My “real life” has a nasty habit of getting in the way of my “metal life”. A while back I had planned to start a regular “Band of the Month” feature for this site. But “real life” concerns such as family, wife, work, etc prevented me from having the time or inclination to feature a new band each and every month. Undeterred, I had hoped to resurrect the feature for the new year and make Ghost 2011′s inaugural Band of the Month. Then shit happened, as it often does, and I didn’t finish the piece in time. Even though I’ve come to realize that regular features are for people with more free time on their hands than I (and in honor of the stateside release of their debut album), I present a discussion of Scandinavia’s premier Satanic pop group, Ghost.
Sweden’s Ghost is a very special band indeed. A theatrical stage show, an anonymous membership, over-the-top Satanic lyrics and a beyond-infectious sound have brought the sextet a great deal of attention within the metal underground, and with good reason.
Despite the underground buzz, I’m not so sure that I’d call Ghost a metal band. There are hints of Mercyful Fate and Blue Oyster Cult in their melodies, but to me they’re more along the lines of occult hard rock or even power pop. Yes, the dreaded “p-word” is actually the first thing that comes to mind when I listen to Ghost’s debut album, Opus Eponymous, which has finally been released domestically thanks to Rise Above’s deal with the fine folks at Metal Blade. While pop music might be the bane of many a metalhead’s existence, I am not among them. A well crafted pop song is one of life’s most sublime pleasures, and the members of Ghost (whomever they may be) understand this implicitly. In fact, the less I think of Ghost as a metal band and the more I think of them as pop music, the more I enjoy them.
There is an interview with Glenn Danzig in the book Lucifer Rising where he discusses the idea that the devil would not appear to us as something frightening or horrific; the devil is a master of temptation and would manifest himself as something enticing and seductive. Ghost similarly realize that you’re not going to seduce the masses with black/death metal, you will only preach to the converted. Songs like “Ritual” and “Satan Prayer” are Satanic hymns that even the most mainstream-minded of music fans could potentially enjoy. Of course there is the question of the lyrics, but do pop music fans even pay attention to lyrical meaning, as long as it is catchy?
There is one other very intriguing musical comparison that hadn’t occurred to me until several others pointed it out… The Beach Boys. I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not thinking of it right away myself, as my wife is a pretty big fan of them. Something about the way the vocals are produced, particularly during the choruses of songs like “Elizabeth”, “Stand By Him” and “Satan Prayer” definitely evokes Pet Sounds, albeit with lyrics about Elizabeth Bathory and black masses. I wonder if Ghost was actually influenced by Brian Wilson’s layered vocal harmonies and psychedelic pop stylings. Ghost should cover “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”. That would be creepy and awesome.
Just as intriguing as Ghost’s music is the mystery surrounding the band’s membership. There are rumors that members of Repugnant and Watain are involved, but nothing has been confirmed as of this writing. I even saw one very far-fetched theory that suggested Fenriz was the band’s drummer, but anyone who’s read a Darkthrone interview in the last decade knows that the man detests playing live. Whomever may be involved, I find it fantastic that they have been able to keep themselves anonymous in the age of the internet. It only adds to the subtle creepiness of their music and the hooded menace of their stage show, featuring what can only be described as an undead Satanic Pope on lead vocals. I suppose some would see the theatricality and willful air of mystery as silly or trite… these are probably the same dull tools praising all the faceless/soulless metal currently flooding the market played by dudes who look like the cashier at your local convenience store. The internet has taken away our sense of wonder and awe, leaving us to long for the days when bands like KISS and Alice Cooper seemed like insane, mysterious superheroes. Ghost is music for the kids who stood in front of the mirror with an upside down tennis racket and pretended to be Gene Simmons (I can’t be the only one, right?).
Ghost is a difficult band to pin down. Are they a particularly stellar entry into the recent occult rock movement (ie The Devil’s Blood, Jex Thoth, etc.)? A group of true-blue Satanists looking to spread their gospel to a mainstream rock/pop audience? Are they a doom band or a black metal band as some would have us believe? Are they the bastard children of King Diamond, Brian Wilson and Buck Dharma? There are no easy answers. Whatever they are, I happen to think they’re pretty fucking brilliant.