I picked up Cold was the Ground by The Midnight Ghost Train (TMGT) on a whim. I liked the name of the band and I liked reference to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the night, cold was the ground.” If you were to take Johnson’s soulful lament and then infuse it with 50,000 watts of power, that kind of gets at the feel of this latest offering from TMGT. I should also say there is a reference to Crow Jane coupled with the title, which I’ll leave for the resourceful to hunt and research.
There is a lot to like about TMGT. Let’s start counting them off. First is the fact that they had their start as a eulogy for a friend. That’s metal. Second, they have deep roots in the southern blues. Third, they align their dark, soul-crunching lyrics with music that’s . . . well, dark and soul-crunching. The trio hails from Buffalo, NY, which is weird for me because their music screams Georgia or North Carolina or Mississippi—I mean they do a cover of “Cotton Fields”—but I guess that adds to the intrigue, which is number four. They are never what you expect. “The Little Sparrow,” for instance, is a lullaby H.P. Lovecraft might have penned. And here it sits in the middle of metal album like something that wakes you up at 3:34 in the morning, but I digress.
If you listen to their entire catalogue (one EP, two LPs and one live album), you get the satisfaction of witnessing a band with promise grow into a band that absolutely delivers. Each of the albums has its gems, but Cold was the Ground is just a flat out masterpiece.
Cold was the Ground is bigger and louder than Buffalo (second album), which is hard to believe. It kicks off with a 1:26 minute salvo, “Along the Chasm,” that sets the tone for the entire album. Without a break, “Along the Chasm” slides into “Gladstone,” which for me is the album’s hallmark. “Gladstone” is ear candy, if candy was laced with whiskey and beer. Following comes “BC Trucker,” which is almost as powerful as “Gladstone,” and then into “Arvonia.” Another great thing about TMGT, this is number five for those keeping score, is they aren’t in a rush. They explore riffs and they let their lyrics marinate in your brain. “Arvonia,” for instance has a 45 second bass intro (Mike Boyne), then Steve Moss (guitar) and Brandon Burghart (drums) come out to play for another 45 seconds before Moss drops the first lyric—“Whoa bring me my shotgun / Ima start shottin’ again.”
Like Clutch, TMGT is a smart band. They aren’t just about delivering bone jarring metal. They also deliver lyrics that veer from insanely violent to richly haunting. As a slew of recent studies have shown, metalheads are some of the most intelligent and well-adjusted people on the planet. People like to imagine metalheads as drooling, tattooed murderers, when in reality we only drool at the sight of bacon and we rarely murder without cause. Tattoos are a given. The lyrics TMGT lay down are thought-provoking testaments of our music, the musicians that play it and the fans that listen to it.
As Moss sings: “Turn it up until you feel the guitar bite / Rock ‘n’ roll is here to take my life.”