Ghost. The bad boys of music. In fact, the dirty Satanist kind, as no doubt many metalheads have been forced to endure over recent years. Led by enigmatic, lascivious frontman, Papa Emeritus (and his lineage), the Swedish outfit’s mix of ABBA-esque pop, Sabbath-ish riffs and occult-influenced hard rock have proved too contagious to resist for many. In 2015, they released their third album, Meliora, to much acclaim; netting a Grammy in the process. In 2018, Prequelle was unleashed, introducing the ever-graceful Cardinal to the masses.
So far, they’ve put out four full-length LPs and two extended plays; with over fifty, full-fleshed tracks to explore – including the recent ‘Hunter’s Moon’ – Ghost’s first bit of material in years. They’ve been talked about, praised, torn down and raised up again. In fact, it seems no stone’s been unturned in the ever-growing Ghost tapestry. And yet, somehow, there are those deep cuts that have yet to really see the light of day. That are forgotten, and oft overlooked. Today, we change that. Today, we look at the ten most underrated tracks of Ghost. And so, without further ado, I set the black candles alight and offer you these rituals of unholy delight…
La Mantra Mori (2013, Infestissumam) – To kick off the list, I’m picking a song that I would wager is possibly the least well-known of the Ghost catalogue. A bonus track pinned on the deluxe edition of Infestissumam’s CD, it’s not a cover, and didn’t find its way onto any special, 10” vinyl single. ‘La Mantra Mori’ is, as far as I’m aware, included only on the ‘Deluxe’ CD of the band’s sophomore record and Infestissumam Redux, which also includes the entire If You Have Ghost EP. ‘La Mantra Mori’ is a five-minute, dreamlike voyage of a song; the kind of thing one would ‘get mellow’ to. The lyrics – dark as they are – prove repetitive, and it’s still a far cry from ‘Square Hammer’ or ‘Year Zero’. But it’s catchy nonetheless, and grooves with the best of Infestissumam. Which is, to say, quite a lot. And yet it’s scarcely mentioned at all.
Genesis (2010, Opus Eponymous) – Ah, Opus. Now the elitists can put their tongues firmly back in their mouths and stop going on about how Ghost got worse as time went on. But our ninth pick for the band’s underrated gems doesn’t come much in the form of Black Sabbath-like riffs and metal psychedelia. Mostly. ‘Genesis’, the debut’s closer, is totally instrumental, and signifies the actual birth of the Antichrist – a symbol which would prove the focal point of the group’s follow-up. It’s infectious synthesizers and thunderous drumwork make for an unforgettable Satanic stomp that’s overlooked far too often. Opus is remembered for it’s opener, ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’, but never the finale. And that’s a shame. it’s the literal birthing of the antichrist in musical form. That’s pretty metal, dude. It’s also about as proggy as Ghost ever got, with a beautiful closing note (that one assumes simulates, ahem, the afterglow).
Life Eternal (2018, Prequelle) – It’s hard to believe anything from Meliora onwards is underrated, really. Prequelle was nominated for a Grammy, and thrust Ghost even further into the public spotlight. Strange, then, that it’s the record’s climactic closer which seems lost in the annals of time. And it’s one of the best Ghost have produced thus far. ‘Life Eternal’ is a truly devilish ballad that builds and builds; detailing losing a loved one in the time of plague and pestilence. It’s heartfelt strings and poetic lyrics make for a tear-jerking tune and, though it’s hardly panned by Ghost fans, it seems lost amongst the likes of ‘Faith’ and ‘Miasma’. ‘Life Eternal’ should be a live staple, but admittedly it’s tough to find a place in the running order, when Ghost have concocted some incredible climaxes.
Avalanche (2018, Prequelle) – Yes, I’m allowing covers for this one. Because A. Ghost are flawless with them, and B. they’ve only done four albums and two EPs. I need to be as broad as possible. ‘Avalanche’, a cover of the venerable Leonard Cohen (from Songs of Love and Hate), found its place on the deluxe CD release of 2018’s plaguebringing Prequelle. ‘Avalanche’ found itself next to the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’; a song which probably took the crown for ’Song Ghost Wanted To Cover That Literally Everyone Saw Coming’. And Forge’s rendition is no filler. But what’s oft forgotten are the man’s growls and repugnant deformity displayed in Cohen’s work. ‘When I am not this hunchback that you see/ I sleep beneath the golden hill’ – Already cryptic lyrics given the Ghost spin, and the newly crowned Cardinal Copia does a sterling job. The track progresses into, well, a sonic avalanche which is criminally underrated in the Ghost canon.
Death Knell (2010, Opus Eponymous) – For many, Ghost’s debut onto the scene (but not out of underground Swedish bars as of yet) will be the band’s magnum opus. And though I don’t share that view, I certainly miss parts of it. Namely, how Satanic the boys were back in the day. Sure, ‘Year Zero’ and it’s intro of Demon Bingo were yet to be written, but Opus was packed with Latin, 70s metal riffs, and enough Beastly references to ignite the nearest vicar. ‘Death Knell’ is one such song. As the song reaches its chorus and everyone’s least favourite creepy uncle, Papa I, sings (masterfully), ‘Six, six, six/ Receive the beast!’, there’s this real aura of dread and terror on the looming horizon, right there with ‘Ritual’, ‘Stand By Him’ or ‘Con Clavi…’. Spooky stuff.
