On The Level With The Devil — A Popestar Analysis

Before I gave Ghost a listen, I’d hear them talked about in the stereotypical fashion, in the usual circles that I’d expect to hear about bands that I thought Ghost were like. Commonly labeled as “metal”, I assumed somewhere between Baroness, The Sword, or even High On Fire based on the people I knew talking about Ghost at all. When I think “metal”, I’m inclined to lean towards Dillinger Escape Plan, Every Time I Die, Converge, Protest The Hero, Between The Buried And Me, etc.

I’m glad I finally gave Ghost a chance just before their third studio album, “Meliora” was released last year. My introduction to Ghost was the song “Majesty“, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I didn’t know about their melodic songwriting, traditional vocals completely devoid of any screams, growls, or guttural noises of any kind, or their Satanic “gimmick” and getup. Now I understand that when people plant them in the “metal” category they’re harkening back to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult (metal-by-colors?), etc. It is with this mindset that I anxiously await any new material from these guys, and they gave us a new 5-song EP on September 16th.

Popestar comes to us with four covers, and a brand new original tune in the form of “Square Hammer“. Their previous EP (If You Have Ghost) was also made of four cover tunes, but with a live recording of a pre-existing Ghost song. The songs that Ghost pick to include on these EPs aren’t exactly obvious. However, they do seem to fit a certain aesthetic, especially when given the band’s cultish spin. Which brings me to “Square Hammer“. Even though the band is three studio albums and now two EPs deep, this track feels like the initiation sequence. With the chorus asking, “Are you on the square? Are you on the level? Are you ready to swear right here, right now before the devil?” This is the recruitment theme song, and I’m ready to drink the Kool-Aid. They stick with the usual spooky, organ-heavy sound that has become so distinctly Ghost which, I mean, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s another infectious song that doesn’t wear out its welcome even after multiple back-to-back listens:


Now, time to get real. I’ve been in love with this band for a little over a year now, and I’ve listened to everything they have to offer several times over. I’m in the camp that loves the first album (2010’s Opus Eponymous), and Meliora, and likes a few songs off of the second album (2013’s Infestissumam). They’ve even gone on record saying they’re not sure what happened exactly with the second album, and that mixing was a major issue that got rushed because of deadlines.

So, the rest of Popestar is made up of cover tunes selected methodically to fit the heaven and hell religious theme of Ghost’s whole shtick. I was excited to see “Nocturnal Me” from Echo & The Bunnymen, and they do a fine job of absorbing it into their overall sound, but it feels very low-key, or even… Dare I say it? Boring. The rest of this EP is very easy going save for The Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man” that has a more driving heart, but it doesn’t reach the same levels of excitement as the original opening track. Sure, it fits in with the theme of Ghost, but it feels slightly out of place. I’m guessing it’s the blatantly 80’s sassy lyrics and vocals. Simian Mobile Disco’s “I Believe” is the most stripped down and soft Ghost have ever gone, and it’s not bad at all. Just unexpected. The closing track, Imperiet’s “Bible” is another 80’s throwback, and it is epic, grandiose, and more or less a snooze-fest for me. It takes quite a while to build up to the epic chorus of the song, and when it does, it’s more of the same trudging along feeling that the verses have. It’s great to see Ghost stretch their bat-wings, and dip their talons into more of the kind of music that fits within their wheelhouse in the sense that they take unassuming artists’ darker or more religiously themed tunes and craft them into tools for the devil, and I applaud them reaching outside the expected. However, some of these feel phoned in. It gives me a similar feeling I get when I hear some of my lesser preferred tracks from Infestissumam. 

Overall, I’m giddy for more Ghost! The new original tune is enough to tide me over until the next studio album. And to hear them experiment with other tunes is fun, if nothing else. I haven’t lost the faith, and will continue to attend rituals on a regular basis as I await the next offering Papa Emeritus and the Ghouls cook up.

What’d you think of Ghost’s Popestar?

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