GHOST
"Popestar"

(Loma Vista)

01. Square Hammer
02. Nocturnal Me (ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN cover)
03. I Believe (SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO cover)
04. Missionary Man (EURYTHMICS cover)
05. Bible (IMPERIET cover)

RATING: 8/10

Swedish cult metal horde GHOST is one of the hottest metal acts these days, and the unholy unit scored big amongst fans and critics last year with its adventurous album "Meliora". Hardly letting the iron cool, the band releases its second EP reaching beyond 2013's "If You Have Ghost", the stupid cool "Popestar". Like the group's previous extended play, "Popestar"'s five track list is loaded heavily on covers with a new original, "Square Hammer". Keeping in mind GHOST once had a huge rip with ABBA's "I'm a Marionette" and DEPECHE MODE's "Waiting for the Night", expect the unexpected here. In ""Popestar"'s case, alternative rock plays a large role as GHOST exploits new, highly workable methods to prank the pious.

"Square Hammer" is a mix of metaled-up punk and new wave track with a slamming rhythm. The song's goofy but way fun vibe drops somewhere between LORDS OF THE NEW CHURCH and H.I.M. GHOST flings frolicking chimes into "Square Hammer" and a drilling hook that won't let go. Even those pawing at their ears for "Opus Eponymous" should grant that this nutty number has undeniable clout, befitting its gruesome lyrical theme. It's a psychotic revelry dealt by the Nameless Ghouls, like the party begins in some shelled-out Norman church and ends at the feet of a cloistered coven out of Hammer Hell.

The first cover takes on alternative legends ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, riffing the snot out of the gloomy "Nocturnal Me". Papa Emeritus III croons it with appropriate reservation, keeping his octave a bit lower than Ian McCulloch's original tones, while the bass is much grumblier than Les Pattinson's. Best of all, GHOST obeys rule number one about whipping up good cover tunes: they make it their own. If possible, GHOST's "Nocturnal Me" is even more funereal, as the synths intensify along with the marching rim shots and tom rolls straight through to the disconsolate finale.

Perhaps the most surprising success on "Popestar" comes with GHOST's take on SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO's "I Believe". If the ERASURE and GHOST camps met up in a studio lit by a single candle, this is the likely sound they'd conjure up. The plunking key sprinkles peeking through the reticent synths and melancholic organs make for a reflective, calming number that wafts of evil.

By far GHOST's wackiest cover is the EURYTHMICS's "Missionary Man", where the guitars are stacked and Emeritus snarks the verses through his nasal passages. Like the other covers, this "Missionary Man" is memorable, driving and pleasing. The obvious take for a metal act would be to bludgeon it whole, yet GHOST keeps true to the original source by having a female backup vocalist, raucous harmonica and retention of the core swing.

The cover of IMPERIET's "Bible" is a sheer marvel and did anyone expect such a knee-planting moment of grace from this act? If eighties alternative had its own full-fledged revival, GHOST gives you a preview of what possibilities that might entail with this frankly beautiful cover. Beautiful even with Emeritus's hilarious nattering as an exasperated Old Testament God prepared to smite His own creation in rejection of mankind's shortcomings.

If you think about it, the themes behind "Popestar"'s track selection fit this band's overall concept. It's intentionally slicker and lighter than what you've heard from GHOST in the past, but never underestimate that the band will to enjoy a secular jest over Christian doctrine. This stuff's far more fun than your typical, done-to-death black metal diatribes.

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