The Nine Circles ov…Ghost

If you think about it, Ghost has covered a buttload of ground for a metal-adjacent band — hell, for any kind of band — in a dozen or so years of existence. They’ve closed out Maryland Deathfest, signed to a major label and won a Grammy award. They’ve weathered a very public legal saga between frontman Tobias Forge (“Papa Emeritus”) and numerous former “Nameless Ghouls.” And now, they’re headlining arenas across the country. Not bad for a largely anonymous group of Satan worshippers!

With four albums under their belt — and, more to the point, with your author heading to the Giant Center in Hershey, PA, to catch them this Thursday — it’s high time we put their discography under the microscope for a Nine Circles ov treatment. So grab a communion wafer and let’s jump in!

A NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN: These selections are mine and mine alone, and shouldn’t be misconstrued as any sort of definitive Ghost list or whatever. I’d like to think this is obvious to most of y’all, but because the Internet is a never-ending stream of disappointment, I don’t want to assume anything. Your choices may differ from mine, and that is totally okay!

“Con Clavi Con Dio”

With its low, rumbling bass intro, crunchy guitar riffage and haunting, harmonized vocals, “Con Clavi Con Dio” was arguably the perfect introduction to Ghost. The band’s got poppier numbers on Opus Eponymous and beyond, so you’d be forgiven for losing this one in the shuffle. But to my ears, there aren’t many better summations of what this band was about when they broke out. It’s eerie, it’s balls deep in devil worship, and it’s got headbangs for days.

“Ritual”

Speaking of that poppier fare…man, how about “Ritual”?! Forge pulled off a really neat trick here, juxtaposing one of Opus Eponymous‘ heaviest riffs in the verse against quite possibly its catchiest chorus. There’s a reason why, almost a decade later, this thing’s still in the band’s setlist almost every night: it’s a fucking terrific song.

“Stand By Him”

Compositionally speaking, “Stand By Him” isn’t super different from “Ritual.” Super riffy verse, super catchy chorus, rinse, repeat. But, it makes my list all the same, because it was the first Ghost song I ever heard and I still fucking love it. Sentimental value is a hell of a thing. You know what else is? The guitar lead that closes this tune out. Just…got-DAMN.

“Monstrance Clock”

Much of Ghost’s 2013 sophomore effort, Infestissumam, was… kind of a mess. Still, the band was able to close the album out on a high note with “Monstrance Clock,” an epic gospel to the son of the devil. Stylistically, the song doesn’t quite feel like a conclusion to Infestissumam, because…well, stylistically, Infestissumam was all over the place. With its tasteful organ work and backing choir vocals, it almost seems more like an introduction to the more consistent, theatrical Meliora, which would follow two years later. But whatever it is — epic closer or thrilling new beginning — the song slays.

“Cirice”

At the time of its release in Spring 2015, “Cirice” felt like just the shot of adrenaline Ghost needed. The band had disappointed with Album No. 2, and the superfluous EP, If You Have Ghost, and needed a boost in a bad way. Well, this tune gave them that and then some. One of the most apocalyptic riffs in Forge’s arsenal gave way to another incredible, harmonized chorus and an excellent, tasteful guitar solo, and just like that, Ghost were BACK.

“He Is”

Despite clocking in at just 4 minutes and 15 seconds, “He Is” feels like more of an epic than most of the band’s lengthier excursions. Compositionally, there’s less of a “warring factions” element here — no “heavy chorus vs. catchy chorus” here, thank you very much. Rather, it stood out as a more consistent, even-headed — and, okay, tremendously earwormy — ode. It was the first instance where Ghost stopped me in my tracks and made me think, “wow, this band could have a radio hit in them someday.” Sure enough…

“Missionary Man”

Ghost’s 2016 mostly-covers EP, Popestar, was a goddamn treasure trove — and, given a few more tracks to work with, I’d probably include the whole damn thing on my list. With stellar takes on Echo and the Bunnymen and Simian Mobile Disco, not to mention the original track, “Square Hammer,” whittling it down to just one selection from this thing was really freaking hard. Still, the band’s version of Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man” takes the cake for me, thanks to the howling backing vocals from Sofia Kempe, a stellar harmonica solo from Brian Reed, and a rocking-as-fuck arrangement.

“Rats”

If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing the way Ghost has been able to find mainstream success without really sacrificing any of its Ghostiness. This stands in contrast to a band like, say, Mastodon, who’s become more and more popular over the years but whose sound has also changed considerably over those same years. (This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. Besides, early Mastodon was wayyyyyy heavier than early Ghost ever was. But, I digress.)

But, take “Rats.” It’s unquestionably got more of a sheen on it, and is much more radio-ready than, say, anything from Opus Eponymous. But even with that sheen, if you break the song down to its component parts… it’s still a Ghost song! The verse still rips! The chorus will still get stuck in your head! They’re still Ghost! It’s just that now, they have hilarious music videos and arena gigs to go along with their tunes.

“Miasma”

The more I’ve listened to last year’s Prequelle, the more I’ve come to realize that it really is Ghost’s most complete album to date. It’s a collection of songs that have a clear cut sound, and a clear cut aesthetic, that they’re aiming for — and they just fucking go for it. But, how to choose a second song from it to include on this list? Should it be the catchy, (gasp) danceable second single, “Dance Macabre”? The rifftastic “Faith”?

Nope; for me, it’s “Miasma,” the first of the album’s two instrumental tracks. Sorry, I’m just powerless to resist a good, slithering guitar riff, particularly when the band puts on a masterclass of building around said riff. I’m even more powerless to resist a goddamn saxophone solo — particularly one as delicious as this track closes out with. It concludes a stretch of almost-two-minutes of lead work from guitars, synths, and more guitars, and ensures that even without Forge’s vocal presence, the track becomes one of Prequelle‘s biggest highlights.

After a bit of thinking, I’m pretty sure these are my nine favorite Ghost tracks at the moment. Pretty sure, at least. It speaks to the strength of the band’s discography so far that there are so many others that could easily have crept in: “Satan Prayer,” “Majesty,” “Square Hammer”…the list goes on. Forge just knows how to write a good song, and he’s done so far too many times to fairly whittle down to just nine. But, we do what we can.

Got your own list of Ghost favorites? Feel free to share them in the comments section, where I may actually read them! Maybe.

Dan

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