Like many others in the metalverse, Steel Druhm got caught up in the hype surrounding the strangely addictive pope-isms of mysterious cult rockers Ghost and their stellar debut Opus Eponymous. They had a wicked sound, a cool, throwback charm and the tunes were as catchy as athlete’s foot. While there was a nagging worry they might be a one-off novelty act and would fold up shop like a fly-by-night carnival, I was anxious to get my hands on the not so long-awaited followup, Infestissumam. After some time with the album and after giving this serious thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that Opus Eponymous was their version of The Warning, and Infestissumam is their attempt at a Rage for Order. While Queensryche was able to make the jump from a straight-forward metal album to a more cerebral, progressive sound due to elbow grease, spit (courtesy of Mr. Tate) and sheer talent, Ghost is not quite so lucky. Gone is much of the fun and accessibility of the debut and what is left is a muddle of lesser songs in the style of Opus, weird carnival/circus music and laid back, overly tranquil 70s rock which strives to blend the mood of Blue Oyster Cult‘s Agent of Fortune album with Mr. Bungle and Witchfinder General. In layman’s terms, they done gone and fucked up and fell victim to the insidious sophomore slump. Infestissumam is a drop off in every way except album art and leaves me haunted by disappointment. 2013 is fast becoming the year of metallic tragedy and Ghost is dutifully playing their part in this vicious cycle.
As soon as the church-themed intro faded and the tuneage started, my metal detector warned me that something was amiss. While “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” sounds like a track left over from Opus, it lacks the flair and hooks so common to the debut. It’s decent and sounds like old Ghost, but in itself it’s nothing memorable. “Secular Haze” brings in carny keyboards and tries to provide an eerie ambience, but the song is slow, tame and while the chorus is decent, it won’t exactly floor anybody. Other songs introduce weird and unwelcome influences to the fledgling Ghost sound, like “Jigolo Har Meggido” which sounds like a weird mix of The Stray Cats and The Monkees and that works about as well as you might expect. “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” is like elevator music with weirder lyrics and while it sets a nicely baked, lava-lampy mood that makes me long for a bean bag chair, it’s way overlong, sleepy and languid.
While the first half of the album certainly has issues, the back-end is worse and songs like “Body and Blood,” Idoltrine” and “Depth of Satan’s Eyes” do little to inspire replays. Lastly, closer “Monstrance Clock” sounds tired and forced (which is an ominous sign for such a young band).
What kills me about Infestissumam is that I can still hear the elements of Ghost that I love, they just seem disjointed and scattered across a series of mediocore songs, never able to come together for one mighty Ghost tale. Pappa Emeritus sounds as crisp and clear as ever and his vocals are the saving grace of many of the songs. However, as good as he is, he’s stuck with real dogs from a song-writing standpoint and he can only do so much (he’s a singer and a demon pope, not a miracle worker, Jim!).
The omnipresent and way overdone keyboard, once an ally, have become an enemy and the circus schtick grows old quicker than a banana in summer. The riffs are barely there on most tracks and are placed way back in the mix, leaving little punch or much to hang your hat on from a metal perspective. Even worse, the Mercyful Fate influences are dead and gone with no sign of paranormal activity on the horizon. While Opus wasn’t all that heavy, it still had balls and sounded like metal. This thing got clipped all the way to the base and as a man, I resent that.
Infestissumam is about as scary as Casper and it’s one half average and one half bad. I have no idea where this leaves the band and what they can or will do next, but I’m worried. I’m not ready to give up the Ghost just yet, but that whole “one-off novelty act” thing is getting more believable by the day. Geez, now who are we gonna call??