Besmirching Christianity: Ghost’s Delectable Infestissumam
I can thank Coheed and Cambria for getting me to finally like Ghost. Not in that they sound similar (though they sound more alike than one would think), but how I had to learn to like both bands. When my friends started raving about Second Stage Turbine Blade a decade ago, I didn’t get it. And because they were in breathless rapture at even the mention of Coheed, whatever I didn’t like about them was amplified by the fact that I should like them way more than I did. So I stayed away from them for a few years, and then gave them another shot. And experiencing Coheed and Cambria just for what they were (instead of as emo-prog gods writing transcendental pop punk anthems that finally provided meaning to the rise and set of the sun) I was able to appreciate them. Eventually, I’d come to be as affected by the band as the people who introduced them to me had been (then disinterested a few albums later).
Part of what kept me away from Coheed was that—like power-pop—the likable aspects of their sound seemed too good to be true. No one could possibly write big, emotional pop rock like they do (did?) and pull it off. The same applied to Ghost (BC or whatever): you can’t just jam out Blue Öyster Cult-style spook rock in masks with seemingly-faithful nods to the celluloid horror of the ‘60s and ‘70s and be incredible. I never disliked them, but I found the bipolar opinions surrounding them suffocating. At best, Ghost seemed to be pretty good; at worst, they were forgettable (but still kind of alright). But once I put aside the pressure to love them if I didn’t hate them (and vice versa), I could see through to what they actually did well. They owe as much of what they do to ‘60s garage rock as they do ‘70s occult rock/heavy metal, with all the earworm hooks and snarly riffs that would imply. Ghost are barely a metal band (let alone a black metal band), but are all the better for it. For a metal band to be fun, they need to be taking the piss out of the genre or play to dyed-in-the-wool metalheads and still sound extreme for anyone else listening. Ghost do neither, and produce some fun-but-substantial stuff as a result.
The band’s career trajectory echoes Coheed’s as well (last time I’ll milk this comparison, I swear): Second Stage and Opus Anonymous are big, raw, and yet somewhat intimate takes on what both bands trying to do. In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth: 3, Second Stage Turbine Blade’s follow-up, was a huge, lush, prog-punk document, aiming for the rafters instead of the basement door. And Infestissumam, Ghost’s second album, does its version of the same. The songs are more epic, the production and orchestration heightened to explore the corners left uncombed on Opus, and they generally sound more confident in somehow becoming one of the biggest bands in metal. They’re a hard band not to like, which can come off as offputting to some (including me); Infestissumam’s skill with the former will make it harder for some to remain with the latter.
The first change between the band’s two albums is their songwriting skill: Infestissumam is loaded with memorable songs. The album’s first two singles—the circus rock of “Secular Haze” and the Heavy Metal soundtrack castoff “Year Zero”—are pretty good examples of this. The highs are higher, the lows more varied and meaningful. The epic “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” takes 7 ½ minutes to unfold itself, traipsing through synth-scarred balladry to get to its enormous chorus (augmented by the new wave snap of the verse’s guitars and keyboards). “Body and Blood” and “Jigolo Har Megiddo” finely illustrate the tether between power-pop and glam rock, borrowing the hand claps and the attitude/fey posturing (respectively) from both to make something big and catchy. And I’ve used the word “pop” so many times thus far only partially by accident: Ghost are more ghoulish pop than metal, and that’s fine. They’re good at it in a way that makes them appealing to metalheads (as opposed to being metalheads appealing to people in quirkily large glasses and clever jackets). That difference is what ultimately exonerates them.
All that being said, Ghost are simultaneously bolstered and done in by their commitment to goofiness. When they’re on, they successfully link back to the Puritanical hand-wringing of ‘60s parents at the mere mention of Satan, then mention Satan a bunch of times; when they whiff, like in the raspy openings of “Ghuleh” and “Monstrance Clock,” they’re silly to an extent that borders on a knowing wink (or simply more bad than enjoyably ridiculous). But as both songs rebound early into their running time, Ghost ultimately aren’t done in by their deep arsenal of gimmicks. Infestissumam finds them comfortable enough in what they do to expand their already-adored sound to the cathedral ceilings. But in all their broadening and deepening, they didn’t forget that they need songs to reel people in. The songs here are better, as Ghost/Ghost BC/Repugnant presents Ghost are as well. Ignore the Internet’s black/white, Girls-esque arguments about them. All else aside, Ghost are a solid little occult rock band. If namelessness, anti-popes, and pro-Satan pop songs are what’s going to keep them afloat, so be it.