Back when the artist-formerly-known-as Ghost released their debut Opus Eponymous on Rise Above in 2010, this mysterious group automatically acquired a wealth of critical acclaim. The praise afforded was not just based on the refreshing music of this Swedish ensemble, but the band’s alluring Satanic aesthetics. The identities of the musicians, or “Nameless Ghouls”, were hidden by black hoods and led by a masked pontiff, Papa Emeritus, who possessed a sickly sweet voice that emitted ‘60s/’70s-inspired pop melodies on top of the Ghouls’ proto-metal riffs.
The mystery surrounding Ghost really captured the imagination of the metal audience and brought us back to a time pre-internet information bombardment and reality TV when we didn’t know, or need to know, when our “celebrities” last had a bowel movement. It also brought us back to what made rock music and, subsequently metal, appealing to us in the first place: the unknown, the aching quest for understanding, and the desire to become part of something subversive; something “wrong”. And because of this excitement around the band created by music fans, musicians and journalists alike — as well as the band’s own antics during interviews and the theatrics of their live-show — Ghost were deemed provocateurs in world where nothing is hidden anymore.
Remarkably, in the lead up to the band’s second full-length and first for Loma Vista Recordings, Infestissumam, the sea has parted a great deal. Ghost B.C., as they are now named (the band had to change their name under threat of legal action), are currently vilified and praised in equal measure. Such a division in appeal is not something that’s specific to Ghost B.C. however, this has always been part of music culture. Whenever a band emerges from the underground to garner mass recognition and applause and lands a lucrative deal with a large label, the knives begin to sharpen. It’s common place for people to turn their back and will a popular band to fail — and often this change in opinion happens without a note of new music being heard.
Infestissumam, then, comes as one of the most anticipated, and possibly revered and reviled, releases of 2013. But beyond all the propaganda, feverish online discussions, name changes and artwork bans, it’s the music that matters most. The music has, to a certain extent, been overshadowed by Ghost B.C.’s theatrical and tongue-in-cheek escapades in the past, but beneath the masks and the hoods lie song-writers who can pen a rousing tune, as “Ritual and “Con Clavi Con Dio” demonstrated on Opus Eponymous. For Infestissumam — which has been produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Deftones) — the pomposity has been increased in terms of prog-rock arrangements and distinctive keyboards swirls, while the hooks are less instantaneous, requiring the listener to pay a penance in order to bear witness to the fruit of Ghost B.C.’s labours. “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” is sign of the band’s progression: an obtuse song coloured by pumping organ and led by Papa Emeritus II, who keens “Oh Satan, devour us”, sweetly during the song’s martial chorus. Yet it’s left to a stirring key change for the song’s final chorus to truly remind us of the pop-talents that made Ghost B.C.’s recently changed name.
It’s an alteration in sound that, at times, does suits the band, but the jovial, camp elements that made the music of the debut such an effortless delight are few and far between, with “Year Zero” and “Monstrance Clock” being the most direct and satisfying. The all inclusive melodies of “Monstrance Clock”, in particular, are good enough to leave you kneeling in adoration, and Infestissumam would have benefited from having more of these Alice Cooper-esque treats throughout. From its gentle prog-rock beginnings with heavy emphasis on piano-led balladry and calming vocal melodies, to the ‘70s psychobilly of the song’s main riff, which leads the way to an evocative, driving conclusion, “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” really stands out as the record’s centrepiece. It’s, by far, the most interesting song Ghost B.C. have written in their short tenure. Unfortunately, the record moves between grandiloquent moments such as this and moments that are conspicuously underwhelming. The lack of hooks during the carnival bizarre that is “Secular Haze” is dumfounding; the song being more slithery than bombastic. And the same can be said for the sleazy “Body and Blood” and the weak glam-pop of “Idolatrine”. These songs, although not bad in the traditional sense of the word, just lack that something special that “Monstrance Clock” and glam-swing of “Jigolo Har Megiddo” have in abundance.
There is no doubt that when it comes to Infestissumam there will be just as many people there to worship as there will to condemn. As the congregation has splintered, there are hopes that this record will turn out to be a complete abomination. But those who want it to be the reason why Ghost B.C. disappears in a cloud of incense from whence they came will be highly disappointed. Even though Infestissumam isn’t a masterpiece by any means, this infernal troupe has written an interesting if not immediate record that while lacking the translucent hooks of its eponymous predecessor, shows that the shrouded conjurers of Ghost B.C. have plenty of tricks left under their black robes.