Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ghost - Infesissumam

I’ve given up trying to remain completely up-to-speed on every new rock release, particularly when it comes to titles that have a more mainstream appeal. At the same time, I occasionally come across a band or record that has an amount of popularity large enough to be ashamed that I was completely in the dark about prior to my own exposure.

I “discovered” Ghost just last month at a friend’s house, shortly after he had been exposed to them for the first time. I should probably admit that no one involved in this discovery is under the age of thirty, which is part of the problem. It doesn’t appear that Ghost is the type of band that would even appeal to someone over the age of 30, but more on that a little later.

My first exposure was a video, and based on the quality of it, I wasn’t entirely sure if the entire thing was a gag or if the members of Ghost really did take themselves seriously. There were dudes dressed in robes, their faces completely covered in black masks, and there seemed to be lit candles on the walls. I say "seemed" to be because the video quality looked suspect, like it may have been a college project for someone's Video Production 101 student. I say this with my own experience, having taken Video Production 101 in college and having received a solid B- for my efforts.

 The "video music production" project was a killer; do you know how hard it is matching up pre-recorded audio with people lip-synching the lyrics? So my initial reaction-the costumes, the set, the religious themes, the cheesiness of the video quality-was one of total humor. Of course, it didn’t help that my friend provided a running commentary of the video as it was playing, mostly from the perspective of an outfit that had no clue what they were doing.

 After a long musical introduction, there was a shot of a different perspective. Someone was walking towards the band. There was a lot of fake smoke for him to navigate through.

"Here comes the main dude. He's like the Pope or somethin'" offered my friend.

And sure as shit, a man wearing a more ornate robe than the other members slowly made his way to the place where the other members were performing. He had what appeared to be a Catholic Cardinal's hat on his head and his face was painted in white, eerily resembling a skull.

His name, we discovered after a quick call to Wikipedia on my smart phone, was "Papa Emeritus," or "Papa Emeritus II" after reading about some ridiculous transition of the two characters. I got bored with the story, so I stopped reading and returned to the lol's.

What ended my laughter was the fact that the band’s set for this video shoot contained props that required someone to blueprint and fucking build them.

We’re not talking about a bunch of teenagers slopping together a set for a summer musical production of Pippin, but one in which materials were considered beforehand, purchased and carefully pieced together in an effort that aligned with the band’s curious religious motif, which also must have entailed some serious planning to begin with. After everything was all planned, then someone went down to Just Ask Rentals and put a deposit on a smoke machine.

 We moved to live video footage, and it is at this point where I start to get very curious about this band. There were people actually digging this shit, and while I haven't even begun to discuss what these guys sound like yet, lets just say that it was in no way as aggressive as you would think grown men in robes and religious attire should sound like. I mean, if Kiss can pull out a song as heavy as "Ladies Room," then Ghost should be fucking Slayer in terms of loudness. But no, Ghost is perfectly content with sounding like a summer musical production of Pippin, with a guy doing hammer-ons on his guitar in the background.

 While the live performance was by no means an arena show, it was one from what appeared to be a rather large theatre. And that rather large theatre appeared filled with fans who seemed to know Every. Single. Word.

“These guys aren’t American.” I suggested, not attempting to question the band’s love of freedom.

“Fuck no,” replied my friend. “This has got to be European.” Understanding what I was attempting to relate.

And sure as shit, another cursory search confirmed that Ghost is another fucking band from Sweden, forced to add a “B.C.” to the end of their name because some dumbass American band already used it for their own, while not having the good sense to package their look in anonymous Darth Vader masks while dressing their frontman up to look like a Satanic Cardinal.

The religious imagery is another dead giveaway to the country of origin, because nobody in America gives a shit about religion anymore, and those that do typically hang around the hypocrisy elements. Ghost seem to enjoy the contradictory elements of their Satanic approach rather than focus too much on the church’s history of abuse, control and war.

You know, the same things that most religions attempt to rally against.

