Record review: Pope Francis, "Wake Up!" (Believe Digital)


Released on Black Friday, the debut album by white-clad black-metal upstart Pope Francis stands to turn the genre on its head. The ways are legion.

We know from many previous examples -- Slayer's "Diabolus in Musica," Dimmu Borgir's "In Sorte Diaboli," Behemoth's "Abyssus Abyssum Invocat" -- that Latin, with its pagan associations, has been adopted as the official language of Christianity-averse metallians. While Francis follows in this tradition via dark Latin mutterings reputed to have been recorded within the very walls of the Vatican, "Wake Up!" also includes Spanish, Italian and English, making it the most internationalized metal album on the market.

Black metal has gradually broadened its sonic palette: Its original buzz-picked guitars and pummeling drums have been augmented by keyboards, vocal choruses, strings and folk instruments. "Wake Up!" takes the universalizing trend even further with trumpet, flute, oboe and even accordion, though it doesn't fail to reinforce its links to metal's past: On the epic title track, every loyal hesher will get his fill of heavy rhythms and overdriven guitars (by Alberto Pagliuca; see him shred in death's-head T-shirt here).

Although I speak little Italian or Spanish, and my Latin is rusty, I sense that black metal will receive its most revolutionary shock from the lyric messages of "Wake Up!" Standard metal exhortations to defile the Virgin are replaced with "Salve Regina"; glorifications of bloody battle give way to "Pace! Fratelli!" Diehard metal warriors may see the flip as a betrayal, but many will welcome the change -- over the decades, all the horns and pentagrams have surely grown shopworn.

Several intrusions of cheering crowds indicate that "Wake Up!" is partly a live album; one can easily picture the mosh pits forming below Pope Francis' golden crozier as he whips up his minions. Judging from their enthusiasm, black metal -- and maybe the world -- will never be the same.