Monday, April 15, 2013

Ghost - Infestissumam (2013)

The Nameless Ghouls of Swedish avant metal band Ghost, fronted by Papa Emeritus, aren't going to get their own signature guitar series, or appear on the cover of a Wheaties box. The enigmas, who routinely perform live in druid robes, are faceless musicians, playing the sort of bizarre, off the path metal that many gravitate towards for a change of pace. Having garnered unequaled amounts of attention in their opening role on the Mastodon/Opeth tandem tour in 2012, it seemed as though the clock was ticking down to the release of their second album, and follow-up to 2010's "Opus Eponymous." Sure enough, details began to emerge of a ten track album, with controversial artwork; so much so that several major distributors refused to print the album. With the publicity that controversy brings, and an Abba cover reportedly prepared, the wait for "Infestissumam" has finally come to an end. And your ears may never be the same.

The beautiful, powerful chanting of the title track, "Infestissumam," opens the album with a bang. The choir of voices are joined quickly by a crushing drum beat and rumbling low end. This isn't an intro or interlude, but a jump start. So by the time the first notes of "Per Aspera ad Inferi" are played, you have already reached maximum speed. The airy crooning in the verse is flanked on all sides by an intense instrumental. Guitar and bass are the driving force here, but each crack of the snare drum adds fuel to the flame. It is the versatility in the vocal lines that makes the track more rich, though the use of keys and synthesizers certainly adds depth to the mix. The true challenge here, though, is to remain seated, feet on the floor and hands at your sides during the massive outro. And while "Secular Haze" served as the first single for the album, it is anything but watered down radio filth. Instead, you get a song that is characteristically Ghost; both off center and eclectic. The instrumental has you believing you have been transported to a bizarre carnival, while the vocals remain delicately melodic and comforting. The bass work here is key, forming the backbone of the track at large. The same could be said for "Jiggalo Har Megiddo," which boasts a certain degree of funk that is both a surprise and a victory. It becomes an example of how psychedelia and metal match perfectly, in a fractured harmony of stomping drums and organ melodies.

But if being thrown off balance is your cup of tea, "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" might be the track of the year. Piano, light drum taps and a hazy vocal harmony open things, moving quickly to a segment that could be treated like an unreleased Beatles b-side. Where it goes from here is yet another reminder that Ghost march to the beat of an entirely different drummer. The circus returns to town, baring a strong resemblance to late 70's prog and modern surf rock; at the same damn time. That unique style of chanting returns on "Year Zero," with a pulsing bass line doing the bulk of the lifting. You would be hard pressed to find a band that matches the intensity on display around the minute and a half mark, laying down an expansive and altogether packed mix. The power of the track itself is rivaled only by the conviction and strength with which it is delivered. And just when you think you are in for a final minute pummeling, it all cuts away, leaving a trail of static behind. Plucked strings, ones that could be used as the backdrop to a cartoon character tip toeing, set the wheels of "Body and Blood" into motion. There is a smoothness to the delivery here that leaves the track feeling like a rock opera waiting to happen. It still provides a fair deal of amazement when someone can sing so sweetly, with the lyrics so blood soaked.

By now, you would fully expect that there are no surprises to be had, and that you've heard it all. Yet as you digest "Idolatrine" in all it's glory, you may find your mind drifting to skipping through a flowery field, hand in hand with that special someone. The child like playfulness on display here is almost disgusting, but when paired with lyrics that call out secular religions, it is a match made in Hades. The 70's era love rock that you are bombarded with becomes a vessel for their message, spilling the word "simpletons" out trippingly. That progressive psychedelia that seems so strange comes back in full force on "Depth of Satan's Eyes," which seems to become a love song about finding the strong embrace of the devil. The melodies are at an infectious high by this point, with guitar, bass, drum, and keyboards coming together in lock step with one another, carrying you along on their serpentine patterns. In the pecking order of closing tracks, "Monstrance Clock" is certainly in the top tier. It manages to round out the album with a great deal of thought and care. Rather than give you a rousing "just kidding" and hit you with something conventional and dull, Ghost instead take their creative juices to the next level and then some. Not only will the song fill your brain matter for damn near forever, but it will make you question your musical choices.

I will readily admit that after my first experiences with Ghost and their taste for the theatrical, I wasn't sold on their musical prowess. It seemed to be the same old thing, dressed up in fancy costumes to look new. And perhaps the songs on 2010's "Opus Eponymous" did little to persuade me. But somewhere between tracks one and ten here, I found my opinion changing; not just of the band, but my opinion of my own opinion. There is something about this album that managed to bend the very fabric of my mind, and convince me that not only is "Infestissumam" a worthy album, but one that could become a regular in any metal fans rotation. They've gone out on a limb all their own, delivered a style that no modern metal band could recreate, and done it with a flashy physical appeal that makes them a live venue terror. The only reservation left to overcome is whether or not this will become a one-off venture into the weird and bizarre, or if this is the future of Ghost as a band. Either way, when this circus comes to town, I suggest you go.


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1 comment:

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