Review Summary: Come ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Ghost (well Ghost B.C. now) is an enigma. I do not mean that in a musical sense, but more in a cultural sense. Music fans and critics throw around terms like "retro" and "throwback" when talking about them. Yes, they harken back to the 70's doom and occult bands like Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath but they embrace and ensorcel that style of music into something sinister and extremely palpable. Jaded hipsters will spout non-stop in regard to how everything has been done before and done better. I feel sad for these people, as they let these asinine notions block their ability to publically enjoy music lest it seem that they lose their "cred". Yes, Ghost borrows heavily from all manner of bands, you will hear everything from Bowie to the Beach Boys on this release. Infestissumam has a lot to love, and little to disregard on it.
Opus Eponymous, the 2010 release from Ghost was somewhat of an indie darling. It was the type of release that you kept hearing about from friends, and friends of friends and eventually checked out (or at least I hope you have). It harkened back to an era of smoky basement recordings and riffs that were genuine in their simplicity, yet atmospherically thunderous. The soft-spoken preacher of the faith, Papa Emeritus added a velvet, luciferous spirit to each track, combining subversive sleazy lyrics with a heartfelt performance. Flash ahead almost three years to 2013. The original Papa is gone from the band (all hail Papa II!) and Ghost slowly starts leaking out new material. Secular Haze is released and a knee jerk reaction from the community is "what the hell". Taken out of context of the entire album, it is easy to see why. The song is different from anything on Opus, and is a gateway to the changes the band unleashes on Infestissumam.
The album starts in a similar fashion to Opus Anonymous. The "title" track Infestissumam is a musical prologue, a funeral march for our walk to hell. Per Aspera Ad Inferi which is roughly translated to "through hardships, to the gods of the underworld" and is the most traditionally "heavy" song on the entire release. It helps set the tone for the record overall though, as yes Ghost is as deeply involved with preaching the words of Satan as ever. After the opening salvo Secular Haze is a haunting transition, like Dante's descent into hell, this is where you as the listener take a step deeper. Jigolo Har Megiddo combines elements of 70's Glam and 80's sleaze into a sing-song melody that will have you tapping along in no time.
Now take a deep breath,
Guleh/Zombie Queen sparks off the best 13 or so minutes of music that you will hear all year. In spirit, the track reminds me of Pink Floyd at their best. Others have said that it brings to mind Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin. The first half of the song is a dark ballad filled with soft-spoken lyrics and fleeting moments of something darker lurking around the corner. Then, when you least expect it the song burst into life, ballad giving way to what can only be described as satanic surf pop. Imagine if the Beach Boys had sung about Satan instead of riding the waves. The chorus is bombastic and oh so catchy. Just when the song(s) finally let you go the sermon that is Year Zero starts up. Ghost sounding like Queen and Black Sabbath took a road trip to hell here, this song combines an absolutely killer riff with excellent rhythm and a sense of evil simplicity that should translate well to a live venue. The album then continues with more of a glam rock vein then before, Body and Blood, Idoltrine and Depth of Satan's Eyes all combine the classic 70's doom/occult rock formula with a darkened version of 80's and 90's sleaze rock. Never does it get as pretentious as the hair metal from that era, but the undertones of bands like Guns and Roses are there for the dedicated listener. Monstance Clock serves as an excellent closer and will have you chanting along and begging for more by the time it is finished.
Immediately, one of the biggest changes on this release is the production. No longer muffled and muted, Ghost comes alive (or maybe dies) with a crisper, more robust sound. While the guitars and bass still keep up everything that made Opus Eponymous great the drums and keyboards have been stepped up quite a bit. Personally, the keyboards/organs are one of the highlights of this release. Never do they become over bearing and are perfectly utilized in each song to add just the right amount of demonic variety to it. Some were worried when Ghost announced the departure of the original Papa. Do not fret, our new preacher is equally skilled, and maybe even more so than his predecessor. Smoother than silk in his delivery, he honestly spits gospel over the entire release, digging deep a few times to add a more sinister presence where needed.
We are left with a release that is wholly satisfying and begging the question of where do they go from here.