Hypnotic Underworld is the first album in five years from Ghost, Japan's greatest psychedelic export. Sure, Acid Mothers Temple is pretty amazing but not consistently great, sometimes spiraling off into the infinite blackness for 40 minutes too many. Ghost, however, gives so much and attempts to do so much within the confines of an album (double album though this may be) that it's impossible not to be drawn in and caught up in the band's precise yet convoluted, spellbinding abyss.
The album starts with an expansive workout whose cymbal crashes, explorative bass, and tin-can rattle sound like the Art Ensemble of Chicago trolling through the marshlands with Carlos Castaneda. The album is broken into four parts (always a good sign), and the sections alternate: Sometimes you get freeform journeys down windy roads populated by fuzz bass and drunken piano, and sometimes you get stop-start progressive rock with a sputtering, spastic unpredictability. So it's almost jolting when "Hazy Paradise" takes off into more pastoral regions, using a nice mix of gentle guitar leads and acoustic rhythms amid the twinkling harpsichord. It's a full-blown psych-pop wonder, and Michio Kurihara's guitar solo shreds in a way that is simultaneously triumphant, appropriate, and Guitar Center-approved.
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If one were able to right the wrongs of the past through some sort of scientific wonder gizmo, you would be able to hear a track like Underworld's "Piper" on classic FM radio alongside chunky drive-time jams by Nazareth, Blue Öyster Cult, and Fragile-era Yes. But these are all easy targets with an album that deftly and sincerely juggles traditional Japanese instrumentation, K-hole guitar drones, and Teutonic-locked percussion like nothing else.