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The staggering ascent of mysterious Swedes Ghost has been one of the top rock & metal stories of recent years - a band of 'nameless ghouls' fronted by a self-styled Satanic pope sounding not unlike a modern day Blue Öyster Cult tinged with the theatrics of a King Diamond/Mercyful Fate making significant inroads on the mainstream consciousness is a truly unexpected occurrence. Such a rapid rise from the underground inevitably inflates expectations and so here on album two, "Infestissumam", Ghost have a heck of a lot more riding on them than when "Opus Eponymous" came out just three years ago.
With such a unique sound already established naturally there has been no need to reinvent the wheel this time around; instead we have a bigger, brighter production to work with and a general rounding of rough edges that has had the effect of nullifying much of what was previously interesting about Ghost. We still have the Satanic circus feel that comes from the keys as made clear in "Secular Haze" while there is bounce and pomp to spare from the 60s-esque "Jigolo Har Meggido" and "Year Zero" but too much of what is here ends up sounding akin to rejects from the "Opus Eponymous" era at best, and downright lame at worst - "Ghuleh" being an example of a song drowning in its own smug arrogance until it finally breaks into "Zombie Queen". Of course, none of what Ghost is would be Ghost without the pandering vocals of Papa Emeritus II. His delivery is certainly intriguing (especially in the live arena where he dictates like a priest at the pulpit) but on record it feels distinctly soft. Perhaps this is to contrast with the shock rock image he presents but it does not confide with the stereotypical tough male rock vocal and feels weak and unimpressionable in result. I think to King Diamond in this instance and note that the unique qualities in his voice were (and still are) an adornment on a powerful set of pipes that can properly lead the music and note the absence of this in Ghost. The accessibility in his vocals is matched by the cleanliness in the guitar sound - in rhythm the tone offers little of the crunch this writer is used to reviewing, a fact which has no doubt helped burgeon their fanbase these recent months, and further contributes in focussing the attention on Emeritus' vocals which sit high in the mix.
Naturally religion plays a significant role in the overall make-up of Ghost, with tongue-in-cheek quasi-Satanic lyrics ("Depth of Satan's Eyes" anyone?), echoing Church-like organ work ("Monstrance Clock") and choral hymn chants ("Infestissumam") important features. But what matters most is that too many tracks drift by devoid of impact and with no "Con Clavi Con Dio" or "Elizabejth" to fall back on this time round "Infestissumam" falls short in replicating the success of "Opus Eponymous". Only time shall declare what impact this has on their upwards trajectory, but noting how unusual Ghost sound in this musical climate and knowing how well an unusual attire helps sales (Slipknot anyone?) I still don’t expect to see these ghouls slowing down anytime soon.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net