Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ghost - Square Hammer



I really like Nuclear Blast Records. They produce a majority of my favorite active bands and I keep discovering new artist I love through Nuclear Blast’s website and youtube channel. One band that kept popping up in my recommendation feed recently was a Swedish band simply called Ghost, and after having multiple songs thrown my way I decided that I really liked the song “He Is.”

This is where I would normally start talking about the song mentioned in the opening paragraph, but “He Is” may have to wait for another day for a review, because there is another song that boldly stood out to me.

I made a number of really interesting friends when I travelled to Europe several years ago and they really paid off as facebook friends, as it turns out I have a lot in common with the random cool dudes I met in Hamburg. One was a fellow Canadian working in the United Kingdom, whom recently, shared Ghost’s “Square Hammer.” I am so thankful he shared that song, I love it. The moral of the story it is wise to make friends, presumably for a lot reasons, but one of those reasons is discovering more awesome music.

Before we go any further I should give Ghost a proper introduction because they are a complicated entity. Coming from the Daft Punk School of wishing to keep their identities secret, everyone in the band is dressed completely in costume of their fictional entities. The lead singer is called Papa Emeritus and he wears full face paint that resembles a skull and is often deck out in the mock attire of a satanic version of the Vatican’s pope, so yeah, that is pretty intense. The other five members of the band all wear ghoul masks and are literally referred to as “Nameless Ghouls” and are only identifiable by the unique alchemy signs they wear representing the five elements of fire, water, earth, air and ether. Hey remember when people thought ether was a thing? That’s some old school archaic science. 

Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls
There are a few advantages to hiding your identity the way the band members of Ghost have. The first is that it forces the audience and listeners to focus less on the men behind the craft and more on the actual art itself.

Another advantage is turnover; a lot of European bands have experienced major issues with band turnover. If no one knows who any of the band members are, then replacing them can go largely unnoticed and theoretically not harm or change the style of the band and its music in any meaningful way. The band Ghost, claim they have had a different Papa Emeritus on every album thus far, totaling three. The fictional reasons behind the replacements has to do with Emeritus the first and second failing to destroy churches and promote Satan effectively, which as I type out, sounds ridiculous, but hey Ghost are playing Satanist so that’s what we get. Rumor is that it has been the same Papa Emeritus this whole time and Ghost is just joking with us claiming they have ran through three lead singers and since we do not know the real identity of anyone in the band we cannot confirm or deny the validity of this claim.

Another interesting rumor is that Dave Grohl was one of the ghouls on one of the tours, just for a goof, since you know, Dave Grohl is kind of a lovable goof and that is the sort of thing he would do.

Now let us return to “Square Hammer.”

The song “Square Hammer” is a very catchy song, and when I first heard it I found myself bobbing my head along and let every hook catch unto to me. I read somewhere that Ghost were heavily influenced by Iron Maiden and that I think is a fair comparison, the base line gallops like Steve Harris, and two lead/rhythm guitars is arguably the greatest charm of later days Iron Maiden music and is mimicked in nature by the band Ghost. As an intense lover of string instruments, having three guitars filling the sound of the melody and harmony is something I also love. “Square Hammer” is a song I would describe as full and rich, there is very little empty sound in the song, a note or a beat fills every part of the song and is flush at every second from beginning to end, a very alive song.

I did not take particular notice of the lyrics at first few listens but around listen twenty or so I naturally started to memorize the chorus and verses and in that moment I knew just how casually Satanic Ghost was.

“Are you on the square?
Are you on the level?
Are you ready to swear right here, right now,
Before the devil?”


Well that is fun. Despite being so very Satanic, worship of the devil is not something that is forced into the song, it is just there, like it is the most natural thing in the world to bring up swearing before the devil, because for the fictional entities Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls it is the most natural thing.

Appropriately dramatic.
The video itself is fantastic. I really like Papa Emeritus, I liked his dramatic body language, every gesture he made significant and made me pay greater attention, it was almost like he was a silent film actor, which is appropriate since the video for “Square Hammer” is an ode to the 1920’s German silent film era.

I got the impression the video was a silent film concept but I did not pick up on the smaller details until I showed the video to a friend of mine who is a huge movie buff, upon seeing the opening shot, he says to me “Ah Metropolis.” I had actually seen that one and had to agree with him. He then continued pointing out the 1920’s German silent film references for me, most notably the part where a coffin opens on its own was a direct reference to “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”

“Hiding from the light,
Sacrificing nothing,
Still you call on me for entrance to the shrine.
Hammering the nails,
Into a sacred coffin,
You call on me for powers clandestine.”

Like I said earlier, it is good to have friends, you can learn a lot about the history of film.

