Fearless Freaks: Japan’s Ghost, meltdown-free for more than two decades.

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Ghost is going about this psych-rock thing the wrong way. There are only two proper ways to do it. Method One: release a handful of freaky gems, fade into oblivion, and wait to be rediscovered. Method Two: lumber along for years, dry up creatively, and fall victim to a combination of drug problems, ego conflicts, and commercial pressures. By the time Pink Floyd had been around as long as Japan’s Ghost, it had become a bloated self-parody. But Masaki Batoh, who has led Ghost since 1984, has retained the band’s central aesthetic; even more impressive, its newest release, In Stormy Nights, improves on 2004’s Hypnotic Underworld, a successful mélange of traditional Japanese instrumentation, Dutch prog, and Celtic psych-folk.The band is hitting its peak after 23 years of existence—at least a dozen years past the sell-by date of most psych acts. The album’s centerpiece, “Hemicyclic Anthelion,” is a 28-minute odyssey that, like a mini Anthem of the Sun, is assembled from several live performances, veering from contemplative drones to cacophonous bursts of guitar feedback. The playing is focused and deliberate, even though the track is obviously improvised: At various points the band recalls an orchestra warming up, a malfunctioning lithotripter, a spacey jazz combo, and Dr. Who’s TARDIS. But the freewheeling mood drastically changes on “Water Door Yellow Gate,” which features a martial tympani rhythm and Batoh’s affected, dramatic delivery. It is as rigid as “Hemicyclic Anthelion” is loose, injecting a more menacing tone into Ghost’s sound. On previous Ghost albums, Batoh’s voice often seemed lost amid layers of fuzz and the miscellaneous instruments. But he sounds clearer and more self-assured here, comfortably switching from bucolic whispers (“Motherly Bluster”) to disturbing EST-esque wails (“Caledonia”). The latter is a 1969 track by Cromagnon, an obscure late-’60s Connecticut collective that’s a perfect example of Method One of the psych-rock career path. With apologies to AC/DC, the original was the best rock song ever to feature a bagpipe, and multi-instrumentalist Kazuo Ogino does an impressive approximation with a gaida, an Eastern European equivalent. Ghost’s superior musicianship and better production smooths out the original’s rough edges, but Batoh’s berserker singing retains the song’s cathartic power. If In Stormy Nights isn’t a novel album for Ghost, it’s proof the band has gotten better over the years, adding some darker elements and maintaining a high level of energy. Blatantly disregarding psych-career methodology, Ghost has remained both a loyal acolyte of freak-music history—and a worthy successor to it.