Review: Ghost - Infestissumam

Ghost's 2010 debut Opus Eponymous was a record shrouded in enigma, mystery and most of all, ecstatic wonder; where the hell did this ridiculous Satan-worshiping band come from and how are they getting away with such a perplexing and light-hearted take on classic Heavy Metal? Indeed, Opus Eponymous was an incredible mixture of the classic sounds of Metal - the driving guitar riffs, the lyrics revolving around Satan and the image of the band memebers themselves who were presented as anonymous ghouls, save for frontman Papa Emeritus whose vocals, which range from clean to inexplicably clean, were a stark contrast to his foreboding Papal presence in the live setting. Worldwide acclaim, chart success and one Grammis nomination later, they're back with their sophomore effort, Infestissumam, and it's just as wonderfully satanic as ever, if a little contrived and comical.

Picking up where they left off with Genesis - the closer on Opus Eponymous - which featured galloping riffs and meaty bass work in the vain of Iron Maiden's Losfer Words, opener and titular track Infestissumam delivers a Latin/Italian ode to Satan in the form of a choir and a Melodeath-reminiscent guitar carrying it. It's a continuation of sorts - the pounding percussion is as much a throwback to the closer on Opus Eponymous as the entirety of Ghost's tracks are throwbacks to the sixties and seventies occult. What once felt like a gimmick is now an identity. Ghost have always been cryptic in their media proceedings, but following their forced name change from Ghost to Ghost B.C. (something that only applies in the USA), Papa Emeritus was very vocal about the issue: "We will never refer to ourselves as 'Ghost B.C.'. It will never happen, never, never, never, never happen." This sense of identity is admirable.

Per Aspera Ad Inferi's chorus is accompanied by a trotting drum beat and subsequently feels almost tribal in comparison to any of the tracks on Opus Eponymous. The shift in production is at once welcoming. Secular Haze turns up the Venetian Carnevale synths, jolting beneath the thin tone of the strings and introducing another epidemically infectious hook. Papa Emeritus's distinct vocals float around in their airiness and are hardly ever intimidating, even with the explicit, sometimes laughable lyrics. The single's accompanying music video is reminiscent of early Black Sabbath videos - the band perform in front of a colourful backdrop as smoke rises from the ground, but it's not so much poking fun at early Black Sabbath videos as it is their own music and that seems to be what sets them apart from other revival outfits: they hardly ever take themselves too seriously in relation to the listener. Ghost's unrelenting ability to churn out line after line of satirical absurdities enforces this. Opus Eponymous had "This chapel of ritual/Smells of dead human sacrifices/From the alter bed" - the infectious nature of the hooks cried out for them to be sung aloud, but the extremities in the lyrics put those ideas to sleep, fast. Infestissumam has lines such as "I am the one who comes into daughters of men" and "Oh Satan, devour us all" which seem to brew a sense of discomfort in the listener.

What you are guaranteed with Ghost, however, are songs that stick with you. Even seven-and-a-half minute centerpiece Ghuleh/Zombie Queen retains that sense while diving into an experimental, even atmospheric Surf-Rock sound and then Neo-Psychedelia. Its opening evokes memories of Twin Peaks' bleakness and its overlooking waterfall while the meat of the track follows familiar territory; the Zombie Queen chorus is one of their best. The same goes for Year Zero, which repeats the name of Satan using six different synonyms - "Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer" - and features a great vocal bridge. Idolatrine features some of Ghost's most frantic instrumentation and a very well worked refrain, again. The two tracks sandwiching this, Body and Blood and Depth of Satan's Eyes, are perhaps two of the weakest tracks over the span of Opus Eponymous and Infestissumam, with the latter taking on a very contrived and pop-rock approach.

The closer Monstrance Clock develops from campfire song to cringe-worthy satanic take on The Beatles. "Come together, together as one," Papa Emeritus sings as hordes of listeners throw up in their mouths. The fact that this is stretched out for almost the entirety of the track is disconcerting. But it's a hiccup on an altogether well worked album. It continues the distinct approach introduced on Opus Eponymous while throwing in new ideas, and while they all aren't as strong as each other, songs like the title track, Secular Haze and Ghuleh/Zombie Queen are standouts and probably won't exit your mind until the next Ghost album. Until then, let's take Infestissumam as a blessing in disguise.


Friday, 3 May 2013

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