“Even a man who makes the most modest pretensions to integrity must know that a theologian, a priest, a pope of today not only errs when he speaks, but actually lies—and that he no longer escapes blame for his lie through “innocence” or “ignorance.” The priest knows, as everyone knows, that there is no longer any “God.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ
Ghost is a band that has definitely polarized heavy metal fans everywhere. Some consider their music lacking in originality, and the surge of popularity they received upon releasing their first album Opus Eponymous is indicative of how many young people must be listening to metal. To many older metal listeners, Ghost’s debut album sounded like what they had originally grown up on: bands like Mercyful Fate, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult and the like. If a band like Ghost is popular, these fans feel, it must be because the last decade-or-so of heavy metal has been discordant, deconstructed, low-production, growling, screaming, and generally abrasive music that lacked the production quality, catchy pop melodies, and genuine singing talent of the earlier years of heavy metal. I think this argument is true in some respects, though mostly just old people griping: Ghost is definitely a breath of fresh air, regardless of how rooted in older sounds they may or may not be. I love extreme metal sub-genres from drone to doom and black metal, but there is definitely a lack, in those genres, of what Ghost is delivering in poppy, catchy, clean, well-sung heavy metal with plenty of theatrics. The closest that any given sub-genre comes to delivering something similar is stoner metal and doom metal, whose related projects do often harken back to that older sound. In my opinion, far too much, as with most doom bands of today, sound either like Black Sabbath or Electric Wizard, and most stoner metal bands sound like Sleep or Black Sabbath as well. Ghost, while certainly paying homage to these earlier sounds, have their own original tone and their own original theatric sentiment. They are timely in the age after the Death of God, harkening in a nihilism and Satanism appropriate for the times, and with all the religious fervor and zeal of an Abrahamic pontiff.
Like true religious zealots, Ghost marketed themselves effectively during their first album, and the results of that marketing were an immense fan base. Their first album is fantastic, and there is not a single track on it that I would say is lacking in quality, atmosphere, musicianship, or originality. There is, however, a reason each song is short and poppy, and that their entire album can be played live within a single set, as it clocks-in at just over 35 minutes. That reason is popularity, and its brother, marketing. Ghost is not just a band, they are very much a kind of Satanic business or church, and I am sure they aim to spread their word as far as possible, to gather a legion of followers or fans under their wing, and I have no problem with that. It’s easy to make the argument that Ghost is a band purely in it for the popularity and money of being a catchy metal band, and while to some extent that is true, I don’t think that kind of mindset takes all other factors into account. They seem perfectly sincere about this endeavor. Their lead singer dresses as a pope of the Devil on stage, their songs are Satanic but highly ritualistic and religious in theme. They gather followers with Twitter and Facebook perhaps as much as playing music, referring to themselves as the Clergy, and they preach the end of days and the coming of Satan’s only child: the Anti-Christ, topic of their latest album, Infestissumam. Hell, they even tried to get lead singer Papa Emeritus elected as the next Vatican pope, a move obviously more concerned with buzz and humor than anything actually arising from such action.
Ghost have an accessible sound that slyly and subtly delivers a very evil and subversive message, at least from any Judeo-Christian perspective: release all bonds and give yourself over to your natural animal nature, the core message and principle, if there is one at all, to Satanism. To top it all off, Ghost’s accessibility, marketing, great musical skill, theatrics, live performances and tours, shirts and internet presence have made them a worldwide phenomenon. Their music makes the billboard top 200, not something that can be said of most metal bands, simply by being so much more accessible to non-metalhead listeners. This is exactly what the band surely wants: to spread their church and sound. This is the real Satanic music your parents should be scared of, because it’s so catchy and enjoyable to listen to, and also so popular, it would almost seem that Ghost stands a better chance of spreading that anti-Abrahamic ideology than any black metal band. Teens or kids could easily listen to this stuff and enjoy it without being “introduced” or “developing” a taste for it as with so many other extreme metal sub-genres that really require some gateway bands to fully appreciate and understand musically. Though of course there stands the argument that Ghost appeals to a herd of people, brainwashing them with the pope theatrics, catchy music and the like, in the same manner as a religion, whereas black metal bands remain strictly elitist and anti-religious, making no concessions for accessibility or attempting to “go mainstream”. I think that too is a sound argument; Ghost definitely started with the idea to become a mainstream band as fast as humanly possible. However, all ideological currency and movement aside, Ghost makes great music, which what matters most to me as a listener. The rest is only embellishment.
Ghost’s new album is fantastic, and has taken the band’s previous sound in a new direction without losing any of its charm, melody, or pop appeal. Ghost’s confidence in its fan base and popularity is clearly cemented, as they’ve taken more risks in making some songs far longer than anything found on their debut album. I was particularly surprised by this, but also impressed, as the longer songs never become tedious or disengaging to listen to. Where Opus Eponymous was nocturnal, spooky, gothic, and naturalistic with songs like “Genesis” and references to H.P. Lovecraft’s Shubb-Niggrauth, Infestissumam is a Satanic gospel, a set of religious hymns, and a harkening of Ghost’s followers to the Anti-Christ. Latin and Gregorian chanting abound on this album, as well as plenty of synth, organ, and other gospel music elements. Songs not only have the previously mentioned increase in length, but are also structurally a bit more complicated than most of the songs on Ghost’s debut. I really love the sound developed on this new album, how different it is from its predecessor, yet thematically, theatrically, and musically still inline with the identity constructed on their debut, and through live shows with their Nameless Ghouls and Papa Emeritus personas. The themes of the album remain resolutely entrenched in religious, organized Satanism and the various ideas that come with that, with a specific focus this time around on the Anti-Christ and his manifestation into the material world. Ghost is even offering a “ritual box set” that includes a shirt, butt plug, dildo (in the shape of Papa Emeritus, of course), divorce papers, and more, further edifying the Satanic ideas they strive to represent and spread. The divorce papers are perhaps the most damning object in the set, advocating the dissolution of people’s fidelity and bonds to each other in true animal and Satanic fashion, and that is quite a remarkable statement when also packaged with sex toys.
I’m definitely interested to see where Ghost takes their sound, ideology, and “church” from here. I predict this ideology and sound will only have enough steam in it for another album before the direction it is currently traveling is worn out and becomes more gimmicky and predictable than anything. Hopefully Ghost has the artistry and musicianship to prevent that from happening and the foresight to evolve the band into new frontiers without losing their original appeal. This is more-or-less the same wish that anyone has ever had for any band, but in Ghost’s case it seems particularly possible to malfunction after their next album. Right now they seem to be at their peak and only time will tell if this peak is simply a road to something even higher and more evil.
02) Per Aspera ad Inferi
03) Secular Haze
04) Jigolo har Megiddo
05) Ghuleh / Zombie Queen
06) Year Zero
07) Body and Blood
09) Depth of Satan’s Eyes
10) Monstrance Clock
Written by: Maher S.
Rise Above Records (UK) / 602537331246 / Digi-CD, Deluxe CD
Republic Records (US) / 602537331246 / Digi-CD, Deluxe CD
Universal Music (US) / 602537331246 (CD), 060253734016 (LP) / Digi-CD, 12″ LP
Heavy Metal / Doom Rock