Over the course of three full-length albums and one EP, Topeka, Kan. three-piece The Midnight Ghost Train made a name for themselves by being fiercer, heavier, more unrelentingly brutal than the most of their peers in the densely populated realm of stoner/doom/heavy-retro rock ‘n’ roll. Frontman Steve Moss’ voice is a thing of stark and terrible beauty, a pulverizing blunt instrument that toggles between a leonine growl and an apocalyptic roar. And that towering voice resounds overtop hellbent riffs that come on like a sudden storm, and hit with all the obliterating force of a runaway locomotive. Indeed, TMGT releases like 2012’s “Buffalo” and 2015’s “Cold Was the Ground” are not for the faint of heart, and even less so for the faint of ear.
But in planning and writing for the band’s latest record, Moss, along with drummer Brandon Burghart and bassist Alfred Jordan, decided a change of pace was in order. The result, 2017’s “Cypress Ave.”, is the TMGT’s strongest and most listenable record to date, an 11-song collection that sees the band pull its punches as often as not, making the impact all the more devastating in those moments when the trio does decide to let go.
“We took several steps back in heaviness and pace on this record,” says Moss of the new platter, which came out July 28. “We were getting tired of doing essentially the same thing over and over again, making the same heavy record. We wanted to add a new dynamic, instead of being full-bore, go-go-go. We wanted to make an album people could groove to, as opposed to just banging their heads.”
But Moss tells that he and drummer Burghart — the remaining original members, as Jordan is the latest in a string of bassists who have passed through TMGT’s ranks — didn’t set out to be riff-rock avatars when they founded the band round about 2008. “We just wanted to be a straight-up blues band,” he says. “But as we played more, the music just seemed to get heavier and heavier. And when we recorded, it would get faster and faster.”
The band’s bludgeoning rep was bolstered in no small part by the necessity of Moss taking on singing chores with his stentorian baritone. “I just got stuck being the singer,” he says. “Because no one else wanted to do it. So I kind of had to find my voice, and embrace it. And it’s a thing where not everyone is going to like the way I sing. But I just have to embrace it, and put it out there.
“But come this album, the songs seemed to call for something different from what I’d done before,” adds Moss, who makes his mark on “Cypress Ave.” with a variety of vocal textures, and a much keener dynamic sense. “I had to learn to do what the song called for. If I had sung the way I did on ‘Buffalo’ and ‘Cold Was the Ground,’ it would have been ridiculous. Because those records never stop bludgeoning you.”
Moss says that thus far, “Cypress Ave.” has received glowing reviews from all quarters, as even the band’s core fans seem to appreciate the change of pace. “We’ve had fantastic response,” he says. “A better response than on anything we’ve ever done. We could easily have done another ‘Cold Was the Ground,’ another ‘Buffalo,’ but there was no challenge in that.
“Who knows — maybe next time, we’ll do a banjo record? The way we see it, it’s our music, so we can do whatever the hell we want with it, as long as we’re true and honest about it. And whatever that happens to be, I would hope that our fans would understand.”
The Midnight Ghost Train will play Scruffy City Hall Sunday, Sept. 24 at 9 p.m.