I Am Ghost: Battling for something big

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I Am Ghost has shed some dead weight but retained its epic-scaled ambitions.

If marks were handed out for nothing more than sheer audaciousness, I Am Ghost would be sitting at the front of the goth-punk class of '07. At the moment, the Long Beach, California, quintet has a ways to go before it's mentioned in the same breath as platinum-shipping heavyweights like My Chemical Romance and AFI. But based on last year's shockingly accomplished Lovers' Requiem, look for that to change sooner rather than later. Clearly not lacking in the epic-ambition department, the full-length debut mixes styles with an abandon that would impress the late Freddie Mercury, meshing death-cult metal, synth-soaked goth, Gregorian classical, black-hearted emo, and ethereal new age. Most impressively, in some cases all of those genres are packed into a single song, the best example being the disc's sprawling, dark-garden closer "Beyond the Hourglass". And if that's not enough, consider that Lovers' Requiem is as complex lyrically as it is musically. Piece together the Epitaph-released album's 12 tracks and you've got an operatic tale in which the undead struggle between heaven and hell, their large-canvas battle chronicled in both English and old-school Latin.

"We knew going into it that we wanted to do a really complex concept album with things like choirs and strings," says singer Steven Juliano, on his cellphone from the band's tour van somewhere in Utah. "I think that was kind of exciting for Epitaph, because they obviously want to be seen as more than a punk label. It was funny–we walked into their offices and we actually had storyboards and stuff that we had drawn up to illustrate the songs. We had the entire album mapped out."

Lovers' Requiem isn't quite Queen's A Night at the Opera in terms of inventiveness, but it's not that far off from My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade, to which it's been favourably compared. The journey kicks off with "Crossing the River Styx", a sombre midnight-mass hymn that sounds like Sunday services in the Dark Ages. What unfolds from there will thrill even the most demanding of disaffected goth-punks. "Our Friend Lazarus Sleeps" mixes high-wattage metal with prog-punk keyboard trills; "We Are Always Searching" fuses icy walls of synth with fire-burnished violins; and "Dark Carnival of the Immaculate" drags screamo through the haunted kingdom of Dimmu Borgir. Setting the band apart from the extreme-music hordes flooding the Warped Tour is singer-violinist Kerith Telestai, whose duets with Juliano on songs like "Pretty People Never Lie, Vampires Never Really Die" make for the album's most spine-chilling moments.

If there's no shortage of drama on Lovers' Requiem, that's appropriate given what's happened within the ranks of I Am Ghost since the album's release. In June, Telestai announced that she would be leaving the band for health reasons; while doctors could find nothing wrong with her, she'd get sick every time she did a long haul in the tour van. Soon after her departure, her husband, bassist Brian Telestai, announced his resignation from the group, cryptically stating, "My faith in God and my marriage to Kerith are both higher priorities than I Am Ghost, and I feel that if I were to continue in the band, both of these would be stressed to compromise."

Today, I Am Ghost has been pared down to Juliano, guitarists Gabriel Iraheta and Timoteo Rosales III, drummer Ryan Seaman, and new bassist Ron Ficarro. Happy to discuss his former bandmates, Juliano contends that the Telestais were hard-core Christians who increasingly had a problem with the way his obsession with horror films and comic books coloured I Am Ghost's songs.

"I was raised a Catholic and I believe in God, but we're not a Christian band," he explains. "They were devoted Christians, to where they were telling people in interviews that we were a Christian band. It really became a problem when we were recording the record. Kerith would be sitting there with a highlighter, going over the lyrics to highlight things that she didn't like. It was like the Nazis in World War II, like 'I'm going to tell you what you can listen to, and what you can't listen to.'

"She didn't even want me swearing on-stage," he continues. "It's not like I have any desire to get up there and be a potty mouth. But I remember one time I said 'Fuck' and she cried in the tour van for a half-hour afterwards."

With all that in the past, I Am Ghost is looking to the future, which appears promising considering the way that disenfranchised kids seem to have discovered their new favourite antiheroes. Funnily enough, for all that the group accomplished with the towering Lovers' Requiem, Juliano mostly hears a band that's fallen well short of what it's capable of.

"I think that this record wasn't ballsy enough, even though we learned so much doing it," he says. "Despite everything that's happened since then, a lot of fans, and other bands, have told us that we are better now. Things are faster and more brutal, and because of that, the next record is going to be more ballsy.

"We've gotten darker now, not like death metal or screamo, but more like in a really heavy way," he continues. "We want to take more from artists like Marilyn Manson and some of the techno elements and beats that he has in his songs. We had really different musical tastes than Kerith and Brian–those were things they weren't into."

The goal from there is simple: having already made a statement with Lovers' Requiem, I Am Ghost is out to show the world that it's only just begun. While it may be overstating things to suggest that Juliano and his bandmates want to be bigger than God, it's probably not that far from the truth.

"I didn't want to be in one of those bands that was just happy playing the punk circuit forever," Juliano says. "And I didn't want to be in one of those bands that goes, 'We've sold out in our hometown so we've made it.' Hopefully you can hear on our record that we want something bigger. We want to play arenas."

I Am Ghost plays the Croatian Cultural Centre on Monday (August 20).