July 4, 2008

Music With a Message

By Scott Tady, Beaver County Times, Pa.

Jul. 4--Round Black Ghosts are going to hell.

They tell us so on "Going to Hell," the leadoff song that's reprised as a hidden track on the local band's lyrically striking debut CD.

But it's not what you think.

Round Black Ghosts aren't on AC/DC's highway to hell. They aren't squared off against Satan like Tenacious D, or seeking sympathy for the devil like the Rolling Stones.

Nor is their song "Going to Hell" a cautionary tale about fiery damnation, like the Squirrel Nut Zippers' "Hell."

For the Round Black Ghosts, "Going to Hell" is a metaphorical look at a fractured relationship, a common theme to the band's lyrics.

Having risen from the ashes of the busted-up Beaver Valley band Waking Matthew, the Round Black Ghosts will showcase their indie-rock album July 4 during a gig at Thursday's tavern in Bridgewater.

They've already gained a foothold in the Pittsburgh music scene with shows at Club Cafe, a familiar haunt for the Ghosts' singer-lyricist Aaron Shafer and guitarist Geoffrey Zalice, both formerly of Waking Matthew.

Shafer culled the name Round Black Ghosts from a literary reference to vinyl records. For now, the band must share search engine results with a same-named German compilation of dub artists.

Count on the band garnering a greater amount of Google attention courtesy of Shafer's riveting lyrics. These are songs based on real-life experiences, not fictional ones, as was sometimes the case with his Waking Matthew work, said the Freedom area native.

He's in his wheelhouse singing about disjointed relationships and missed connections.

"We don't go so well anymore/I'm a mess and you're prim and proper," Shafer laments on "A Dead Man's Wardrobe."

The song "Delivery's Everything" hits hard with the verse "So say what you mean. We don't have time for allegory. Dinner's on the table and I'm starving. If we can't relate by now/ That is a tragic story that all the words and all the worlds cannot complete."

Stomping, grinding, chugging and buzzing in all the right places; knowing when to lay low and when to lay on a full sonic assault, Round Black Ghosts are rounded out by Martin Kantorzyk, Richard Condon and Keith Kleinhampl, all listed as playing "various instruments" on the band's MySpace site.

They avoid sounding derivative, though those craving comparisons might find a faint whiff of Radiohead, a dash of deepest-cut David Bowie, maybe even a Coldplay chord progression.

Shafer's voice has a stirring quality, though at times he's a little too restrained. He should always remember his own advice from the opening line of "Delivery's Everything": "Where's the emotion/Thought you knew delivery is everything."

Round Black Ghosts likely get rawer and more vocally demonstrative live, as hinted at by their MySpace site that describes their shows as a "runaway train."

Spectators can climb aboard at Thursday's, for a show also featuring Coudersport, Pa. rock band the Slant, and members of Beaver County hard-rock outfit Ill Willis.

It's the start of a three-day weekend, so the audience might hope Round Black Ghosts slip a little joie de vivre into their intense and introspective tunes.

The Grateful Dead, after all, once sang about going to hell in a bucket.

But at least they were enjoying the ride.

ROUND BLACK GHOSTS Modern rock/indie-rock.

Sounds like:

Seem them: 7 p.m. July 4 at Thursday's, Bridgewater.

Sample them: www.myspace.com/roundblackghosts

Scott Tady can be reached online at [email protected]


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