Finally, corpsepaint everyone can enjoy

Let’s get one thing straight: Sweden practically invented metal and corpsepaint (black-and-white metal makeup), and after all the time they’ve put in, they’re entitled to do whatever they want with it.

© Ghost
Photo © Ghost

Let’s get one thing straight: Sweden practically invented metal and corpsepaint (black-and-white metal makeup), and after all the time they’ve put in, they’re entitled to do whatever they want with it.

Now, after constant retooling of the genre, the Swedes have once again changed the game. You might ask, “What can they do to metal to amplify its intensity?” It’s a good question and not without answers—one of which is Ghost, who are pushing the envelope in the metal genre.

If you’ve ever seen photos of Swedish metal band Ghost, you may think that they’re not pushing the envelope: Ghost is composed of some weird-looking folks in religious-looking costumes. Yes, there’s plenty of white-and-black makeup. Yes, the singer wears some manner of sacrilegious papal hat.

However, beyond all the satanic imagery, Ghost sounds nothing like anyone would expect. Despite that, Ghost is revered in metal circles.

Your first clue is the fact that all your crusty friends are talking about this record, Infestissumam, and the last one, Opus Eponymous. Surely this is metal. Well, kind of.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Ghost is a rock band. The band hardly resembles metal at its most aggressive, and there isn’t anything resembling a scream uttered on Infestissumam.

Sure, there are lots of lyrics about various forms of Satan on this record, which makes the music the only component that isn’t soul-reavingly metal. This band will get you in trouble with your Christian friends, but it sounds
like Rush.

Truthfully, this is Ghost’s evil master plan: It’s the ultimate middle finger to Christianity. It infiltrates, squats, then betrays. The music is simply too good to dismiss as “another metal record.” The songwriting is top-notch—your father would probably find no faults in Ghost’s music—and the hooks are surprisingly organic.

Outside of the blatant fact that this isn’t “Tom Sawyer” or “Limelight,” and that that isn’t Geddy Lee’s voice, you’d have a hard time convincing a casual Rush fan that this isn’t a brand new Rush record. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s not too far off base. Make no mistake, though, Ghost is still pretty metal.

In fact, the opening and closing tracks feature a full choir, which returns, just for good measure, halfway through the album, for “Year Zero.” The chanting speaks of Beelzebub and other satanic knick-knackery but, even without clear enunciation, it’s not hard to derive the gist of it all.

Ghost’s frontman, Papa Emeritus II, is a truly gifted vocalist. His range is found all over Infestissumam, and he never seems out of his element on any track. From soaring vocal lines to soft, cooing hooks, Emeritus never falters.

His style might put you off if you were expecting ghastly snarls and bloodcurdling screams. The record, and Emeritus himself, are not like that at all, and admittedly, the style takes some getting used to. Make no mistake, though—the experience is a rewarding one.

The band, composed of several individuals credited in bulk as “Nameless Ghouls,” is also exceedingly tight, though it ventures into some pretty seedy territory outside the already broad scope of the record.

By track three, “Secular Haze,” it becomes abundantly clear that Infestissumam is a very special album. On the track, carnival organs play a soundtrack to an acid-burning haze, while the guitars take a backseat. The melodies are so good, though the incessant downbeat throughout the track might unnerve some listeners.

However, it is this pounding rhythm that keeps the vibe just awkward enough that a man in a corpsepainted pope getup singing over circus-flavored classic rock isn’t that out of place.

When whispers are part of your vocal repertoire and you can employ them perfectly, the music is guaranteed to be dynamic. Ghost has dynamics in spades. Nothing about Infestissumam is predictable or by-the-numbers.

Remember that part about the seedy territory in which Ghost finds itself from time to time? Mostly, I’m referring to track five, “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” in which the listener might find something a little odd, something that has no place on a metal record, no matter how unconventional.

Yes, there’s a surf part in the middle. Does it work? Sort of. This is Sweden, of course, and though Emeritus is capable of much, Dick Dale emulation ain’t it.

Loma Vista Recordings
Out April 16
★ ★ ★ ★

While the track eventually picks up, it never fully sheds the surf vibe. The songwriting is still good—even in these trying times—but when you’re working with source material that’s woefully out of place, it’s tough to make something out of nothing.

And while the songwriting is all aces, it would be nice to see a return to aggressiveness at some point on Infestissumam; before long it seems like the songs get softer and softer.

While the aggression was certainly never the focus of the album, there is none to be found later on, which leaves the listener wondering if the earlier heavy flourishes were representative of Ghost’s focus or if they were consequences of writing music in Sweden while dressed as the pope’s evil twin.

Though there are some missteps, such as “Year Zero” not being the album’s closer as it should, Infestissumam still strongly satisfies. The last track, though, “Monstrance Clock,” is solid but mostly unsatisfying.

The record does end with a choir singing about coming together over Lucifer’s son, however, and all becomes right in the metal kingdom.