Ghost’s Popestar Album Review
I have been a fan of Ghost since I first heard a song called “Ritual” off their debut album Opus Eponymus about four years ago. So naturally, when the chance came to review their new e.p. Popestar came up, I was super excited. New Ghost, I thought, this is gonna be great!
Ghost is no stranger to covers, putting their devilish spin on songs from The Beatles, Roky Erickson, and even Abba. Popestar is full of them, all but one of the five songs. The album has one original, titled “Square Hammer”, and if you don’t know anything else about the group, you must know that most of their songs include overt nods to worshipping Satan, this track no different. “Square Hammer” has a catchy chorus in which singer Papa Emeritus III asks you to stand square and level before the devil and swear allegiance to him, all while guitars tuned low and high pitched synthesizers keep the song upbeat and peppy.
The track is addictive, it quickly became an earbug after just a couple of listens, and could easily break into radio, if given the chance. Papa’s voice is soft, and hauntingly mesmerizing, in contrast to the heavy, menacing music that accompanies this, and many of their tunes. That juxtaposition is one of the things that drew me to their music to begin with, and many others, I think, as well.
The next song, “Nocturnal Me”, originally done by Echo and the Bunnymen, feels tailor-made to be a Ghost cover. The melody is almost like that of carnival music, with ups and downs that feel like a ride in a sonic amusement park. The lyrics are dark and melodramatic, with references to death and fire, which any metalhead will find welcoming. There are creepy sound effects in between the verses which lend a spooky, Halloween-esque feel to the piece. It is very well done and would be at home on most any Ghost album, and I would hope Echo and his Bunnymen enjoy it as much as I have.
Following that is a remake of a post-punk song, showcasing the nameless ghoul on keyboard’s talent. As guitar heavy as the first two tracks are, this one is that synth-heavy. “I Believe”, an original composition by Simian Mobile Disco, a British electronic music group who should thank their lucky stars that Ghost decided to cover their song, because the original version is terrible.
Ghost’s version is eerie, thought-provoking, and unlike anything else on the radio right now. Honestly, it sounds ready-made for a movie soundtrack. It also reeks of a holy experience, its pipe organ type music shining through like the brightest rays of an early morning sun. Barring that bright light, I feel like the band is hinting at something darker in the upcoming album.
Ghost has some odd quirks. One of them being anonymity. No one really knows who the members are, only that they are from Sweden, and that they “change” singers every album. We are on the third “change”, hence Papa Emeritus III, the third incarnation of who is likely the same person doing his level best to spread fear and discord, according to the devil’s will. Each album brings us a new singer, a new message.
Upon hearing the last two tracks of the e.p., I was convinced that Ghost had lost their satanic calling, but after listening to them a couple of times, I think I’ve figured out the game plan. Ghost is unique among doom, or any other metal bands in that they cross bridges into other genres in order to spread the evil word. Most bands have a pretty homogenous following of fans that reflect the guys on stage, but Ghost has attracted a variety of followers from across the board.
While they have attracted new followers, they have also grown their audience sizes. Now, I feel like the nameless ghouls and their fear-invoking leader have planned for this. I believe that the next incarnation of Papa Emeritus will be much more like that of a a dark evangelist, preaching the evil word to far more masses than could ever be reached by any other method.
“Missionary Man”, originally by the Eurythmics, who were notably also covered by Marilyn Manson, seems to be pointing towards this route, as well as the last song of the e.p., “Bible”, first performed by the 1980’s Swedish band Imperiet. “Missionary Man” stays pretty true to the original, Papa even adding a bit of southern drawl to his voice, which keeps in context with the bluesy sound first recorded by Annie Lennox and company. It is a bit off-putting, at first, if you have heard a lot of Ghost’s other work, and considering they are from Sweden.
Volbeat, however, comes to mind, when considering the influence American media has had on the Scandinavian country. They have proven, time and again, that it is possible to take these western influences and incorporate them into a kind of country-metal hybrid. I’m sure the ghouls see the success of their countrymen and take inspiration from it.
I also tend to think the song has the hidden implication that the next Papa will himself, be a man with a mission. The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when you hear the final song, “Bible”, which at first bewildered me – Why would Ghost, a band literally hellbent on spreading the dark lord’s message of discord and chaos be performing a ballad based on the biblical creation story?
After my third listen to the album, the answer occurred to me- This is the end of an epoch for Ghost. Papa Emeritus III will be symbolically laid to rest, while his successor, the new Papa, will have to be born. The next album will likely feature themes of creation of a new satanic controlled world, more references to Illuminati symbolism, much like those that seep through this album, and a tour loaded to the gills with more props and imagery, playing to ever larger crowds. The next Papa will be a messianic figure to a dark nation, preaching to ever growing masses.
To sum it all up, Popestar is not in itself a freestanding composition. It is a body of work that is designed to placate the existing fans, while drawing in scores more to what is sure to be a great spectacle of a tour after they’ve completed their next musical cycle. I just hope the new material draws heavily on music like that found on Opus Eponymous. While it is good to spread one’s creative wings, it is also wise not to stray too far from the nest.
Don’t take my word for it, though – judge for yourself- here is some of their best work, “Ritual”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peS7xRqcHuQ , and while it’s best not to dwell in the past, any group that invokes that nostalgic, simpler form of metal bands of days gone by would do well to continue in that tradition, as it has equaled success, at least in the case of Ghost.
You can check out Popestar for yourself here: http://ghost-official.com/ , and if you like what you hear, you may be thrilled to find out that their new tour backing the album has already commenced and they will be in Orlando at the Hard Rock in Universal on November 2nd, with tickets available here. If you like Ghost, follow them on Facebook. As always, I hope you check out new music, and I hope to see you all at a show somewhere.
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