Album art is brilliant; serving both as an homage to a classic movie poster (as a MetalSucks reader apparently points out) and a wonderful representation of what they are performing. Papa Emeritus II (he had to change it because of Pope Benedict becoming Papa Emeritus) rising over the St. Peter’s Square in which a masked infant brings its foot to his lips in straw, like Jesus in his manger bed. Down to the hagiography of a Saint clad in a halo of sun, this is perfect representation of the band’s aims.
Okay, so Ghost burst onto the scene in 2011. Opus Eponymous nailed retro styled shock rock to a “T,” even down to the clearly plotted and planned reversal of everything religious. It was as if Anton La Vey begged this band to write that album, at least thematically. At the same time, the songs were good and Ghost was hyped. A brilliant mix of theatrics, music, and blasphemy, they are perhaps not metal in the purest sense of sound or gravity; however, they are very much pioneers in this sort of multimedia approach to the modern scene.
For the uninitiated, Ghost is a Swedish band whose shtick is simple. Take the Catholic Church, turn everything that their structure and organization are about and flip it on its ear, and replace God with Satan in these themes. The band closely and jealously guards their identities. Their lead singer, Papa Emeritus II, wears a perversion of the papal garb, cloaked in black and upside down crosses. His face is painted to mirror a skull. The backing band consists of the Nameless Ghouls, all of whom wear monastic garb with black masquerade masks. Lest all this be misinterpreted grossly, realize that this is performance art and that this is a joke for those that can recognize it.
So I’ve waxed for three paragraphs on their style. The big question after their debut album is simple: can they match the hype with substance?
Infestissumam translates to “Hostile” in English. Like Opus Eponymous (in which the point of the sermon was to define and name the band), the album comes across very much as a Mass. The first track greets you with Gregorian styled chants as a call to worship or prayer before ringing the church bells and bringing you in to rich, down-tuned retro styled guitar rock. Its processional is “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” (Passing through Hell) that greets its listener with ringing church bells and a march style beat before devolving in the Carnival-esque “Secular Haze” that seems be the defining measure of the album’s lyric themes. It is the invocation of the spirit as it were.
“Jigolo Har Megiddo” feels like it pounces in right after this and is the cleric giving his witness to the faithful. The buzzing guitars evoke Blue Oyster Cult or Black Sabbath and the tone reminds of Queens of the Stone Age or even Prong. Fuzzy, warm toned, and hard edged, but always straight forward. “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” is probably the hardest hitting song off the album without being the heaviest. It is a long song to a ghoul in which Papa Emeritus II’s cleanly sung, haunting voice rings over gentle tones.
“Year Zero” recalls the Gregorian chants, this time of the Lieutenants of Satan. It is the expectation of faith as promised by the Spirit where in the lyrics construct a very bleak argument: “Since dawn of time the fate of man is that of lice equal as parasites and moving without eyes” whose summation is made with “since fate of man is equal to the fate of lice, as the new dawn rises you shalt recognize, now behold the Lord of Flies!” It is bombastic and powerful where the humming guitars are emphasized against the voice and the ringing bells.
Songs one through six are perfect in their composition in the face of the theme. They rock and rock hard, are straight forward and extreme in lyrical content, and powerful in tone. “Body and Blood” is a play off the transmutation of Christ in communion and creeps in with muted guitar strings, contrasting the miracles of Christ to the darkness of Satan. Ultimately, this song is the weakest on the album because it seems to amble and loses the focus of the previous six that constantly snake your attention. “Idolatrine” rips your attention back and is best described as evil Beach Boys’ style surf rock. “Depth of Satan’s Eyes” feels little filler content, to be honest. It’s good classic sounding rock, but I find it on the level of “Body and Blood”.
“Monstrance Clock” is a brilliant finisher in both theme and sound. I find it to be one of the most experimental songs on the album with a whining and groaning string section contrasting the voice. Thematically, it is perverting the idea of the eucharistic host coming into the body of the faithful in Catholicism. The voice is haunting and thoughtful, echoing triumph in others.
Ultimately, you are not looking for subtlety with Ghost. That is not their vein musically; they intend to make music that could easily (if not for lyrical content) be consumed over the radio. Yet, they are more extreme than a large number of bands whose music howls and whose voices shriek. Infestissumam lives up to the hype and more, taking their sound and their performance forward. It is an amazingly great piece of performance art and genuinely is worth the ride and attention. It is to be taken seriously as art, and to me is very tongue in cheek. As always when it comes to anything of this nature, please do not take the views or words of an artist whose expression is to run countercurrent to cultural structure as anything by which to define your life or your codes. This is fun evil music. Enjoy it; don’t live it.