Album Review: Bears of Legend – Ghostwritten Chronicles
One of my favorite things about following Bears of Legend is that all of their social media promotional materials are in French and I can’t read any of it. But just seeing something from them gets me so excited to hear what they’re up to. Oh and most of their music is in English, so I can understand it. I was totally blown away by their first album, so imagine my delight when this latest Ghostwritten Chronicles arrived in my inbox. The short version of my take on this album is that there’s a very clear reason why they have the word “legend” in their name; this is a massive, momentous album, full of grandiose tracks. It’s a must-own for fans of orchestral and progressive folk music.
The opener “Be Mine, All Mine” is a bit morbid, with fears about dying alone. Yet it has a soulful, heartfelt begging to it. The songwriter is groveling for the listener to be with him, to stay with him. The use of aggressive full band sounds (including layers of strings and percussion) pull listeners into the superbly-mixed, complicated piece. It’s a great way to kick off a major album.
“Arkansas River” reminds me of the things I really loved about the band’s first album. It’s soft and subtle in parts, while also hitting hard and pushing a progressive rhythm in other parts. It seems to be a song fundamentally about seeking a very specific love, but going about the adventure of life and learning from the Arkansas River. It’s a song that repeats existential questions about life and love, driven by percussion, banjos, and accordion for a complex and deeply fulfilling sound.
The vocals on “When I Saved You From the Sea” are haunting but perfect. The song has a truly epic (as in literature) feel to it. “When I finally held you tight in my arms… when I saved you from the sea…” There are some difficult to follow lyrics, but the song sounds like it should be in a film score. It ebbs and flows like the mighty ocean itself. The crescendos of choral vocals with the lead singer soaring over them… it’s just an audibly satisfying experience. It’s not your grandpa’s folk music, that’s for sure.
“Encore” starts out like it wants to be a small song, but that’s just not how Bears of Legend do things. But it remains a very comfortable, sweet and easy song. I have to be honest… I have no idea what it’s about. It’s in French. But I still like how relaxing it is. I imagine they’re singing about how much they’re used to hearing “Encore” at shows because fans love them. Or it’s just a love song. Because it really feels like a love song.
“You” is absolutely a Bears of Legend track. I mean, obviously. But what I am trying to say is that it’s quintessentially a track from this band. It’s a definitional track. It’s also why it’s hard to describe Bears of Legend to people who haven’t heard them. It’s epic and powerful, engaging folksy music. It uses big strings and hard-driving full-band instrumentation that pushes the limits of genres. It’s basically rock music with non-traditional instrumentation. I can’t be sure, but I think the song is ultimately about being yourself. It’s about embracing the wide range of experiences and emotions that are human existence. So good.
“You are a friend – the very first to know me as a man – the very last to kiss me in the end. Very hard I know to comprehend.” The words just string together so beautifully on “Beside Me.” It’s a song about fidelity, loyalty, and faithfulness. It’s also a song about disbelief that this remarkable person would wake up “beside me.” It’s a great sentiment for those of us who can connect by having someone wonderful devote themselves to doing life with us. The song is perfect for anniversaries and celebrations of love. It’s so real, so true, and the vocal arrangement on the bridge is just about as breathtaking as anything on the whole album!
“We Rise” has a different feel to it than anything else on the album. It feels the most “pop” of anything on the album. The harmonies, again, make it really work. The lead singer’s vocals really cut through an ethereal, atmospheric song intro. The violin allows the collective “we rise” anthem to really take off. It all coalesces into a gorgeous, soothing and strangely down tempo power ballad.
“In the Middle of the Sea” is a bit dark, so I was really glad to hear that the final track “Loved (The Chance)” has a more optimistic tone to it. It continues with a maritime theme and even some beach or oceanic sounds in the background. It’s also one of the best pure melodies on the album. The gang vocal that supports the lead is really uplifting. It draws listeners into the adventure. It’s the story of a remarkable, travelled, and cultured individual. It also seems gloriously mythical and therefore exquisitely inspiring, though sad that he “never had the chance to be loved.”
This is a great album. I skipped a few tracks for the review, but rest assured there are no “skip” tracks on this album. The whole thing is truly amazing. The sound is so easy to process and the lead vocals from David Lavergne are exceptional on every track. It’s not really the kind of album you just “throw in” for an ordinary commute or day at the office. It has a sense of needing to be listened to and not just left in the background. It will grip, engage, and powerfully move its listeners. This is an exquisite progressive folk album and will certainly be considered for my end of year top album list.