Review: Ghost – Popestar EP

“On your knees… before Babylon!

Ah, the surprise album release. Usually employed by Professional Rich People™ masquerading as “artists” like Drake and Beyoncé to add a sense of danger and unpredictability to their braindead, vapid irreverence. It’s the kind of trick a metal act, to my knowledge, has never pulled off, and with good reason. Actually writing music and playing it well tends to require a lot more preparation that the “mumbling incoherently over unauthorized samples” that makes up the bulk of what people refer to as “popular” music these days.

Usually the only “surprise’ that metal bands get is having Rihanna or Kanye rip off their logo and not give them any credit or restitution. Yup, Nails sure did hit it right on the head (no pun intended) with “You Will Never Be One Of Us”, didn’t they?

Leave it to masked doom rock rabble rousers Ghost to turn the tables. After dropping a god damn stunner of a track in “Square Hammer” out of nowhere earlier this week, they followed that up with one of their now infamous “Summoning” video updates, renouncing their Grammy wins and teasing something big to debut at the end of the week alongside the opening date of their highly anticipated Popestar tour, which many (including us) surmised to be the release of their long teased “Meliora” follow up, an EP of covers recorded during those sessions.

The EP kicks off with “Square Hammer” and we really can’t say enough about how great this song is, instantly numbering amongst our favorite Ghost tracks right alongside “Elizabeth”, “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” and “Cirice”. Ghost have also unveiled a video today, following in the footsteps of “From the Pinnacle To the Pit”, it’s another “Metropolis” themed extrapolation into silent movie weirdness, this time with some “Last Action Hero” thrown in for good measure. It’s almost as cool as the song itself.

The rest of the EP follows the “If You Have Ghosts” model and is an odd collection of somewhat obscure cover tunes, but not nearly as much of a mixed bag as that record was, i.e.: none of the tracks are as self-indulgent and nigh unlistenable (sorry, guys) as “Crucified”. “Nocturnal Me” and “I Believe”, covers of English bands, post punks Echo and the Bunnymen and electro act Simian Mobile Disco, respectively, are variations on the same theme, brooding dirges made sinister and foreboding under Ghost’s left hand direction, calling to mind “Infestissumam” anchor “Ghuleh”. But without the freak out explosion of a “Zombie Queen” after or a soaring, triumphant chorus a’la “He Is” to build to, they leave the listener just a tad hungry for more.

That “more” comes in the form of “Bible”. Covering forgotten Swedish new wavers Imperiet, Ghost unleashes another altogether evil power ballad like the aforementioned “He Is” or live set staple “Monstrance Clock” with such an odd and menacing, yet subdued skill that if you didn’t know better you’d think it was an original. Here Papa, often criticized for his nasally and limited vocal range, belts it to the rafters so deftly and charismatically that you’ll almost be retroactively disappointed that there wasn’t more of this on “Meliora”. More in the future, please.

The highlight of the covers portion of the presentation is Ghost’s take on Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man”. Papa Emeritus III finds a kindred spirit in 80’s alt icon Annie Lennox just as Marilyn Manson did over 20 years ago with “Sweet Dreams”, the song’s vaguely tongue-in-cheek religious themes a perfect fit given Ghost’s playfully satanic raison d’etre. The Nameless Ghouls metal up the proceedings just enough with some crunchy, pounding riffage, but the 80’s cheese they leave in (Is that a harmonica, or Papa’s famous Kazoo?), though somewhat questionable, definitely put a smile on my face.

This arrangement, and the record as a whole (especially “Square Hammer”), only serves to re-establish Ghost as genius writers, arrangers and players despite all the much maligned (by some) shock rock gimmickry. Haters be damned, these guys can, and will, do it all.

Ghost’s “Popestar” is available now.

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.
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