Review Summary: Are you on the square, are you on the level?
Of any modern Metal band, Ghost seems to be in the most respectable predicament as of late. Despite only having 3 full-length releases, Tobias Forge's main musical juggernaut has seen the band go from cult figures to a metal band getting closer and closer to stardom due to a number of things- the most obvious ones being the band's amusingly controversial image and their throwback sound. The dust seems to have settled on the controversy surrounding the band's satanic shtick and more people seem to be focused on the songs, which is a good thing- last year saw the release of one of the most consistent Metal releases in recent memory, Meliora
. The album worked both as a continuation of the pop sound explored on Infestissumam
but also containing a healthy amount of elements from the band's debut album Opus Eponymous
. Furthermore, the album sounded like a band finally finding their footing and boasted more confidence than ever before- tracks like "He Is" and "Majesty" sounded like more fully realized versions of tracks from their first two albums, whereas "Mummy Dust" and "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" were the blindsiders that proved to us that Ghost is here to stay. And equally interesting is the band's becoming formula of a studio album one year and an EP of covers the next. 2014 showed If You Have Ghost
, centered around a cover of a Roky Ericsson song of the same name, and this year brings us the interestingly titled Popestar
, this time featuring one original song ("Square Hammer") and four covers.
At little over 23 minutes in length, Popestar
shows us an interesting side of the band- one song that's a typical Ghost tune, and four very, VERY unexpected covers. Sure, this is the band who covered an ABBA song unironically, but the genius twist here is that none of these songs are Ghost-like... or metal at all. As far as "Square Hammer" goes, it's one irresistably catchy tune that's what Ghost is all about wrapped in one sweet four-minute package. Beginning with an intro that sounds like an evil, keyboard-led twist on Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman", the song launches into a catchy and upbeat anthem boasting some stellar vocal work from Forge himself and one of the most stupidly catchy choruses in Ghost's entire discography, with the main hook of "Are you on the square/Are you on the level/Are you ready to swear right here, right now, before the devil
" likely to remain in your head for hours after it's done. Again, I can't stress enough how catchy this tune is, and it's hard to imagine anyone not finding this toe-tapping. It's very much what you'd expect from Ghost, albeit with an air of what could be a new direction on the horizon- namely, keyboard at the forefront.
The covers, on the other hand, are where this EP's genius truly shines. The most Ghost-like one on here is "Nocturnal Me", originally done by Echo and the Bunnymen, which, much like "If You Have Ghost", shows the band bringing a darker tone to the track, with an almost gothic feel at times. It seems only appropriate that Ghost would "Ghost-ize" this song of all the choice cuts on this disc, especially with the next three being unlikely choices. The next one is "I Believe", which is unusual in both the sense that it's an almost ambient, soft and voice-led track, and that it's a song from this century- a 2008 choice by Simian Mobile Disco. I haven't heard the original, so I can't speak for how faithful it is, but I do know this version may be among one of my favourite things Ghost has ever done- with only light synths, brushed drumming and Papa's gorgeous vocals leading the way, this is one haunting track that is sure to stay in your head long after the song is over. Next up is "Missionary Man" by the Eurythmics, and it's hard to not love this cover- Ghost get catchier than they ever have the right to be, and it's a joy to listen to. Though Papa's vocals are a tad weird here, it really adds to the bizarre feel of the tune and it would truly be a shame if they didn't play this one live. And last but not least is the true glitch in the Matrix here- it only seemed inevitable that Ghost would go full Gospel, given their truly blasphemous image and thematics, but they do it in the most unexpected way with their cover of Swedish band Imperiet's 1986 single "Bible". That alone is what makes this cover so genius, choosing an overtly religious song for a Satanic band to cover. But even casting that aside, the band's performance with the choir in the background works a lot better than it should, gradually building from a humble beginning to a gorgeous climax. Even removing the cleverness, the cover still works as its own song and pop statement, maybe one of their most accomplished.
does unfortunately signal an impending end to what might be Ghost's most intriguing era so far- Tobias Forge's performance as Papa Emeritus III has brought a new energy and sense of inspiration to the band, and it's also brought the band's most consistently and enjoyable sound yet. Conversely, it also showcases new roads ahead for the band. Even if this is just a disc of covers, the unexpected new directions the band explores are certainly ones that would be welcome coming from a band as talented as them, and as long as they keep churning out fantastic music.