“He shall overthrow the mighty and lay waste their temples! He shall redeem the despised and wreak vengeance in the name of the burned and the tortured! His power is stronger than stronger! His might shall last longer than longer! God is dead! Satan lives! The year is One, the year is One! God is dead!” – Steven Marcato, Rosemary’s Baby
“He shall tremble the heavens, kingdoms to fall one by one. A victim to fall for temptations, a daughter to fall for a son. The ancient serpent deceiver, masses standing in awe. He will rise to the heavens above the stars of god. Hail Satan, Archangelo! Hail Satan! Welcome, Year Zero!” – Papa Emeritus II, “Year Zero”
Sweden’s Ghost unleashed their Opus Eponymous in 2010, though we US denizens largely didn’t catch on until the following year when it was released stateside. In the just-over-2-years since, the band has taken their evangelism seriously: bringing their rituals to venues on both sides of the ocean that separates us, showing up on magazine covers, appearing on the P3 Guld music awards show on Swedish TV and landing the coveted spot of the debut act signed to major-label imprint Loma Vista Recordings. From thence they shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
They’ve stated since Day One (of whatever year that was) that their intent was to reach out to as broad a base as possible to deliver the Gospel of the Fallen One. Hence, a marketable “gimmick”: taking KISS to the next logical step, the band’s identities are kept a closely-guarded secret, with only vocalist Papa Emeritus (succeeded this year by Papa Emeritus II) presenting a public “face,” even though that face is shrouded by latex appliances and painted with a skull-like visage. All other band members wear hooded robes and masks, and each member is credited only as “A Nameless Ghoul.” (Likewise, all music and lyrics are credited to “A Ghoul Writer.”) But, as with KISS, a visual gimmick isn’t enough for the band to sink their hooks into the souls of the general populace. To that effect, the band coupled their late-‘70s heavy metal style with irresistible pop melodies and harmonies, with the emphasis placed more on songcraft than shredding. In short, it’s Fire of Unknown Origin, Spectres or Cultosaurus Erectus-era Blue Öyster Cult brought back to life under the thrall of The Guy Downstairs.
This has caused some tearing of hair and garment in the heavy metal community, with a bunch of folks all pissed off that “this ain’t METAL!” (To which I say, “Oh, go to hell. I was around in the ‘70s when Blue Öyster Cult were considered Metal. As. Fuck.” Seriously, if Black Sabbath put their first album—or hell, even Paranoid—out today, NONE of these jerks would consider it a metal album. There’s nothing less metal than a bunch of goons arguing over what the hell isn’t metal. That and goddamned subgenres of subgenres. Don’t get me started on metal fandom’s insistence on building subgenres. Graaaaargh.)
(your humble narrator shakes the rant out of his system and continues…)
So, all this leads up to the release of their new album, Infestissumam. While the last album concluded with “Genesis,” an instrumental celebration of the birth of the Antichrist. This album rejoices in His presence among us. And, interestingly, it’s not nearly as pop-laden an effort as Opus. The first time I heard it, I was puzzled. Though, like being in the baffling presence of the Unholy One, you eventually come around to His way of thinking.
The title track leads, and with its choral pronouncement of the reign of Il Filio de Sathanas over guitar leads that would make Buck Dharma wet his pants, I was expectant. Then the more somber tones of “Per Aspera Ad Inferni” shifted me further into the “huh?” column. Sure, it was catchy, and it was heavy, but where were the insistent hooks of “Con Clavi Con Dio” (which took the same spot on Opus)? It was the first signal that this wasn’t going to be Opus II: Mission to Moscow.
Then we move to the carnival-esque waltz time of “Secular Haze.” A great song, but again…waltz time? Who does a metal song in waltz time? Over time, it worked its way into my brain, but it’s still an outre approach to a first single. An album highlight comes next, as a glam-rock swagger enters the picture with “Jigolo Har Megiddo,” which depicts the Antichrist as a lascivious Beast, using sex as a means to allow his lovers to “see through Me what lies beyond.”
Then came the song that convinced me that this genre shifting, this thwarting of expectations, was something genius: a seven-and-a-half minute suite bearing the ungainly title “Ghuleh / Zombie Queen.” Subject-wise, it’s not far from the canonization of Erzsébet Báthory in Opus’ “Elizabeth,” as the song pays tribute to the shapeshifting female demon of Arabian lore. But music-wise it couldn’t be farther from that. It begins as a plaintive, sparsely-arranged ballad, like something from the quieter moments of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane or Diamond Dogs. Then, as the “Zombie Queen” section of the song takes over, it turns into a reverb-drenched, Hammond organ-laden, surf-rock-influenced epic. It’s so gob-smackingly out there that it could explode in their hands if they’re not careful, but it’s just so crazy that it just might work! And, surprisingly, they pull it off.
“Year Zero” is the next song out of the gate, which I first heard via the band’s brilliant music video. The first thing that popped in my mind was “my sweet Satan, they’ve gone disco.” But then, I remembered that the four-on-the-floor beat of the song—though more present in the mix—isn’t that far off from that featured in the previous album’s songs “Stand By Him” and “Satan Prayer.” Beyond that, it’s probably the most immediately gratifying song on the album, taking cues from Jerry Goldsmith’s “Ave Satani” from The Omen and making Devil worship finally sound like fun again.
The following two songs are each vaguely similar in tone and style: “Idolatrine” (ridiculing the church) and “Body and Blood” (a blasphemous take on the Holy Communion), both breezy little pop numbers. Not the most memorable songs on the album (but they could worm their way into my skull upon repeated listening). But then, there’s “The Depth of Satan’s Eyes,” which is one of the closest songs to Opus’ style, but more malevolent in approach. It’s all angular chord changes, weird almost new-wave-style electronically manipulated female backing vocals, NWOBHM riffing, and gorgeous vocals depicting the promise that beckons from pursuing the Left Hand Path.
Then, holy shit. “Monstrance Clock” opens for one brief moment sounding vaguely like Welcome to My Nightmare-era Alice Cooper, and then just soars into a glorious evocation of the power and glory of the Son of Our Infernal Majesty. The choir featured on the title track and “Year Zero” returns in full force, offering up a gorgeous hymn to Il Figlio di Diavolo: “Come together, together as one. Come together for Lucifer’s son.” It’s a song you don’t want to end.
Unlike the first album, where the power of pop compelled me to return to it again and again (and again ad infinitum), Infestissumam has brought me back for repeated listens more out of curiosity. The songs that did immediately hook me have brought me back to examine those songs that have had to grow on me. Not because I felt an obligation to, mind you, but because their tentacles wrapped themselves around my cortex and drove me to keep examining them from different angles. Then it hit me: where Opus played oftentimes like a future collection of Ghost’s greatest hits beamed back in time to 2010, Infestissumam is an album. It’s meant to be heard in full, with a thread (not so much a story, but a thematic continuity) laced through it. The songs are all part of the whole.
Together as one.
For Lucifer’s son.
Surrender to the dark path at http://www.infestissumam.com/