Sometimes it is best to step back from something and live with it for a while. This may be a strange way to open a review of one of the most in demand rock acts out at the moment, but spare me a few moments of your time here. The first Ghost album "Opus Eponymous" (cleverly linked here) was an instant classic, beautiful, stunning and a moment of genius. So coming into this album I was not really impressed, so I took a step back to give it time to see what happens. But before I get onto the album itself a history lesson on Ghost (or Ghost BC as they are called in America to be differentiated from an earlier band with the same name). Ghost is a Swedish band formed in 2008, they are fronted by Papa Emeritus and the five other people in the band go by the name of Nameless Ghoul. There is various rumours as to who the band members actually are (I'm not going to go into it here, I'm sure as you on the internet that you use it for more than porn) and the mystery is part of the allure of this band. You rarely get that in this day and age with band were you get everything at your finger tips.
Anyway, this album was released April 2013 and it was not until this month that I heard more than one song; and my initial response was not a positive one if I am honest. It just seemed like a watered down version of the debut. But I did not want to have so much of a knee jerk reaction to it, I wanted it to have a chance; I like this band that much that I felt that the initial listening was just catching me on the wrong day. Starting with the stirring chorus orchestra titled track the band's sense of the theatrical has not left them. "Per Aspera Ad Inferi" (which translates to 'Through Hardships to Hell' comes straight afterwards with its usual praise the their lord down below and singing his praises (you would have thought that there was only so many ways to do this, but like people who sing Jehovah's praises they just keep on coming with new ways). Now the guitar work on here is second to none and it sounds like the band has really honed their song writing skills and the more I hear this song, the greater the work becomes.
Next up is "Secular Haze" which was released as the first single before the album was released and is the story of a man drowning. It has a haunting carnival organ going through the whole song which strings the song along. It is a fascinating piece of work that again was the sort of thing that made the first album so interesting. Then it goes like a metal-pop era Madness with "Jigolo Har Megiddo" which sort of still spoils the work of the rest of the album. It is almost as if they have gone straight from their prog focused 70's era into the 80's pop metal with a slight harpsichord backing. It jars the album quite violently for me and whilst it is still of a good performance, it is not a good song and the first poor one I have heard from the band. Thankfully it is back on track on the next song the wonderful double feature that is "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen". According to the band the song is 'the romanticized idea of either a being or a time being lost. It is about nostalgia and the past'; for me it drifts by like a summers day and is a great track whilst shows a much healthier part of the band's musical abilities (certainly better than "Jigolo Har Megiddo"). It has a sense of the grand theatre that is the life’s blood of Ghost and it certainly an improvement on what had happened before.
"Year Zero" starts what the band refer to as the second side of the album (I love this sort of thing when an album has two sides - I remember when this was a truth, brilliant). With the churning start and satanic chants you can just see the light show in your mind, this is the band trying to show that the Anti-Christ in their eyes is here and this is year zero of him being here. In keeping with the overall theme that is their personal hymn to their master below you have to take this with a pinch of sulphur (see what I did there). "Body And Blood" is the next track; again it is a strange tale about ritual with a fantastic 70's prog overtone. The imagery that this band brings to your mind is harrowing and stark, but quite effective.
Then you have another slip with "Idolatine" which sound just a little too happy for this band, It comes across a little bit too cheerful which is something I never ever thought I would hear from these guys; well apart from the lyrics which are still twisted and strange so at least there is that continuous thing going on here. "Depth's Of Satan's Eyes" is another sign that the band is changing, but it is handled with a lot more grace than some of the other tracks on this album; it has the feeling of an 80's era Alice Cooper with all the theatrical trimmings. It just has that sort of over the top movement which you sometimes need in metal, but it is hard to get right; this is one of those points who they get it perfect. Bring the album to a close is "Monstrance Clock", a slow and pulsing song which is a great crescendo.
So how has the album panned out after my initial thoughts? Well, there is still a couple of substandard moments here, that was not something I thought would ever happen on a Ghost record but it was probably inevitable. Not everything a band record is going to be gold. But there is some moment of true genius (especially the first three songs - almost like the Prong album, except there are some stellar moments later on). Yet the way I found to truly appreciate this album when I started to think of it like an 80's Alice Cooper album - there is some stuff that is not working, there is some stuff that is really working ; yet overall it is a great record. Granted it is not as good as their debut, but what could be if I am honest. Now if they could get over that satanic thing they keep harping on about, it is getting as preachy as the Catholic Church.....
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Ghost website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Live performance of "Infestissuman/Per Aspera Ad Inferi" from Coachella Festival in the USA