As soon as Ghost swarmed out of the depths of Linköping, Sweden, in 2010 with their retro occult album Opus Eponymous, the metal community came running. Not only was the band’s underground blend of Mercyful Fate riffs and Blue Oyster Cult melodies instantly appealing, its evil shtick was too goofy to ignore. Fronted by Papa Emeritus II, a cryptic skull-faced vocalist in a pope costume, and backed by musicians who all went under the moniker “Nameless Ghoul,” Ghost were a Satanic Spinal Tap with crafty, infectious songs they clearly sold their souls for the ability to write unforgettable songs.
Vocal praise from Down’s Phil Anselmo, Metallica’s James Hetfield and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl followed and Ghost, despite their blatantly Satanic lyrics, were soon in the center of a bidding war. By the end of Walpurgis Night, they were picked up by Universal, who recruited Nick Raskulinecz (Alice In Chains, Deftones, Rush) to produce the band’s second album.
Ghost (who by then had to add “B.C.” to the end of their name to avoid confusion with another Ghost), have chosen this moment to stretch their musical boundaries far beyond the metal underworld. Despite its bleak atmosphere and epic structures, the album is ultimately more classic rock (think Blue Oyster Cult and Jethro Tull) and proggy pop (early Genesis and Marillion) than metal. There’s no question it’s far more accessible than Opus Eponymous, featuring only a few riffs that could really quality as headbanger-worthy. That said, there’s plenty here that’s thoughtful, provocative and heavy, and the way Ghost B.C. combine influences throughout Infestissumam is uncanny.
The album opens with the title track, which features a harmonized choral arrangement atop pounding drums, sustained organ chords and simple guitar lines that propel the song and suggest from the start that this is going to be an unusual offering. “Perverted are your wishes and dreams/ Tanning in Lucifer’s beams…Oh Satan devour us, hear our desperate call,” Papa Emeritus II sings in “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” in a voice equal parts Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. As sinister as Ghost B.C.’s lyrics are, the vocals never rise to the level or rage or even sound particularly evil.
Much of the album sounds both exotic and demented: Calliope keyboards yield to church organ runsm and classic rock riffs melt into pure pop confection. On “Jigolo Har Meggido” the band blends retro harpsichords, glam beats and proggy rhythms with euphoric, jaunty melodies that sound like The Sweet by way of Strawberry Alarm Clock.
But their most alarming and brilliant moment comes in “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a seemingly sincere eight-minute-30-second long love song to the undead. Following a plangent piano intro, the song evolves with a pop melody reminiscent of Air Supply, then zig-zags into a quirky hook redolent of the B-52′s. Before it’s over, the song has ricocheted from Gabriel-era Genesis pomposity to Dick Dale surf guitar twang to Deep Purple euphoria. Wilder still are the lyrics: “Up From the Stinking Dirt/ She rises ghastly pale/ Shapeshifting soon, but now she’s rigid, stiff and stale.” As absurd as Ghost BC can get, their hooks are thoroughly hypnotic and by the end of the song we’ll be damned if you’re not chanting “Zombie Queen, Zombie Queen/ Black, white guides you, Guleh, Guleh!”
Ghost B.C.’s blatantly Satanic content is likely far too extreme for commercial radio and the crowd usually drawn to such content may be dismayed by the band’s departure from their metal roots. But for those who value strong, unique songs regardless of genre or lyrical content, Infestissumam is more illuminating that 100 burning Bibles.