The last time I wrote about the Swedish sensation known as Ghost, I stated that the less I thought of them as a metal band, the more I found myself enjoying them. Their debut album Opus Eponymous was released on a metal label (Rise Above/Metal Blade) and featured distorted guitars, but was at its core a pop album; those vocal harmonies were more about The Beach Boys than Mercyful Fate, and the songs themselves were saccharine odes to Satan so addictive that I imagined even Pat Robertson’s wrinkly old Dungeons & Dragons-hating ass would have a hell of a time keeping them out of his head if he were ever exposed. Indeed, Ghost were an anomaly in the metal world; a band that praised Lucifer with the best of them, but did so in a way that actually stood a chance of sending the average joe or jane down ye olde left hand path.
Now signed to a subsidiary of Universal Music, Ghost have returned with Infestissumam, an album that sees the band largely eschewing all vestiges of heavy metal in favor of fully establishing themselves as the world’s first (to my knowledge) Satanic pop group. Indeed, the band’s cover of ABBA’s “I’m a Marionette,” (I’d love to hear them take on some other covers, specifically “Wouldn’t it Be Nice?” and “Fox on the Run”) which appears as a bonus track on the deluxe version of Infestissumam is telling; Ghost are not interested in convincing small groups of unwashed heshers to hail the Horned One, rather they’re out to entice the masses. Now, the question of whether the quartet’s reverence unto the Dark Lord is legitimate or merely a gimmick designed to move units is a matter of debate, but certainly if one is to judge them strictly on LaVeyan terms, they are far more Satanic than any black or death metal band ever could be, precisely because they have the potential to reach an extremely broad audience.
Tracks such as “Year Zero” “Body and Blood” and “Ghuleh / Zombie Queen” are ridiculously catchy, but they’re also coated in a haze of ’60s/’70s psychedelia; it’s easy to imagine the Manson Family-esque hippies of I Drink Your Blood getting weird to Ghost. It’s part pop, part opium dream and part Rosemary’s Baby, and it’s front-to-back one of the most downright infectious albums I’ve ever heard in any genre. Ghost proved their craftsmanship from the very beginning with Opus Eponymous, but on Infestissumam they’ve infused their songwriting with more depth, substance and nuance, all without forsaking the keen pop sensibility that brought them to the Devil’s dance in the first place.
Of course, no discussion of Ghost is complete without making mention of their flare for the theatrical; they appear on stage as anonymous members of a Satanic clergy led by a Pope-like figure known as Papa Emeritus II. Infestissumam as an album actually manages to sound as striking and dramatic as the band’s appearance, thanks to layers of synths, choirs and lead vocal harmonies juxtaposed against very minimal rock instrumentation. Take for instance lead-off single “Secular Haze;” the track carries a demented carnival music vibe, but there are some gnarly garage rock riffs lurking just below the surface to keep things from getting too over-the-top. Elsewhere, Ghost peels off numbers that sound like they could’ve come from the soundtrack to a broadway musical about the apocalypse, such as “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” and “Monstrance Clock,” as well as full-on Brian Wilson worship on “Jigolo Har Megiddo” and the aforementioned “Ghuleh / Zombie Queen” (the latter complete w/ some tasty surf guitar licks). This pairing of a stripped-down guitar/bass/drums foundation and grandiose orchestration to fill in the remaining space isn’t new to music, but Ghost do it in such a way that it comes off as both sugary sweet and frightfully sinister.
In just three years, Ghost have grown by leaps and bounds, blossoming into something far beyond the silliness of the “occult rock” movement they were unfairly lumped in with when they first appeared. Given the band’s rapid ascendance, there will no doubt be naysayers and backlash galore, but metalheads that can unplug themselves from the internet hive long enough to let the Devil in will find much to enjoy within the unholy confines of Infestissumam. Whether or not the diabolical psych-pop perfection they’ve achieved here will translate into spreading their master’s malevolent word to the general populace remains to be seen, but given the excellence on display here, as well as their commitment to touring and major label backing, I’d say there’s a very good change that 2013 may very well be Year Zero.