Them Rats! Oooh-Wa-Ah!!

Ghost’s New Front Man Makes His Debut

*If you want my opinion on Ghost as a band, I will state it in a different post.*

It is no surprise to myself and the screaming throng of Ghost fans that a music video emerges so soon after the announcement that Cardinal Copia inherited the mic from Papa Emeritus III.

“Rats” marks the first studio single to drop since “Square Hammer” in the spring of 2016. “Rats” debuts Cardinal Copia in the penultimate role as front-man extraordinaire.  In the opinion of this humble reviewer, “Rats” is everything we have come to expect from Ghost and so much more.

“Rats”

In addition to dropping the single on Sirius XM Octane last Thursday, Ghost released the official music video for “Rats”. “Rats” speaks to the higher production priority we saw with “He Is”. The video looks more like what you would expect from an actual music video. Where “He Is” tells the Jim Jones-esq story of Papa III leading a cult, “Rats” takes a look at the motion of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and spins the fabric of that video into something far more perverse than Jackson ever dared to approach. The combination of the 80s throwback and Ghost’s own flair for the dramatic will leave fans either loving it or hating it.

Ghost's new front-man, Cardinal Copia, points the tip of his cane at the viewer outside a diner amid corpses strewn in the streets and blood splashed everywhere. He's of middling height with black hair and a waxen face, a mask, like the Papas before him.
Cardinal Copia, welcome indeed! Do you know how hard it is not to write “Papa”?

Sprinkled throughout the video are finally shots of the band members that were lacking in “He Is”. The Cardinal dances an eerie, spastic, version of “Thriller” mixed with a bit of “Singing in the Rain” and “Coyote Ugly”. Veteran fans of the band will remember the  80s-style progressive and classic rock parodies that marked the band’s first EP, “If You Have Ghost”.  However, “Rats” transcends those parodies. Like “Square Hammer”, “Rats” is an arena opener (and if you all don’t like me saying it, then here it is from the mouth of Forge to Loudwire). It’s every 80s hair metal band music video you’ve ever seen on Metal Mania, only the breaks make more sense. Pinpricks of purple light recall the band’s promo for “Rats on the Road”, but is also distinctly pop.

Throwing the pop-ish aspects into sharp relief is the juxtaposition of the Cardinal’s dance and the corpses piled in the streets, with people in haz-mat suits removing bodies in bags. The music is also heavier, using a fraction of the synth used in Meliora. “Rats” favors the harder rock base, which is exactly what Forge was going for.

A Nameless Ghoul on guitar shreds his life away in a graveyard lit with purple and white light, like an old 80s video. Ghost band members wear masks to disguise their identities
A Nameless Ghoul shreds for us as in the days of old.

The overall video is a masterwork of pop parody, hair metal perfection, and the darkness promised to us when this album was only in the works. “Rats” is the evolution of Ghost, a natural evolution that speaks to the “New Blood” foretold by the Sister of Sin and Papa Nil. We were given the groundwork for this, and the expectations were set. This is Ghost! True fans will look at the band and realize that nothing has changed. Gatekeeper fans and purists are looking for a band narrative that doesn’t exist and never did. More on that in a different post.

Ghost and Lyrical Genius

Then there’s the lyrics to the song. “Rats” recalls the band’s latent talent for producing songs that are both strikingly familiar and strangely alien. Add this to Ghost’s knack for inventive lyrics. “Rats” is a huge detour from the band’s third original studio concept album, Meliora, designed to be performed and listened to from beginning to end as a full “church” service. Veterans who remember Ghost performing Opus Eponymous and Infestessumam will be pleased with the return to the bands roots–as it were. Songs like “Secular Haze”, “Ghouleh/Zombie Queen” and “Elizabeth” all reference progressive and surfer rock styles, yet are nothing anyone could say they have heard before. Ghost is every music genre, and yet they can be categorized into no specific genre of metal or rock at all. Lyrical content has a lot to do with it.

Poetically, “Rats” is something we’ve never seen from Ghost before. Even if you look at “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” as lacking some of the straight narrative style of Ghost’s songs, or “Spirit” and “Deus in Absentia” as “preaching” a particular message, the structure of the lyrics for “Rats” is entirely different. Each verse is only a few lines long, ended with a repeated two lines varying only in stressed syllables. Without the music, it reads like a poem by Poe:

(from Genius Lyrics)

[Verse 1: Cardinal Copia]
In times of turmoil
In times like these
Beliefs contagious
Spreading disease
This wretched mischief is now coursing through your souls
Never to let go
Never to let go

[Refrain: Cardinal Copia]
Them rats! (rats–rats–rats–)

[Verse 2: Cardinal Copia]
Into your sanctum
You let them in
Now all your loved ones
And all your kin
Will suffer punishments beneath the wrath of God
Never to forgive
Never to forgive

[Refrain: Cardinal Copia]
Them rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)
Rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)
Rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)
Rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)

[Pre-Solo: Cardinal Copia]
This devastation left your cities to be burnt
Never to return
Never to return!

