Ghost – Infestissumam

Ghost - Infestissumam

The first thing to understand is that they’re kidding. Ghost are, as with their first album, the heavy metal band with songs and lyrics that sound like what every forbidding teacher and parent thought heavy metal sounded like. Choruses with refrains of “Hail Satan” and “Come together for Lucifer’s son”, and songs with titles like “Zombie Queen” and “Depth of Satan’s Eyes”, are calculated to shock your grandma. But they know it. It’s play, and like the best play doesn’t oversell its ridiculousness.

Watch the video for “Year Zero” (the standout track, with a new wave beat and an enormous chorus). It is a slice of mid-70s devil horror goodness, with seemingly normal people doing odd things, dressing weirdly, and then revealing the depth of their depravity (also, their boobs). It’s pretty creepy, in a funhouse kind of way. But the music’s good, too. A pastiche of the best of the 70s and the new wave of British heavy metal, it is not overly pounding, there are (again) no silly scary vocals. Solos rarely exceed eight bars, and there are keyboards on practically every track. And while it is all fun, it’s never jokey, just clever – the “crossover ballad” “Ghuleh”, with its piano track and sincere singing (about rotting flesh and the stink of the dead, very sweet) transforms into surf metal stomper “Zombie Queen”, with fantastic low harmonies on the chorus.

On one level (and maybe it’s one I’ve made up in my head) this album, and Ghost in general, is an argument against era-based genre distinction, and against the entire ideology that popular music (and its critic-enthusiasts) has propagated since the late 60s – the myth of progress. That change is inherently good because of “progress”, because things are naturally moving forward to the bright shining order. Even saying old things were better = nostalgia = despising progress and the kids and you’re probably a racist, too. But isn’t there the possibility that the older modes of expression (by which I mean the “outdated” metal and rock that Ghost plays) could have been superior, and that the later offshoots from thereon were, in fact, mistakes? Or that later development was more of a preference of a self-anointed elite, one that sought to force the genre into a niche they could then claim?

It happened to horror movies and fiction in the 80s. They were widely popular, and then both genres (but especially the fiction) became responsive to the most vocal fans, who were the ones who particularly enjoyed the genre for its gore. Splatter-punk became the accepted mode of expression. It modified the entire genre, and doomed it to insignificance. (Dystopian negativity did the same thing to science fiction, which once was read by lots of people, and now, isn’t. Media tie-ins don’t count for the sake of this discussion.)

Ghost is (perhaps unintentionally) a bellwether for this notion, that there might not be a way forward, that there is no forward, and any radical departure from expectations, any disappearance into the niche, avoiding the pleasurable (melody, mid-tempos, only mild distortion) for the sake of “authenticity” is foolish, is fake.

Or maybe it’s just a really good metal album with no screamed vocals or double-bass drumming. Just songs. About Satan.

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