Missionary Man (2016, Popestar) – Not the best cover on this list, but close. And undeniably underrated. Popestar, the extended play follow-up to the band’s seminal Meliora, featured one new track, and four covers. That new material was ‘Square Hammer’, and did quite well. Also present on the record was a cover of the Eurythmics’ 1986 classic, ‘Missionary Man’; a cautionary tale of trying to outrun a messenger of God. Fitting, then, for Swedish occult rock, stadium-swaggering skeleton Papa Emeritus the Third. Whilst Ghost’s cover doesn’t build tremendously on the original, it ups the amplifiers and features some of Forge’s most deliciously vicious vocals yet. A real powerhouse of a song. ‘Well I was born an original sinner/ I was born from original sin/ And if I had a dollar bill for all the things I’d done, there’d be a mountain of money piled up to my chin’ sounds so wicked from the mouth of Satanas’ favourite.
Bible (2016, Popestar) – Another pick from poppy Popestar, and this time a cover of fellow Swedes, 80s rock band Imperiet. In 1986, the band released Synd, featuring ‘Bible’ – an epic, six-minute odyssey detailing the rise and fall of mortals, as God creates them, and looks back with regret at His own creation. The original song is ineffably epic as it is, but, naturally, Ghost make it even better. ‘There are no walls that can stop such a rain/ That keeps on falling forevermore/ I was told that by the sixth day/ The world was like an open sore’. Godamn. Poetry. And poetry in musical form like nothing else. As I’m aware, the song’s been played live once. True, Ghost have their fare share of decent closers, but this? This is in another league. And it’s on an EP that people only remember for ‘Square Hammer’.
Here Comes the Sun (2010, Opus Eponymous) – When The Beatles released Abbey Road in 1970, it was home to a plethora of standout, timeless tracks. Chief among them, perhaps, is George Harrison’s eternal pinnacle, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, a quaint, catchy British tune about the summer; of things getting better. Trust Ghost to take this and flip that concept on its head. In a bonus track from the Japanese release of the group’s debut, Papa Emeritus I whispers chilling threats into your ear; ‘Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter/ Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here’. After ‘Genesis’, it actually works as a premonition to the coming of the Antichrist. Is it better than the original? No. But it’s damn close, and the best cover Ghost have ever put out. Which is saying something.
Pro Memoria (2018, Prequelle) – A song that, if memory serves me correctly, actually got quite a lot of hate when Prequelle was released. Forge himself admitted that the album was rushed (leading to Prequelle Exalted months after), and many of the tracks found a kind of venom the average Ghost fan wouldn’t expect. Written just as Forge was finally unmasked as the frontman of the band in a lawsuit filed by former nameless ghouls, ‘Faith’ and ‘See the Light’ would prove just how hateful the Cardinal could be in response; with each verse dripping enmity. Whereas those tracks were lauded, however, ‘Pro Memoria’ wasn’t. Namely, fans poked fun at the… less than complex lyrics (‘Standing tall, invincible/ But do not forget your knives/ To save your lives’) and poor attempts at potshots (‘Had you had the chance today/ You would’ve sold out, too/ Ain’t that right Swede Saint Peter?’). But I don’t care. The string arrangements and chorus are up there with Infestissumam’s ‘Monstrance Clock’, and the whole thing feels grand. Even for Ghost. It was played live for the opening of the subsequent tour, but quickly dropped thereafter. For shame, Tobias. For shame.
Body and Blood (2013, Infestissumam) – Fitting that the list opened with Ghost’s second album, and ends with it, too. It’s no secret that 2013’s Queen-inspired Infestissumam is my favourite album, and ‘Body and Blood’ will always remain one of my favourites from the band. Taking the practice of communion and the Christly figure reduced to wine and wafer, Forge invokes images of cannibalism, and fecal discharge. But in an awesome way. Just listen to the performance of this song on 2017’s Ceremony and Devotion. As Papa II growls, ‘Defecate!’ into the microphone, a roar erupts from the crowd. Yes, you feel a little dirty afterward, but there’s no mistaking the power invested in just one song. ‘Body and Blood’ also packs one of the group’s best solos to date; mimicking psychedelia of the late 60s. It just… it rocks.
There. A top ten. It was tough, and there were certainly a few tracks that nearly made it. But all the ones herein scream out to be heard more, and appreciated for what they are. Killer. Sure, ‘Year Zero’ is iconic. ‘Square Hammer’ has a great backbeat and ‘Rats’ slaps. But from Opus to the time of the plague, Ghost has consistently raised the bar. It’s about time we look back and see just how good their ‘filler’ is.