[Guitar Solo: Nameless Ghoul (Fire & Aether)]

[Post-Solo: Cardinal Copia]
Them filthy rodents are still coming for your souls
Never to let go
Never to let go!

[Refrain: Cardinal Copia]
Them rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)
Rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)
Rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)
Rats! (rats–rats–rats–)
(Aaah whoah)

[Outro: Cardinal Copia]
They’re still coming after you
(Aaah whoah)
And there’s nothing you can do
(Aaah whoah)
They’re still coming after you
(Aaah whoah)
And there’s nothing you can do
(Aaah whoah)
Rats!

In verses one and two, there is a longer fifth line before the repeated last two lines. In verses three and four, the longest line is the first line before the repeated last two lines. Each first line of the repeated line is in major, and the second line is in minor.

Cardinal Copia dances slowly and luridly in the front window of the destroyed diner, dancing amid corpses, rats, trash and blood.

A nameless Ghoul on piano with his arms outstretched. An interesting camera angle, as it is down and facing forward, projecting the line of sight down the same hallway Papa Nil inducted Cardinal Copia.
The mirror action of Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghoul on piano I found to be extremely striking. Of course, you’ll recognize the Ghoul performing in the same hall that Papa Nil inducted Cardinal Copia into his role.

Since I had to listen to the song about six times to get the lyrics and to get the images, I think I’ve made a little bit of a discovery.  “In times of turmoil, in times like these, belief’s contagious, spreading disease,” reminds me of the ease with which a few demagogues can disseminate ideas–be they true or false–over the internet, and how all of us have become carriers of these digital pathogens, playing into the hands of influencers. The lyrics also speak to how difficult it would be for us to stop–or how difficult it would be for someone to stop us.

“Rats” and Ghost Ideology

Of course, the idea that the human race at large behaves like rats or carriers of disease is not new to Ghost. The lyrics of “Year Zero” asserts,

“Since dawn of time the fate of men is that of lice/Equal as parasites and moving without eyes.”

Like rats, we continue our behavior because its what we’ve been programmed to do. Where “Year Zero” spoke of the coming of the Dark One hiding among us, waiting to emerge, “Rats” declares that the damage has already arrived. Cardinal Copia seems to be celebrating this devastation, leading a group of zombie back-up dancers that follow him as if he were the Pied Piper. The dancers, like the congregation in “He Is” are willing subjects, followers of the Plague Bearer who, like any audience at a metal show, are prepared to go forward blindly to do his bidding. Like the deranged pastor in “He Is”, Cardinal Copia revels in being our glorious leader. In the video, he even dances with an umbrella like Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds from Singin’ In the Rain.

Cardinal Copia stands under a black umbrella that he will later dance with as he is showered with water from a busted water main.
Cardinal Copia imitates, in my opinion, the movements and dances of Dean Kelly and Debbie Reynolds from Singin’ In the Rain

Like the congregation in “He Is”, Ghost continues to play on the symbiotic relationship of metal band and audience, the way the band imbues the crowd with energy, which is fed back to the band. This speaks also to Ghost’s rising fame, popularity, and prominent billing in recent years. Ghost has come a long way since 2010, and “Rats” is proof of that ambition.

Conclusion

According to a Nameless Ghoul, Ghost’s fourth album, Prequelle, will be a return to a darker theme, and Forge mentioned in his interview with Loudwire that the coming album and “Rats” will add sincerity to the spectacle. I think it’s safe to say that “Rats” is sincere in its respect to Ghost’s previous works as well as sincere in its motives. Ghost seems to have taken a step back (and that’s probably true in a lot of respects), but have also plunged forward.

Cardinal Copia's outstretched hand blocks the view of his waxen face.
In one fluid motion, Cardinal Copia beckons us forward, and draws us in by force of will, part of an incredible dance sequence that was difficult to capture.

If there was any doubt in your mind of Ghost’s continuing genius, dispel it now. “Rats” is an 80s throwback done so well that I can’t even criticize it for that. “Rats” does everything correctly, and even those who are displeased with the new direction can appreciate how important this video is to the evolution of the band, and after all that’s happened, evolution is exactly what this band needs. This band needed an arena opener, a fresh start, something to bring newness to the band that is sure to also delight veteran fans, something to announce that Ghost is always going to be rising, taking over, spreading it’s contagion of thought and spectacle. After Meliora, “Rats” is a celebration of a return to Ghost’s original purpose, a celebration of the changes they have wrought and the changes they will continue to affect.

Watch the Video!

There is so much to look forward to from Ghost! Prequelle is set to drop June 1 of 2018, and Rats on the Road tour has already begun! If you have not yet, make sure you watch the video for “Rats”, and judge for yourself whether or not Ghost is as Ghost has always been, or if the changes we’ve seen in the last few months are irreversible.

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