No names, no faces, no identities, a ghoulishly papal stage presence & 2 albums….and we have Sweden’s Ghost. There’s been much hype surrounding their sophomore effort Infestissumam (Latin for hostile), and none of it appears to be self-propagated. The metal community seems to have gone bananas over it for whatever reason and praise for them/it has spread like wildfire on the back of their unique live shows.
So what’s a reviewer to do when presented with “the next big thing”? Why, pick it up and put it to the critical sword of course!
First of all…this album is barely what I’d call metal. There are elements of it; a couple of chugging Metallica-esque riffs here and there and occultist lyrical themes, but for a band which has been erroneously (and presumably unwillingly) branded as “Doom Metal” this album has some real surprises in store.
The record opens with the short title track….beginning with some A capella vocal harmonies which border on Gregorian chants….(a theme that is repeated throughout the album at various stages), but it quickly morphs into the pulsating atmospheric hard rock of “Per Aspera ad Inferi”.
Within minutes of listening, you realize that this is really something different. Lead vocalist (and the only member with a “name”) Papa Emeritus sings completely cleanly….not a hint of screaming, growling or grunting, just a clear melodic tone with the odd “death whisper” thrown in. He’s ably backed by the rest of the group (known only as “Nameless Ghouls”) who provide some frankly quite breathtaking vocal harmonies. This is not metal as we know it.
Adding to the already magnificently twisted mood of gothic pop-metal, are the baroque drawbar organ, piano & synth sounds created by…er…a nameless ghoul, which (combined with the fantastic vocal harmonies & black lyrical themes) sends some of the songs spiralling into a marvellous otherworldly horror-fantasia occupied by ghostly figures, disembodied voices, gothic-sexy zombie queens, malevolent monstrance clocks and ol’ Satan himself!
As if the undead-chic mood already generated by this work wasn’t enough, the song arrangements and instrumental performances are first rate. All the nameless ghouls have put in a terrific effort here; some of the guitar riffs are mesmerizing and the chord progressions/song arrangements are reminiscent of ABBA, Beethoven and Slayer simultaneously!
One minute you’re rocking out to a metal riff, the next humming along to a nice vocal harmony, dancing to a disco beat, grooving to a twangy surf guitar….hang on…surf…disco…what IS this music?? All this often occurs within the one song without the band arbitrarily genre hopping…it’s all blended seamlessly together and that is the genius of Infestissumam.
It’s possibly a little dark for the squeakiest of pop fans and a little too lightweight for some hardened death metal/grind fans, but this album….this band is damned impressive. A couple of the tracks begin a little stutteringly with some odd vocal sibilance and slightly awkward lyrics, but really, that’s the only minor complaint…and I had to really nit-pick to come up with that!
All the tracks stand out in their own right. They’re all catchy, brooding and ethereal, but the songs that will move you the most are the bizarre circus sideshow dementia of “Secular Haze”, the evolving, distorting blackened groove of “Depth of Satan’s Eyes”, and the albums centrepiece…both figuratively and literally; The 7 minute epic “Ghouleh/Zombie Queen”. An empyreal monolith of a track which possesses an exquisitely progressive arrangement and one of the most uplifting epic choruses I’ve heard for a long, long time.
A band of nameless ghouls led by a blasphemous gypsy-inversion of the pope produced THIS album? Whatever your real names Ghost….congratulations. Infestissumam is both hauntingly brilliant and unique.