Ghost’s approach to this topic is done in such a half-assed manner that you have to believe that any discussion of it gets them tripped up in trying to explain it all. Indeed, most interviews that I’ve seen where the topic is brought up, a member-usually an anonymous minion, since the lead singer is apparently doing double duty as a vocalist by the name of Tobias Forge, a thirty-two year old man who puts fake blood on his face, plays guitar and sings for another metal band called Repugnant. He likes to be called "Mary Goore" when playing in that band. But in Ghost, he's "Papa Emeritus" and he doesn't play a guitar-at least that I know of, I've wasted too many hours in front of a computer screen trying to piece all of this nonsense together.

He just walks around slowly and makes these exaggerated motions that vaguely resemble what a man of the cloth would do. So when the band, mostly the "Nameless Ghouls" that make up Ghost's musical performers, gets cornered into talking about what all of this religious imagery means, they play coy and dish out some printable bullshit about "Satanism" in an almost embarrassing attempt to come off as more heavy than their sound illustrates.

It's working: The dude that turned my friend on to Ghost used the fact that they were “Satanists” as a primary reason to check them out. He's 32 years old and clearly out of this band's targeted age demographic. Then again, so are my friend and I.

So let's cut to the chase: as Satan as my witness, Ghost may be the most improperly marketed band since Kiss roamed the Earth in their costumes, and by that I mean their look completely snookers the fact that they are as sweet as Cool Whip in the mix and about as nutritious.

Ghost's sophomore effort, Infestissumam is the band's major label debut, whatever that means, because they seem to be doing just fine in terms of self-promotion. The rub is how when Ghost plays footsie with things like the anti-Christ, then their marketing power in the States loses traction.

Because as much as we dislike going to church here in the U.S., we sure as shit won't replace it with a bizarro one who's biggest promoter resembles the white-faced demon dude that inhabits Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

And based on the band's pop leanings, one can only assume that worldwide domination is at play here. After all, what possesses a thirty-two year old man to dress like this?

God bless the children of the beast.
There were reports (I wasn’t kidding about my research) that the band wanted Infesissumam to sound like a big budget rock album circa 1978, but the reality is that most rock records from 1978 sound much heavier than this. That fact includes Kiss’ Destroyer album, a record that Ghost would seem greatly indebted to on the surface while musically, the pairing is notably much different. This isn’t to suggest that Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter are better musicians than the Nameless Ghouls that play in Ghost (they aren’t) but they certainly have their roots directly in the same soil as rock and roll’s expansive family tree.

Ghost, on the other hand, pull from the same amount of European classical elements as they would from Detroit rock city, leaving Infestissumam a confusing blend of metal, pop, and Johan Helmich Roman influences.

The guitars are mixed low, as are the drums and any other hint of real metallic aggression. Keyboards and frequent religious chants (some in Latin, or at least a reasonable facsimile) are the formula here, along with endless meanderings about religious topics seemingly derived from Cliff’s Notes pocket bibles and Catholic worship inserts. Side two begins with chants of "Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer ... Hail Satan, Archangelo," which probably mean as much to Ghost as their made-up word "Idolatrine."

My guess is that they were attempting to be clever with that one, combining the word "Idolatry" (which Infestissumam qualifies as) and the word "latrine" (ditto) in an attempt to suggest, I dunno, Piss Christ, maybe? There’s nothing offensive about such lines like “Idolatrine for the imbeciles” unless you’re smart enough to figure out that you are exactly the kind of imbecile they were referring to.

I’d actually have a modicum of respect for Ghost if their intention was a bit malicious, but based on other examples throughout the record, it appears they’re just pulling things out of their ass and, when that is too much of a challenge, making shit up. Literally. For “Depth Of Satan’s Eyes,” the lyricist cobbles together such nonsense like “The swamp of feces that is the word/Flatuates a whirlwind storm in which you swirl," while not even managing to enunciate the word "feces" properly.

I'll betcha it sounds even dumber in their native language, and I'll betcha that Ghost begins backing off the Satanic jive when they realize just how much money they're leaving on the table because of the baggage that comes with it.

