Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Put Your Hands Up and Reach for the Sky: Cry for Ghost

Sweden’s Ghost injects a much needed sense of majesty into Heavy Metal with Meliora
By: Rylee Strange

For those not in the know, Ghost is a Swedish band shrouded in secrecy. Their singer, who goes by Papa Emeritus, is the only member with a name, as the band itself are merely known as Nameless Ghouls (each denoted by a different elemental symbol, fire, earth, water, air and æther, respectively). Papa dresses in satanic papal robes, complete with a miter, and Día De Los Muertos-esque skeleton makeup. The Ghouls, themselves, don matching black outfits and silver demonic masks. It would be reductive to call them a “gimmick band”, but clearly they’ve found the niche that works for them.

Their music is definitely indebted to the metal of the past (70s through early 80s). It relies on big crunchy guitars, a good chorus (or at least some cultish, chantable line), and a distinct lack of cookie monster vocals. Some might see this as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise extreme metal climate, while others might hear it as an ill fit to otherwise “heavy” music (and possibly the antithesis of the metal genre as a whole). But make no mistake, Ghost is a heavy band. They’re not extreme, but they are deep, powerful and really fucking evil. It doesn’t take blast beats and distorted screams to be truly terrifying.

2015’s Meliora is the next logical step from Satanic gimmick band to one of the most hard-working, exciting metal acts in recent memory. Their evolution is clear only in hindsight. Their debut album, Opus Eponymous (2010), sounds positively garage-band in comparison. Meliora is rife with big production, orchestration, strings, keyboards, satanic choirs, the works. And that’s not to mention the dual-lead guitars, the fat, thumpy distorted bass and round, reverb-drenched drum parts.
Right from the opener, “Spirit”, the listener can tell they’re getting into something big, as the album starts with organ, choir, church bells and a Theremin for good measure. Then the chugging metal riff arrives and the set really kicks into gear, right into the thumping groove of “From The Pinnacle to the Pit”, and the first single off the album, “Cirice” (which includes one of the best keyboard solos in recent memory).

From there, the album takes a turn to an interlude track unlike anything they’ve done before: a fifty-six second harp piece called “Spöksonat”, which itself is a reference to an early 20th century Swedish play, “Spöksonaten”, or “The Ghost Sonata”(spök = spook, or ghost, and sonat = sonata). It is a creepy and subdued piece that leads into the best trilogy of songs on the album, and ties the two halves of the record together quite nicely.

“He Is” is a glorious, spiritual love ballad to the dark lord himself, and could even be called beautiful in its majesty. “Mummy Dust” has big keyboards, and a ridiculously catchy, hissed refrain over a spooky piano part, an easy shoe-in for a fan favorite album cut. Speaking of majesty (which seems to be an over-arching theme of the album as a whole), the following track, “Majesty”, is another groovy rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early-80s Saxon or Judas Priest album.

An organ-based interlude, “Devil Church” ties the track to “Absolution”, the last great song on the album, and possibly the best chorus of any song on Meloria. The album closes with “Deus in Absentia”, possibly the only misstep on the album which, by any standard, would have been a great song if not preceded by such a superior set.

All said and done, Meliora is proof that Ghost isn’t done pushing its boundaries yet. They are becoming less and less like another KISS and more and more a “serious” band, although anyone who follows them on social media will definitely see a clear humorous streak, tongue firmly planted in cheek. The humor does little, if anything at all, to detract from keen songwriting and a brilliant set of tunes, though, and like all good bands shrouded in mystery and mystique, Ghost seems to have quite a few tricks left up their sleeves.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pull Your Zipper Down and Salute LA’s Rock’n’Roll Champions

Eagles of Death Metal's Zipper Down is a Shining Light In a Genre Buried Alive by its Own Excesses and Gasping for Air
By: Rylee Strange

The very thing that makes Eagles of Death Metal such an endearing rock’n’roll outfit is the same thing that turns a lot of people off from them; they just don’t give a shit. They’re not out to change the world, they’re not out to rewrite the rock bible. On the contrary, their MO is sleazy, stupid fun. 2015’s Zipper Down is no different from any of their other releases, in that sense. Right out the gate, the opening track (and first single), “Complexity” set the tone, both musically and as a mission statement: “It’s so easy without Complexity.” Strip away any of the pomp and circumstance out of the music and you’re left with pure unadulterated id.

The lyrics don’t break any new ground, even for the band. But it’s not all overtly sexual, shake-your-ass lyrics. “Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M)” puts spoiled LA hipsters on blast, while “I Love You All The Time” sounds like a sincere love song, about a man yearning for a woman who just doesn’t seem to be there for him. Still, it comes off a bit like, “I told you I love you baby, so why can’t we fuck?”

While most of the record falls in that garage/desert rock thing that producer/co-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, ex-Kyuss) does so well, songs like “Skin-Tight Boogie” and “Got A Woman” stray into nearly vintage glam rock territory, full of bluesy grit and glitter spit.

The biggest surprise comes by way of the subdued and honest cover of Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer”. It could have easily been done as a tongue-in-cheek throwaway, just another hip LA band covering an 80s pop tune that most people have forgotten. Instead, you get a song sung by someone who seems to genuinely enjoy the song, and wants to put his own spin on it, in this case, dirty guitars and a fat synth bass line. Hell if anyone can sing a song about a one-night stand and mean it, it’s singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes. That man embodies rock’n’roll in all its demented glory. This record is proof of that.

The biggest downfall is the shortness of the album, itself. With a running time of less than 35 minutes, that means EODM managed to knock out an average of 5 minutes of music per year since their last release, 2008’s Heart On. The good news is, it was worth the extended wait. There isn’t much below the surface of this record, but that isn’t its intention anyways. Like a good concert, it is merely an escape, a orgasm-burst of energy and endorphins (as well as maybe some other stuff you might not want to get splattered with), and isn’t meant to be studied and dissected for decades to come. It’s an incredibly fun, solid follow-up to Heart On, and worth a listen for anyone who enjoys sloppy, sleazy rock’n’roll for what it is.


As of Publication, the album is available to stream for free on NPR

Release date is October 2, 2015.