Vinyl have the means to play them.

What might be even more remarkable is that this trend has led to a number of other ‘Grave Formats’ returning to the fold. Swedish band Ghost released their latest album ‘Prequelle’ as well as their live compilation ‘Ceremony and Devotion’ on Vinyl, but perhaps more surprising is their choice to release it on 8 Track Cassette. Although a limited release, initially available through the bands website and the result of Spotify giveaways, their operations are not unique to just cult bands – with Metallica remastering their classic ‘And Justice for All’ album and releasing a special cassette version; which is available to purchase through Amazon and was also stocked in HMV alongside a Nirvana cassette release earlier this year.

The introduction of the cassette tape by Philips in 1963 would lead to it becoming one of the most influential ways people consume music for over 30 years, and yet, it was somewhat ironically never intended never to rival the audio quality of the existing larger tape formats. Once Sony released a portable cassette player called the Walkman in 1979, such anti-taping arguments were more or less dismissed by the general public. Complete with portable headphones, the Walkman encouraged a generation of music fans to take their sounds with them wherever they went, and the advent of the boom box, which featured dual cassette decks, provided portability and seemingly encouraged music duplication through its design. By 1983 it was cassettes which outsold Vinyl.

And yet, as I made my selection that evening in HMV, my father looked on slightly baffled as to why – at 63 – it was his 33-year-old son who was purchasing albums on Vinyl, Cassette and 8 Track in 2018. Everything it would seem, has its place.