Until that time, Ghost remains nothing more than a visual curio-a band that I would actually pay to see if they came through my hometown because, let's face it, this concept only works in relation to the detail that went into this production from day one.

Musically, Ghost suffer from that lack of excitement on record. It becomes lost in its garbled message and mainstream gloss, coming off like the entitled sons of Uriah Heep who listen to as much EDM as they did Demons and Wizards.

The irony is that most of Infestissumam's best tracks are the ones that shy away from the band's supposed heavy lineage. "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" starts out as a nice progressive piece before unexpectedly transforming into a nifty surf-rock bit.

"Monstrance Clock," the record's closer, also hangs around the softer side of Satan while, more importantly, finally finding a winning chorus after practically avoiding any sense of melody for the first forty minutes of the record.

Tellingly, the discussion of Ghost seems to have gone beyond the credibility of their musical legacy to one that acknowledges its limitations before going straight to the band's worth in bringing in, ahem, new converts to metal.

To be honest, I'm not sure that I see how relevant that discussion even is, given the sheer lack of metal that Ghost seems to be portraying on Infestissumam. Is as if these people are looking for a reason to justify what ultimately is a guilty pleasure. There is nothing more compelling to Ghost than what you see visually, and if you're like me-(well) over thirty and obsessing about a band that put together an image before a note was even created, then you should be old enough to admit that your fascination is beyond anything they've put to wax.

Liking Ghost is not only being able to laugh at the sheer ridiculous of their gimmick, but also acknowledging that their shtick only works as live theater. Because the sound of their recorded service only demonstrates the gaping holes in their endlessly promoted book of worship.


actuallythatsnotchocolate said...

New fan, first-time poster. Thought I'd show my gratitude for this genius site by making an oppositional posting. I'm charming that way.

We clearly like much of the same music. I was ready to be your bitch after your Bon Scott columns; after reading your work about Accept/Udo, I went ahead & bought a gimp suit. It's a little tight.

I'm not as well-read on Ghost as you are; then again, I don't have a blog. The common connection that many have made is with early 70's BOC….& I would agree with that. My halcyon days of limos & cocaine used old BOC for a soundtrack.

Now for a guy like you who was (very appropriately) publicly respecting the Angry Samoans, I'm trying to figure out your tone re: Ghost BC. I'm 50 years old. I think they're cute.

Their schtick doesn't bother me in the least; I like it. I don't try to over-analyze it. Maybe they just want to stick out. Maybe its a Nordic-pagan thing. Or good taste in robes. To me, it's non-boring, & that's good enough.

I can't describe their music as well as you, but I can say a few things. It has a circus atmosphere. Timing changes. Dissonance & melody. Sure its over the top & doesn't make too much sense, but take a look at some of those early BOC lyrics…..

Maybe I just like it because it makes my children cry.

Anyway, I think you have an extraordinary site, which I found on lark. Peace out.

actuallythatsnotchocolate said...

And seeing as you also like the Beatles……& in the event you didn't see this in your research…below is a link to Ghost covering "Here comes the sun". I just love it.

Todd Totale said...

It took me over a month to post the Infesissumam review because I kept playing it over and over - trying to determine why I would continue to listen to a record while publically panning it. Then I realized that there were only three songs on the record that I kept repeating-ironically the most pop influenced tracks. "Monstrance Clock" became played enough that my children have been scolded by their mother for singing "Come together for lucifer's son." And because I haven't been able to stop listening to it, my daughter continues to sing along,cleverly changing the words to "Come together, together in the sun" to avoid drama with her mother. A friend of mine also made the comparison to BOC and urged me to pick up Ghost's debut. I just bought it on vinyl and threw in a Ghost t-shirt in the shopping cart for good measure. This clearly demonstrates that I enjoy Ghost's schtick and their music more than what this review would indicate. My cousin told me about the Beatles cover too-love it. And the new Roky Erickson cover is pretty fucking sweet too. Thanks for stopping by while browsing the internets and thanks for your comments.

actuallythatsnotchocolate said...

Thank you for the generous & well-conceived reply. With your permission, please allow me to continue exploring your extraordinary site.