In our 2012 article titled “Poet of the Fall prove that rock is far from dead”, we described Finnish rock band Poets Of The Fall as one of rock music’s best kept secrets – despite the fact that they have nurtured a large and ardent fanbase across the globe, and have been performing for delirious and enthusiastic audiences for almost two decades. Their sonic template cleverly blends a traditional rock sound with atmospheric embellishments, cinematic orchestration, and hook-laden melodies. The last component, in particular, has played an instrumental role in the band’s ability to cross over to pop music fans with no longstanding affinity for rock music. This is where the brilliance of the band lies. The embryonic beauty of their music seasoned with the dramatic, rich, and baritone voice of their magnetic frontman Marko Saaresto allows the band’s sound to transcend conventional genre boundaries despite being rooted firmly in commercially viable rock music. It also appears that since the release of their debut album “Signs Of Life” (released in 2005), they do not believe in taking long breaks. During this period, they have shuttled back and forth between touring and writing/recording music and have boasted a stellar back-catalog of eight albums with their most recent album “Ghostlight” (their 9th album) released on April 29, 2022 (i.e. today). I had the pleasure of watching them in concert for the first time in Barcelona (Spain) on their “Ultraviolet” tour in late 2019. Their lives could have gone on pause immediately after with the onset of the Covid19 pandemic. Clearly (and fortunately), a pandemic was not enough to derail the band’s resolve towards indulging the prolific artists in each one of them and they got right to work on their follow-up to 2018’s “Ultraviolet’”. The fruits of that resolve have manifested in the form of some stellar moments on their new album “Ghostlight”.
Before I dive into the album, it is worth mentioning that their last album “Ultraviolet” had a somewhat polarizing effect on music critics. The band met with a non-trivial level of criticism for veering closer to a pop sound as opposed to sticking to their roots. I personally could not criticize them for that since “Ultraviolet” spawned fantastic radio fodder in the form of songs such as “Dancing on Broken glass” and the irresistible “Fool’s Paradise”. Furthermore, bands must have the freedom to be as stylistically fluid as they would like to be. On “Ghostlight”, the Poets seem to strike an optimal balance by having one foot on either side of the pop-rock divide. That being said, the album is predominantly downtempo and not the constant uptempo rockathon that their 2014 album “Jealous Gods” is. The album encompasses everything that one would expect from a Poets Of The Fall album – immaculate production, lead singer Marko Saaresto’s goosebump-inducing falsetto (which is on full display on songs such as “Hello Cabaret” and “Heroes and Villains”), killer electric guitar solos, and the band’s penchant for symbolism and esoteric imagery.
Admittedly, reviewing a rock album like this from a pop music lens is difficult and probably unfair to the band. Single or even multiple listens of the album might not be sufficient to unpack what the band has offered here. For instance, the album’s title “Ghostlight” is an electric light that is left energized on the stage of a theater when the theater is unoccupied and would otherwise be completely dark. There is no actual song by this name on the album but there are repeated references to it on songs such as “Sounds of Yesterday” and “Beyond the Horizon”. In the album’s rocky (but downtempo) grand finale titled “Beyond the horizon”, Marko Saaresto via a spoken section describes ghostlights as being those “who can illuminate the history of our time to come”. One can only guess that the stage of the theatre is an analogy for the world that we live in and the people in the world (i.e. the actors on stage) either succumb to their tribulations, or somehow find hope. But the ghostlights are distinct from both and there is a precious few of them.
Since we are an online music radio station, we are bound to evaluate albums based on their capacity to yield radio fodder. On that front, “Ghostlight” fares reasonably well (albeit nowhere close to the near-perfect “Jealous Gods” album). The highlights are as follows;
This uptempo banger is what a die-hard Poets of The Fall undoubtedly craves for. The song successfully combines the band’s pop sensitivities with their rocky snarl. Despite being over six minutes in length, the song is as tight as the standard 3.5 minute single and does NOT suffer from being repetitive. With an almost dancey connective tissue that links the song’s second chorus and middle 8, along with two distinct electric guitar solo sections, this song is bound to be a crowd-pleaser in a live environment if it makes the cut for the band’s setlist as part of their Ghostlight tour that kicks off in early May 2022. The crowd is bound to alternate between dancing and head-banging while unpeeling the layered imagery surrounding lyrics such as “Salvation is poison we mystify”.
