The long version:
This is either the greatest album ever made, the worst album ever made, the greatest Tenacious D album never made, or all of the above. My vote is for “all of the above.” Infestissumam is hooky, melodic, rocks hard in places, and thanks to the abundance of Satan funny as hell (literally, I suppose). Before we dig into their major label debut, though, I think we need to quickly level set.
Sweden is the world leader in death metal. Like pretty much everything else, America has fallen way behind in the Satanic arpeggios industry, and the Swedes have flourished. If you need a piece of knockdown furniture, some horse meatballs, and an insane sounding album of crunchy guitars and Satanic lyrics, Sweden is your place.
I’ve never been a real fan of death metal; in fact, my criticism of the heavy metal genre in general is that since The Big Four (Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth) drove a Flying V through the heart of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, metal has grown consistently less musical. Songs were replaced by speed, attitude, and Cookie Monster vocals, and I pretty much checked out — not completely, mind you, but pretty much.
Nu Metal didn’t help matters much. Korn, Slipknot, and the like cracked me up, and not in a good way (full disclosure: Slipknot live was a true experience: A Lynchian nightmare at 110 decibels). As a long time card carrying member of The Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam I felt betrayed by the genre to which I’d dedicated my adolescence.
I’ll never forget bringing home Blue Oyster Cult’s Some Enchanted Evening, for example, and firing up the 8-track deck. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” was fresh produce then, and all that death weaving around Eric Bloom’s gentle vocal and Buck Dharma’s thoughtful guitar figure was spookier than anything Marilyn Manson ever produced.
Arguably, BOC wasn’t really metal but Album-Oriented Rock, or AOR, home to bands like April Wine who spun eerie tales like “Sign of the Gypsy Queen.” My point is simply this: throughout the seventies and early eighties, mysticism of one sort of another factored into rock and roll, and not just via Black Sabbath and Jimmy Page. But eventually the music got so heavy that there were no songs anymore — no narrative threads, no choruses or bridges, no beats — just a brutal barrage of triggered bass drums and singers swallowing their fucking microphones.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if that’s your flavor of ice cream you aren’t going to like Ghost’s Infestissumam. You should probably bail out now and go enjoy a little Cattle Decapitation.
And it isn’t just metal. I’ve aged out of the horror genre, too. My tastes run toward Psycho rather than torture porn. I was a Scooby-Doo kid: The story always ended with the gang whipping off Old Man Johnson’s ghoul mask. It was you all along! My generation destroyed its brain cells with the heady aroma of Ben Cooper molded masks and thought KISS was as hard as music was ever going to get; well, if not KISS then Alice.
Rob Zombie came pretty close to restoring my faith in spooky metal, and visually Marilyn Manson was the business but he couldn’t sing for shit. If not for Helmet and Tool I may have given up on the genre at some point in the last twenty years.
So for at least my grouchy old ass a band like Ghost was long overdue. The band formed in 2005 around a collection of songs and a concept. Allegedly they spent the next couple of years getting their look together, finally debuting with Opus Eponymous in 2008.
The thing you need to know about Ghost is that like KISS they are they standing on the shoulders of an incredibly stupid gimmick. Rather than kabuki make-up and bondage gear, Ghost opts for monastic robes and mitres. Their lead singer, Papa Emeritus II, hides behind a mix of make-up and prosthetics that render him a singing skeleton, and the rest of the faceless band, known only as Nameless Ghouls, wear matching monastic robes.
The whole gimmick is that Ghost loves Satan, so every song revolves around Halloween-worthy references to the Dark Lord. It’s incredibly corny, and ridiculously fun. Check out lead-off single, “Secular Haze.”
Where to begin? The Merv Griffin set? The oom-pa-pa circus time signature? The distinct lack of Cookie Monster vocals? Seriously, if you were watching, oh, let’s say an episode of Quincy M.E. that dealt with a wayward teenager going to a Satanic rock concert, wouldn’t it look exactly like that?
But what’s brilliant about Ghost is that they actually have songs; granted, they’re simple songs, but they are actual songs nonetheless. These guys have studied their metal history, and they’ve worked up a satanic brew that is equal parts Carl Orff, B.O.C. and ABBA. ABBA? Yep. On the deluxe edition of the album we’re treated to a cover of “I’m A Marionette” that makes the original sound like, well, like ABBA. Here are both versions:
It’s really an eccentric album, from song choice to the inclusion of the biggest organ recorded since the Pam and Tommy Lee video. The real stand out track in the set is “Year Zero,” which is the most danceable ode to the devil you’re likely to hear:
I don’t know whether these guys have legs. Gimmicks get old, but for now I’m giving Infestissumam two devil horns up. Pick up your copy before they’re exposed as Old Man Johnson who runs the old carnival.