We won’t know until June when the Sabbath album comes out but good odds would go to Ghost, who out-Sabbathed Sabbath on its debut, Opus Eponymous.
Ghost is a real enigma. Their image is full on Satan: The band plays in black masks and robes, so you don’t know who they are, and the singer, Papa Emeritus, is in full papal gear including pointy hat and vestments, but with an angry skull mask obscuring his face. Both of their albums feature for example what sound like Gregorian chants but of course are topically a bit different.
I would have passed over this in two seconds if the music wasn’t so damn good. The Opus album is insane – there is not a bad track on it. Very melodic and far more Blue Oyster Cult than Disfigured Prostitute (yes that is a real band). The songs are total earworms. Great arrangements, layered vocal harmonies, even the odd synth part for dressing.
Yes, Ghost is the Schoolhouse Rock of Satanic music. Instead of singing about conjunction junction, you walk around singing “come together, together as one, come together, for Lucifer’s son.” Brilliant strategy if these guys are serious, Spinal Tap funny if they are not. Either way, they win.
So the new album, Infestissumam. It’s not as strong as Opus. If there were three tunes chopped out of it, it would stand side by side. But as it is, there are some songs that are shockingly too sing-songy and catchy and they just don’t work.
However, the songs that DO work are incredible. Secular Haze, Year Zero, and Monstrance Clock stand out, as does the pretty classic take on the ABBA song I'm a Marionette. The song Jigolo Har Megiddo sounds like it came right off of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Covering ABBA makes me think these guys are just riding this devil thing for a laugh (the Swedish bands have to stick together, right?), as does the impression that Monstrance Clock is probably a play on “Monsterous Cock.” I can see that as something someone said on the tour bus and was immediately turned into a song. It is about the conception of the devil’s son after all. I read an interview where one of the 'nameless ghouls' in the band (that is what they call themselves) said it's a little bit like Iron Maiden, except that in Ghost, Eddie (Maiden's zombie mascot) sings all the songs. Could not have said it better myself.
The other thing I find interesting is that the singer, Papa Emeritus, is now called Papa Emeritus II. Not sure if he died between albums and was replaced by a new guy. It was also funny that I got an email from Ghost last year asking me to vote for Papa when the Vatican was electing the new Pope. I did. Not sure it did any good…
So the album is good – some strong stuff. A few days after it came out, I saw the band live in Portland (last week). This was my third time seeing them. Last time, my buddy Dave and I drove three hours to Seattle to watch them play for 30 minutes, and then we drove back home. That is how much I like this band.
With the new album they are able to play a nice, 70 minute set that is chock full of great songs and theater. The best five or six new songs blend perfectly with the bulk of Opus, still in the set list.
I didn’t know the new album very well when I saw them but it didn’t matter. I immediately liked the songs they chose to play live.
There were rumors that the band took a massive advance when they signed to their label and there were a lot of concerns the music would suffer as the record label became increasingly eager to make its money back. But I hope Ghost is in it for the long game.
They are building a following by touring over and over, and a little bit like KISS, the mystique doesn’t hurt. My wife’s cousin and her husband, who do NOT generally go for this kind of music, proactively went to the show in Seattle the day after my Portland show. They were impressed. And if a mellow Dead Head can be impressed by Ghost, anyone can!
Below are a few photos from the Portland gig, plus a video for Secular Haze. Again, the fact that the video has Ghost on what looks like an Ed Sullivan-era sound stage cracks me up. Enjoy.