“Lust for Life”:
With this song, Poets of the Fall may have hit on a winning formula for a modern rock ballad. The song builds incrementally with each section featuring a new instrumental layer. The band does a good job of fooling the listener into thinking that this is just another acoustic ballad with the song’s gentle guitar introduction – followed by the sound of a violin slowly drifting in. The second verse adds in light percussion and lush string arrangements. This is followed by drums and a dramatic Gary Moore-esque wailing electric guitar solo. This song absolutely belongs on a movie soundtrack.
“Requiem for My Harlequin”:
The album’s lead single almost feels like a defensive retort at critics that hurled criticism at the band for their pop-heavy 2018 album “Ultraviolet”. Its rocky chorus with the cry of “like the Phoenix from the ashes, we will rise again” hits like a potent sonic injection.
Despite its merits, the album does have two noteworthy weak areas. First, the melodic hooks on the VERSES of the album’s uptempo tracks are far more potent than those of their choruses. Hence, the melodic build-up does not always lead to the reward the listener is likely to be holding out for. Second, while this album will undoubtedly please fans of the band, it might not offer any “gateway tracks” that trigger the love affair with the band in the minds of those that are unfamiliar with the band. As a radio station that engages with their listeners and has heard from listeners that discovered this amazing band on our online radio broadcast, we have some sense of what constitutes a potent “gateway track” in the context of Poets Of The Fall. Noteworthy examples include “Fool’s Paradise” from the band’s “Ultraviolet” album and “The Distance” from the “Temple Of Thought” (2012) album. “Revelations” stands the best chance of being a gateway track for a new fan but outside of that, it is unclear as to whether the band has offered anything else to hook in a new listener on this album. I could be wrong and our listeners might just surprise us by responding to something from this album that they discover on our radio broadcast.
Needless to say, despite the few pitfalls on the album, Poets Of The Fall continue to prove just why they are one of the most reliable bets in modern pop/rock music. They continue to be the posterchildren for what mainstream rock of the current millennium should be. Their relative obscurity in the American musical mainstream is America’s loss. We are glad that the band continues to be a potent force to be reckoned with and we hope they are around to fill us with musical exhilaration in the way that they have for at least another decade. Last, but not least, it is great to have the Poets Of The Fall back in the limelight of the musically enlightened.
STAR RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Great review. As a very biased long-time fan (since 2006 or so), I would rate the album at least a very good 4*, but I am still riding the wave of enthusiasm that we have finally gotten brand new material to chew on. This album is very much everything that I love about the band and I think they really are getting the hang of really powerful sound, although this album feels oddly meditative and melancholic. But that’s all fine by me. 🙂
@Clayman: Thank you so much for the comment. We were afraid that we would upset fans with this one. I also think we struggled with reviewing this album. There is so much symbolism here to unpack and it’s not like we had weeks to let this album marinate in our heads. Completely echoing your view that this albums feels meditative and melancholic. We wish we had used these words in our review because it truly hits the nail on the head. The fact that we even have a band in the modern mainstream that aspires to do what the Poets do is a gift. We play a LOT of their music on our online radio station even though we are a pop station. I know the band has been quite surprised by this and they are probably wondering how their music ended up on a pop station’s playlists. But that is the magic of their music – it transcends boundaries. Your assessment of giving the album a 4 rating is one we toyed with. If they had even one track in the vein of songs like ‘The Distance” or “Fool’s Paradise” or “Clear Blue Sky”, that would have tipped the scales and forced us to give it a 4. The thing is, with these reviews, we have to distance ourselves from our fandom of the band (and it’s not secret to our readers and station listeners that we worship the ground these guys walk on) and look at the album with as critical an eye as possible. That way, when we give a stamp of approval, it means something to the non-fan or the casual fan. Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to read this review and comment. The conversations around these articles are more important than the article itself in our humble opinion.
Thanks for the honest response, guys. I am always happy to talk about the PotF guys even if we may not agree on everything. 🙂 I was kind of surprised that there was a review so early after the latest album dropped, but you did a great job of it. I totally agree with the symbolism part. These guys really do have a knack for writing lyrics that are clever and make you think about their real meaning. I also understand why you chose to stay a little more objective to give the review more credibility and I am perfectly fine with that. Anyway, thanks again for the response. 🙂
@Clayman: Thank you so much. We are always nervous about doing a piece on Poets Of The Fall. We have done very few even though their music is a regular staple on our station. As you said, they really make you work with your lyrics – and sometimes, that does not lend itself to the speed with which we need to churn out reviews. In general, we have noticed that if we do not publish on the day of the album release, the review becomes less relevant. So it is this balancing act of speed and credibility – while also maintaining some semblance of objectivity. Personally, we feel that “Jealous Gods” was a real high for the band and topping that will NOT be easy by any stretch. Thank you once again for the comment!