One last thing before I wrap this up. While writing this review, it was a Sunday night I thought I would check and see if Ghost were coming to town anytime soon. Tuesday. Literally two days and they would be in Calgary. So naturally I went. I was excited because I freaking love “Square Hammer” and “He Is,” I had learned a passing familiarity with a few of their other songs but I mostly going into the concert blind, not entirely knowing what to expect. It was a perfect storm of a good time.

My discovery of Ghost was still so fresh that not one second of the show felt slow of mundane, everything was exciting and new to me; most of the songs were new to me anyway. The live performance was masterful with excellent execution. Papa Emeritus had amazing stage presence and all those gesture and body language of quirky interest from the “Square Hammer” video were present on stage. The bits of dialogue were amusing on every imaginable front, curious and humorous and wonderfully casually satanic. When introducing the final song of the night “Monstrance Clock” Emeritus said, “This song is celebrating the female orgasm... in the name of Satan!”

I had a really good time.

It is not every day I get to discover a band like Ghost were literally about them and everything I learn about them I enjoy and crave more. This is indeed a wonderful world we live in where a satanic metal band can be so thoroughly enjoyable.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

P.S.

They won a Grammy:

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Priestess - Blood



Priestess is a Montreal based rock and roll band. With all the genres and sub genres of music in the world today a band like Priestess is rather refreshing insofar that they are a straight forward rock band, there are not too many of those nowadays.

In 2005 Priestess released their first album “Hello Master,” an album I am quite fond of. Outside of Norwegian black metal and other more intense metal bands there are not a lot of musings about Satan, but if you examine the overarching theme of “Hello Master” it becomes more and more clear, at least to me, that the “master” in question is probably Satan. However there is nowhere on the album an over indulgence about the lord of darkness and the album’s songs focus on such things as love, violence and death, usual rock and roll fare. The closer “Blood” for example is about a vampire.

“Blood” represents an interesting moment on “Hello Master” as the closer it is literally the final note from the band on this offering, and it is the most unique song on the album as it is structured uniquely different and represents a notable shift in style from all the songs previous. The entire albums sounds somewhat similar to Wolfmother or to a lesser degree Queens of the Stone Age, with inspirations coming from Black Sabath and ACDC, but this last song “Blood” is less clear in what modern and classic inspirations and similarities it shares with other bands. This is probably why I like it so much.

The most popular song off of “Hello Master” has to be “Lay Down” a good rock and roll song. It helps that this song was features in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and this inclusion on this popular video game is the source of the majority of Priestess’ fame, which serves as a double edged sword. By being on Guitar Hero III significantly more people discovered Priestess however few purchased “Hello Master” and even fewer familiarized themselves with the album as a whole.

In 2009 Priestess would release a second album “Prior to the Fire” an album I failed to notice upon release and have to this day never found the time to pick up a copy, only now I have learned my apathy and poverty were only part of the problem preventing me from acquiring a copy. Priestess had a hell of a time finding an international distributor for “Prior to the Fire” as the content was not considered “commercial” enough, it is strange to discover that this is still happening given the deep well of genres and sub genres enjoyed by the international community representing the consumers of the music industry. This problem was exasperated as their local Canadian distributor refused to release the album until they found an international distributor; thus barricading Priestess from any meaningful commercial release or marketing.

There is a high level of mystery how surrounding the existence of Priestess and they appear to have more or less disbanded at this time; they are calling it a hiatus, but I am not so sure I believe them. Unknown and un-discussed problems in the band prevented them from committing to a European tour and the producing of a third album. While I hope Priestess can return on day, it has been eight years and I am dubious of their musical future.

Returning to the song “Blood” there are few lyrics to dissect but we a presented with a short narrative that tells of a lady vampire seducing a mortal man with some hesitation, possibly because of love, after all we have romanticized vampires to extraordinary lengths in modern fiction. The second verse appears to have a reversal in narrative as it is now describing the human’s side of the relationship as someone urges him to slay the lady vampire via a stake through the heart, as failing to do so would only allow her to further control and dominate him, presumably leading to his death.

It is short and it is simple.

I like the lyrics, and I like the juxtaposition of the two narrative forces; one warning of the dangers of the human and the other warning of the danger of the vampire. It is charming and clever. However it is the strong base line and punching drums that really give “Blood” its kick. It is instantly identifiable as its own unique entity in music from the very first note and is unforgettably catchy.

I honestly expected Priestess to do a lot in times gone by and it is sad to see that they have fizzled out of existence, and will unlikely ever create any new material but alas we can rest comfortably knowing that at the least we got “Hello Master” and songs like “Blood.”

- King of Braves