The year is 2013. It’s been a whole three since new 70’s influenced hard rock/metal band, Ghost, have jumped onto the scene, with their critically acclaimed debut,
‘Opus Eponymous’. They’ve gained a cult (pardon the pun) following and the fans want more. The band’s lead singer (and mastermind behind the operation), Papa Emeritus (a guise created by the Swedish vocalist, Tobias Forge) knows it’s the right time to release their next offering. To the masses he presents a new era in Ghost: Infestissumam.
From the Latin for ‘the biggest threat’ or ‘most hostile’ (in reference to the album’s centerpiece: the coming of the Antichrist – its Ghost, what did you expect?), Infestissumam is a masterpiece and, surprisingly underrated gem, for the band. Upon release, it was generally well received, even bagging the Swedes an award for Best Hard Rock/Metal album in 2014, at the Grammis (think their version of the
Grammys – one of which Ghost also received for their next LP, Meliora).
And yet, these days, among the die – hard elitists of Ghost’s fanbase and newcomers alike, Infestissumam can get a bad rep. Why? Well, two reasons, really. The first is that it’s not metal. Well, okay, it kind of is. Once again, Ghost manages to carve out its own little niche genre, unbound from the labels surrounding it, only this time in an entirely different cave system. It’s still mostly hard rock and metal, with familiar pop elements on some tracks (the groove of ‘Jigolo Har Megiddo’, for example) and haunting piano on others (I’m looking at you, ‘Monstrance Clock’). But this time it has more of an orchestral sound, with an entire Satanic choir hired straight out of Hollywood. On no other release has Forge’s childhood obsession with Queen become more obvious. Sure, none of it sounds like ‘A Night At The Opera’, but the influences are there all the same.
And unfortunately, the metal community have a reputation for setting the bar high. Especially when it comes to artists with a pre-established sound. Ghost never really shrugged off the binds of progressive, Black Sabbath-esque lyrics and licks from ‘Opus…’, and their next release suffers for it. The other reason for its somewhat tarnished name, by the way, is because it falls victim to the ‘Loudness War’. The production and ‘wall of sound’ technique, in order to build up an album’s sound and make it louder, grander and more powerful, slightly masks the beautiful technicalities of the tracks. Although, contrary to what listeners say, unless you live in the fifth dimension – and as a result can tap into frequencies and wavelengths as of yet undiscovered – I wouldn’t say it’s that noticeable.
Anyway, history and critiques out the way, let’s review the actual album. Infestissumam opens with the typical staple of metal albums, a one-and-a-half minute piece that bleeds into the first real track. Following the name of the album’s title, ‘Infestissumam’ has Latin chanting that quickly escalates into a peal of drum thunder and guitar. It sounds like it belongs at the opening ceremony of the Satanic Olympics. It’s just perfect, and immediately sets the tone (think the complete opposite of the band’s debut opener, ‘Deus Culpa’) before we dive head first into ‘Per Aspera Ad Inferi’ (don’t expect to pronounce half the record’s titles). This track is laden with shattering drum work that will get you head-banging, and the voice of Papa II (oh yes, I forgot – the original Papa Emeritus retired, passing the mantle of Satanic Anti-Pope to his younger brother of the bloodline, Papa Emeritus II. He looks younger, darker and has a better mask) is hauntingly beautiful, as always. You really cannot hate Tobias Forge’s voice after listening to this.
‘Secular Haze’ is the band’s attempt at a fairground tune. Only sinful. And involving death. Opening with a fantastic fairground organ, the piece descends into chaos and madness. Supposedly the track is meant to embody the feeling people experience shortly before drowning – as if everything is peaceful below the depths, and serene. And orgasmic but… anyway, the track is one of the highlights to most. Personally though, it’s one of the weaker tunes for me.
‘Jigolo Har Megiddo’ is possibly the grooviest and most sinful track Ghost have ever put together. The opening guitar just lends itself to images of hedonism and grand debauchery, and with lyrics like ‘And I am the one who comes into the daughters of Man. Destroying all, and make them want it again…’, you can’t really second-guess what the record’s about here. The Antichrist has come – following directly from the band’s last album and it’s closer, ‘Genesis’ – in both senses of the word. And he’s here to have fun.
‘Ghuleh/Zombie Queen’ and ‘Year Zero’ are quite possibly the quintessential Ghost anthems. They embody everything the band have ever done. The former, closing side one for those on wax, is a seven – minute piece of two halves. The first, supposedly evolving from a piano riff they had lying around for years (and one so beautiful you begin to doubt such a story), is just chilling. Beautiful. Flawless. But this is Ghost, nothing that tranquil lasts for long. Soon it evolves into a driving rocker, preaching ‘Ghuleh, Ghuleh!’; the name of some dead woman arisen from the dirt and putrefaction. It’s absolutely fucking brilliant, to be honest.
‘Year Zero’, on the other hand, lays itself bare immediately. ‘Belial! Behemoth! Beelzebub! Asmodeus! Satanas! Lucifer!’(all names for the Devil, by the way) introduce us to the five – minute signature hit of the band. As Papa II sings us the futility and worth of Man, you can’t help but sing along. You’ll be wanting to enact a new world, led by chaos and evil, when it’s all over. It just rocks and rolls.
‘Body And Blood’ has a sound directly out of the 70’s. As you sit through what sounds like the musical equivalent of a mist surrounding a moonlit church, you hear verses of eating the dead, likening communion to that of devouring a cold corpse, freshly exhumed from its tomb. With no other band would you be awaiting the words, ‘Receive, consume, digest. Defecate!’ with bated breath. And the solo that follows… it’s one of the best songs the band
have ever done. Hands down.
‘Idolatrine’ is definitely the only real time the album falls flat. It’s catchy, but this track – unlike others from the album –doesn’t just make its subject known. It dances naked in the middle of the streets, with a sign pinned to its chest reading, ‘We don’t like God!’. The (ingenious) portmanteau of the words ‘Idolatry’ and ‘Latrine’, you can probably already guess what its about. People who listen to the words of God are imbeciles, and the Big Man himself is a hypocrite and malicious maniac, banking on your eternal servitude with the use of even more eternal damnation. There’s a point in here somewhere but it’s lost in the mindless blasphemy. Still, it sounds alright.
‘Depth of Satan’s Eyes’, however, brings the record back to form. The solo leaves you wanting more, and the lyrics are a tad less… inflammatory (then again, it is Ghost so you can’t really score them down for that). It’s not discussed enough and it’s one of the album’s highlights, without a doubt.
And then, to top it all off, ‘Monstrance Clock’. Wow. This song is just perfection, everything you need in a five – minute closer. With lyrics fixated on cults, sacrifice and pentagrams, it sounds like pure Ghost. Even Forge’s whispering vocals sail through the air like a beautiful fog (if anyone’s the real fogweaver on this record, it’s Forge. And we’re all suffering from the miasma he emits, lulling us into a deep, head-banging, sleep), eventually swelling to a full-on, comically opulent choir. ‘Come together, together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.’ is just sacrilegious to the core. And yet it’s beautiful. It leaves your hairs standing up. It’s haunting and dark and epic and perfect. It’s the band’s best album closer to date (which is no mean feat, especially after last year’s ‘Prequelle’).
And then, after just ten tracks, it’s all over. I don’t care what kind of reputation this album gets. The era of Papa II was the best for Ghost; it launched them into stardom for the first time, it spanned a bridge from metal to opera, and it gave us this. Infestissumam, never change.