OUR LIST OF 2016’S MOST INFECTIOUS EXTREME METAL SONGS (PART 5): GHOST, HAIL SPIRIT NOIR, ZEAL AND ARDOR
As you can see, this is the fifth installment in our unfolding list of last year’s “Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs“. As you can also see (or will soon discover), not all of the songs in this installment are extreme, or even metal, and there’s a lot of clean singing as well. Feel free to harumph and harang in the Comments, but I could not get comfortable with the idea of looking back at the most infectious songs of last year without including all of these, and I also found a pleasing kind of twisted symmetry in combining them in a single post.
To see the other selections for the list so far, as well as an explanation of what criteria were used in making it, go here.
From my perspective, it’s not worth debating whether Ghost are a metal band or not. There are good arguments to be made on both sides. What I think is beyond debate is the band’s ability to craft immensely catchy songs, and not the kind of cotton candy fluff that makes you sick to your stomach after the fifth or sixth time you’ve heard it, which seems to be true of a high percentage of catchy pop songs. Also, they continue to praise the Devil, and I give them horns up for that. Whether the praise is calculated or sincere is a subject we can debate on another day, or not at all.
“Square Hammer” is possibly the most infectious song Ghost have yet written — which is saying something. It appeared on their 2016 EP Popestar, along with four cover songs.
Along with the music, I quite enjoyed the accompanying video, too:
HAIL SPIRIT NOIR
Like Ghost, Hail Spirit Noir have repeatedly proven their prodigious skill at crafting immensely infectious melodic hooks with retro vibes and whiffs of sulfur trailing behind them. But they are a quirky crew with eclectic tastes, and nothing is ever straight-forward in their musical world, or completely rooted in our reality. That of course is part of what makes their music so fascinating. They’ve also proven that trying to predict how their music will change from one release to the next is a fool’s errand.
We were fortunate to premiere a full stream of their 2016 album Mayhem In Blue, which I think is their best work yet. From my review accompanying that premiere:
“Making your way through the album is akin to touring a carnival of horrors, with freakish wonders behind every curtain and visions lurking in the shadows that may or may not be real. Did they inject you with some psychoactive substance when you paid your admission price? It begins to seem that way very quickly, and the suspicion only grows stronger as you wind your way from song to song.”
“The music on Mayhem In Blue is wonderfully and weirdly varied, richly layered with equally weird and wonderful sounds and unpredictable moods. Depending on where you are, it can be disorienting and disconcerting, savage and psychotic, or soulful and sublime. It rampages and it rocks, it bounces and cavorts like a mad man. It makes you want to bang your head, and dance like a dervish. It can lure you into a trance state, and sometimes it makes you want to find a secure hiding place because it sounds like something truly frightful is coming for you.”
We also had the good fortune to premiere a song from the album named “I Mean You Harm“. I’ll spare you what I wrote about that song, and say only that it proved for me to be one of the year’s most infectious — and it’s definitely the most red-eyed and vicious of the trio of tracks collected in this post. No clean singing in this one.
ZEAL AND ARDOR
There have been some interesting discussions in our LISTMANIA comment threads about Devil Is Fine, the 2016 album by Zeal and Ardor. Some people think it’s too uneven and disjointed to deserve the acclaim it received last year (and in many year-end lists). While agreeing that it’s uneven, I’m in the camp of people who think the high points on the album are so creative and interesting that it deserves the attention — which is pretty much what I wrote within days of its release last June.
I think even many of the people who believe the album has been too hyped would agree that the title track is a stand-out. When I first heard the album, I had no idea who was behind it and I was under the misconception that it was a kind of mash-up, blending samples with original music. As I wrote then:
“…I have no confident idea where the samples stop and the original music begins. The whole thing could be nothing but a creative amalgamation of pre-recorded samples, I suppose, or most of it could be original. Maybe someday we’ll find out the who, what, and why of this thing (curiosity is killing me).”
Well, we eventually found out, and to my gleeful surprise I discovered that what I thought might be samples of old Negro Spirituals (a category of music that’s still so-labeled despite the abandonment of “Negro” in modern parlance) weren’t samples at all. And I suppose if I had thought twice about the lyrics, that would have been obvious from the beginning.
The title track is the one I found most infectious, and it’s a song I go back to pretty frequently. It’s also the subject of a music video released last month, and that’s the form in which I bring you this latest addition to our Most Infectious Song list.
“Square Hammer” is so fucking good, and so is “Bible” from that EP.
I actually like most of the Popestar EP, the only one I really don’t dig on too much is the Echo and the bunnymen cover.
Although paired with the other two songs here, this also reminds me why I love Most Infectious despite effectively being part of it. This post just pinballs back and forth between Square Hammer and Hail Spirit Noir.
Every now and then a good idea hits me, although more usually it’s bird droppings.
If the rest of the songs on Devil is Fine were half as good as “Devil is Fine,” that album would contend for my AOTY. Sadly, that record starts out on top.
I remember reading interview comments to the effect that the guy behind Zeal & Ardor was just playing around with ideas in putting the album together and didn’t really expect it to be taken as seriously as it has been. Now that it has inspired so much interest and enthusiasm, it will be really interesting to see what he does with the next album, which presumably will be more carefully thought out. On the other hand, it might turn out to be equally eclectic, though perhaps more consistently strong.
Never really gave HSN a chance but I like what I’m hearing.