Tobias Forge may nowadays be seen as the mastermind and frontman behind Swedish occult rock/metal outfit, Ghost, but before the spooky masks and tight-buckled thrusts, he was in a band called Subvision (and Repugnant, and Magna Carta Cartel, as well as being guitarist for glam metal group Crashdïet).

Subvision consisted of drummer Thomas Daun, bassist Gustaf Lindstrom and guitarist Martin Persner (the latter two would go on to become Nameless Ghouls in Ghost at a later date) with Forge on vocals and guitar, too. Subvision had a much softer sound than Ghost, too (in contrast to their other outfit at the time, the aforementioned Repugnant), but still emphasized rock with a pop punk tinge, all accompanied with wonderfully morbid lyrics and themes. They released three EPs and a single album. So Far So Noir.

The record opens with ‘Room 611’, a catchy opening guitar riff and banging drumwork signaling what to expect in the next twelve tracks. Forge shows off softer vocals here, which attribute to an almost psychedelic sound. It’s not a far cry from one of his later projects, MCC, and definite themes of Ghost are starting to take shape. On its own, it’s not a bad track but nothing explosive. Then again, is that really the point here?

‘Killing Floor’ is a rambunctious piece of poppy punk rock that passes by easily for three minutes. Forge’s vocals are once again on full form, holding notes for a frankly impressive amount of time. The chorus is pretty catchy, and the closing guitar proves sublime. ‘I wanna groove, I wanna flow, I wanna wail for my creator below’ perhaps gives us a signal of Forge’s love for all things blasphemous, too.

The third track, ‘Scenario’ is by far the lead single of the piece. It has a kicking backbeat, and though it’s still weird to hear Forge’s voice unimpeded by a mask, it’s great nonetheless. ‘Scenario’ is a great slice of pop rock that proves a highlight of the record. Perhaps it’s a little radio-friendly compared to the eerie call of Ghost’s 2010 debut, but the groundwork is certainly there, including sinister lyrics (and a reference to Barry Manilow).

The opening to ‘Cartwheeling the Void’ is very Opus, but the rest of the track doesn’t quite reach the same mark. The phrase itself, ‘cartwheeling the void’ is genius, though, and the lyrics seem to generally deal with falling in love after past wounds. It’s something we can all resonate with, and the track does deceptively band into something grander.

‘Lady Morgue’. What a great title! Trying to put aside thoughts of Forge’s later ‘Ghuleh / Zombie Queen’ for a second, it’s a much softer track but deliciously macabre all the same. ‘A withered uterus your sorcery’ stands out as a line to me, and the song deals with Forge being deceived yet again by this figure that is woven through the rest of the album.

‘Fault’ brings the tempo up again now; Forge regaling us of this woman once more, being drawn in and ultimately betrayed. If the last track was ‘Dreams’, then ‘Fault’ is the record’s ‘Go Your Own Way’, a more pointed message. This one really has the 70s alternative rock sound to it, which is awesome.

‘Beyond the Moon’ continues the echo of Forge wanting something real and faithful. The chorus is pretty epic as the album goes, and ‘I’d like to go beyond the moon, a universe beyond the tune’ seems pretty ironic given where Forge would eventually end up. Pretty big, or so I hear.

‘Pyscamore’ is by far one of the most Ghost ‘sounding’ tracks here, with a clever play on words as the main title. It’s one of the best songs on the record, and really takes off from start to finish.

Again, one of the best tunes of the piece and perfectly capturing a cynical outlook on the world is ‘Son of May’, delivering punch after punch. It also contains the lyric, ‘Go find your shelter in our secular haze’, which would presumably go on to inspire one of Ghost’s earlier big hits. The verses are super catchy, here.

‘Necropolis’ is a wonderfully upbeat track about ‘the city of the living dead’. Forge goes full ‘Emeritus voice’ on this one, which works given the morbid and dark subject matter. Perhaps it’s about a literal Necropolis, or another cynical view on the human race (much akin to Ghost’s third effort, Meliora, which would deal with such themes). Either way, it pumps away and is one of the album’s highlights. It’s also a track that gets bigger and better as it progresses. The guitar just gives me ‘Body and Blood’ vibes all the way through.

‘Eraserhead’ features some of Forge’s finest vocals on a track with a clever title but not much else. It’s not a bad song by any means, just not as catchy as the others. Some nice melodies on here though, for sure.

So Far So Noir closes with ‘Until You’re Mine’, a poppy, pumping tune. It’s Forge taking his stand, saying he won’t stop fighting until his desire is his. It’s certainly a strong closer, with guitars up high and a generally eerie feel.

Overall, the band’s debut (and only full album to date) is fairly short, but fits a lot in during that time. There are certainly a few filler tracks here, but this record genuinely surprises you with a hefty bag of catchy pop rock tunes, charged with emotion. The problem is that, due to Forge’s contributions, it will always be compared to Ghost. But it isn’t. And that’s fine.

On its own, So Far So Noir stands up quite well. It’s not perfect, but for a debut from a band that weren’t international at that point, it really is a fantastic effort. The playfully dark lyrics and pre-masked vocals from Forge create a nonetheless intriguing sound, helped only by a transcendent guitar sound from him and Persner. More than once was I chanting in prayer to the words, and I don’t feel guilty at all.