By Wayne Ansell
At a recent Ghoultown show in the band's hometown of Dallas, the crowd's sartorial splendor said it all. Uniformly dressed in black, with cowboy hats, tattoos, and heavy makeup, they were a tortured mix of goth, glam, and cowboy chic. Little wonder, because their band of choice that night bills its genre as "hellbilly" music. Think of it as country with menace, or slasher twang.
These guys may appear to be scary, but looks can be deceiving. In conversation, they're about the nicest bunch of goth cowpokes you could ever want to meet. The same goes for their fans, frightening yet friendly, if that's possible.
This band does everything on a grand scale. At times you may laugh at their over-the-top lyrics and theatrics. But their talent is undeniable. They bring pounding rhythms and driving, full-blast guitars to songs like "Gunfight at Red Sands." Their lead singer, who goes by the name of Count Lyle, likes to refer to them as "Iron Maiden meets Spaghetti Western." A more apt description may not be possible.
At their Dallas gig, the crowd repeatedly sang along, and every finish met with huge applause. The guitar on "Killer in Texas" and the snarl on Lyle's face as he started the show were deadly accurate on both counts. "Fistful of Demons" was about as fast as Jake Middlefinger (lead guitar), Lyle (rhythm), and Lizard Lazario (acoustic) could play. A sonic boom may have occurred. X-Ray Charles (drums) was impressive during "Wicked Man."
At some point, it became obvious that these are campfire songs from Hell. The aptly titled "Dia De Los Muertos" got the crowd fired up. It featured a great guitar intro, while their new song, "Blood on my Hands," had a merciless coda that almost took all night. By the sixth or seventh song of the set the smoke machine and smokers had pretty much filled the room with a wall of smoke, but it just seemed to enhance the performance.
"By nature, I like to be unique so that has translated into a band like Ghoultown, which takes a lot of my favorite things like spaghetti westerns, horror movies and Texas twang, and puts it all together," Lyle says. "Besides the artistic creation, our goal is to have a good time, traveling around and playing music. The band is like a family, which makes it nice, since the road is not always an easy place to survive. But no matter what cards we are dealt, we at least have a good time seeing how far we can take our crazy concept.
"One room of my house is filled with Ghoultown pint glasses, shot glasses, comic books, show posters, and even a huge custom mirror with our cowskull and crossbones image etched into it, so that is definitely cool."
Ghoultown is hardly the first band to ever merge a cowboy sensibility with high-volume rock, but the band's all-out dedication to the cartoonish aspects of the approach is unique.
"I sometimes describe our sound as the Iron Maiden of western rock or a cross between Rob Zombie and Johnny Cash if there ever was a thing," Lyle says. "I know it seems like a clash of cultures, but there is a lot of darkness in the old country sound and a lot of hillbilly violence built into rock. We meet somewhere at a crossroads on a dark Texas night."
Lyle's pre-Ghoultown resume included a bass-playing stint with Solitude Aeturnus, a '90s doom-metal band affiliated with Roadrunner Records and a brief gig as G.G. Allin's guitarist. Lyle was only 18 at the time, and is quick to say that his tenure with the late gross-out king had no influence on the artistic direction taken by Ghoultown.
Clearly the leader of this band, Lyle says most of Ghoultown's song ideas originate with him. "I write all the lyrics and most of the basic parts of the songs," he says. "I bring my song skeletons to practice and try them out. The other guys add their touch and that creates the song that everyone else eventually hears." •
By Wayne Ansell