A Track By Track Review Of Ghost BC's Infestissumam
, March 12th, 2013 06:45
Jamie Thomson, cycle-powered punk rocker, eagerly gives us his first reactions to the long awaited second album by Ghost BC, Infestissumam
The first time I saw Ghost, it was a revelation. These mysterious Swedish metallers were the perfect embodiment of my holy grail in music: melodic yet thunderously heavy; dark, yet hugely entertaining – and catchy. So very, very catchy. For a niche band (and really, what's more niche than the 13th Floor Elevators attempting to replicate Mercyful Fate's back catalogue with only a couple of scrawled notes as pointers?), their reputation quickly flourished and, among those who heard their 2010 debut Opus Eponymous, only the most curmudgeonly classic-rock fan resisted its flagrant charms. The stone-cold classic 'Ritual' became a stalwart at the cooler rock clubs and, for younger fans seduced by their “fresh new” 1970s sound, their stylings made them not only a gateway drug to the likes of Black Widow and Pentagram, but also such dark, infernal artists as Blue Oyster Cult and Uriah Heep.
But last year's leap from plucky indie Rise Above Records to UMG subsidiary Loma Vista, and the enlisting of heavyweight producer Nick Raskulinecz, means that, in time, the epithet 'cult' might only refer to their satanic affectations rather than their rarified appeal. So can they make the leap to metal's mainstream without losing what made them so great in the first place? And will Ghost die-hards, such as myself, who have been anticipating and dreading this second album in equal measure, make the journey with them? Here's a first impression:
Like Opus Eponymous before it, the album kicks off with a bit of Gregorian chanting, but before the cloak of familiarity warms you, the drums and guitars kick in and knock you on your arse. This is a different beastie altogether, and is, on first listen, the best use of choral plainsong in a rock setting since Ennio Morricone's satanic-psychedelic freakout, Veni Sancte Spiritus. Yes, we're only one minute and forty seconds in, but things are looking good.
'Per Aspera Ad Inferni'
And we're off, and, by Christ, this sounds tough as hell. Raskulinecz has taken Ghost's sound and injected it with (in)human growth hormones. Papa Emeritus II weaves his swoony vocals - “Oh Satan, devour us” - over Celtic Frost guitars, fattened by gusts of Hammond organ. The keyboards are far more prominent than before – they've held to their promise that 'Genesis', the instrumental closer to Opus, was a sign of things to come. But while progginess is at the fore, the chorus doesn't skimp on a hook. And the coda comes with a gorgeous key change. Hooray! Ghost have still got it!
Not an obvious choice for the single, this is a slow burner that is still smouldering, but it's worming its way into my affections. The spooky fairground organ motif makes far more sense in these surroundings than as a stand-alone track. In fact, I can see it joining the canon of those great metal songs written in waltz time, like, erm...
The pace picks up again with this lascivious thrust of swaggering glam-rock swing. “I am the one who comes richly endowed/ Harvesting fields that others have ploughed, ” drools Emeritus II in celebration of all things carnal. Fantastic! Not only have they rebooted Spinal Tap's classic, 'Sex Farm', but they've thrown in a bit of twiddly Peter Gabriel-era Genesis to spice things up. Is Glam Prog even a thing? Well, it is now.
This is a surprise – a ballad to break things up a bit. A Spartan piano, organ and drum arrangement forms the background for some hushed, confessional vocals … aaaand just about as I was going to invoke the great music-journo touchstone of Berlin-era David Bowie, they pull a switcheroo and now we're off on a Peter Gunn/twangy-guitar car chase, but with Deep Purple pomposity. And here's the chorus: “Zombie queen. Zombie queeeeeeen!” And now the choral society are joining in – this is astounding! At seven minutes long, this is their 'Stairway To Heaven'. If played live, this would have the makings of an absolute show-stopper.
For those looking for 'Ritual' part II, this is probably the closest in spirit to its pop sensibilities. But where that was a spooky, abandoned church on a lonely hillside, this is a bloody massive Gothic cathedral with spiky, sky-scraping spires. The "Hail Satan" hook soars, with O Fortuna-style choruses lifting it ever higher. This is definitely the track that will inspire the daft grin/hairs-standing-on-end effect Ghost junkies will be craving.
'Body In Blood'
They've already mastered satanic prog-glam metal, so why shouldn't Ghost turn their hand to sleazy soft rock? Imagine for a second there is a late-70s Spanish semi-pornographic horror film called Los Esclavos Lesbianas De Satanás (there isn't. I've checked). Before the nudity and bad dubbing starts up, the scratchy Letraset titles would be accompanied by footage of a young woman in a summer dress walking along a small village's sunny harbour front while a monk spies on her from a castle window up on a cliff top. This is the only song that could possibly be playing during those titles.
Back to the glam, and an evocation of that Luciferan classic, 'Blockbuster' by the Sweet. A fairly breezy, poppy number by this album's standards, with some (deliberately, you would imagine) saccharine harmonies disguising pretty dark lyrics; “Suffer little children/ come you unto me; Suffer little children/grant me sovereignty”. If, when played live, this doesn't feature monks in cowls, thumbs tucked in their rope-belts, doing that synchronised headbang/ elbow-swagger Tiger Feet dance, I'll be sorely disappointed.
'Depth Of Satan’s Eyes'
Probably the weakest track of the album, a catchy-enough chorus is let down a little by its pedestrian pace and NWOBHM-by-numbers riffing. But you can't really argue with lyrics like: "This swamp of faeces/ that is the world/ flatulates a whirlwind storm/ in which it swirls.”
So to round up this infernal feast, why not invoke the master of horror rock, Alice Cooper? The downbeat, funereal verse leads to a lovely, lighters-aloft chorus demanding that we "come together, for Lucifer's son", and ends with male and female choirs trading that refrain accompanied by a church organ. It's wonderful and wonderfully silly in equal measure, and a masterful end to an album of real depth.
So is it as good as Opus Eponymous? It's certainly not as immediate, but I think songwriters this talented would be doing themselves an injustice retreading the same ground. It's a statement of intent that suggests that in future people will stop describing them as x-meets-y (which I'm aware I've done throughout this piece) and simply refer to their ludicrously alluring mix of pomp, pop and power as "sounding like Ghost". The other occult rock bands du jour – Ancient VVisdom, Blood Ceremony and the like – are going to have a hard time keeping up. Ave Satanis!