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Metal fans are fickle. We love to discover bands, sing their praises to friends, and recommend their albums on chat boards. But boy, do we hate when bands achieve success. Plenty of people are ready to attack, armed with anonymity.
Ghost is a textbook case of this. Not a year ago the band was an underground darling. Fenriz talked them up in his blog. Fans passed around Opus Eponymous – then only available in Europe – like a relic. Live reviews extolled The Undead Pope’s stage presence. Comparisons were made to King Diamond and Blue Öyster Cult. But long before they closed Maryland Deathfest this summer, the knives were unsheathed. I even wondered if it was too much too soon when The Undead Pope graced the cover of Decibel.
I was wrong. Ghost is more vital now than ever. Metal needs them. That’s right, I said metal. Calling Ghost classic rock or retro is another way of trying to take the band down a peg, to somehow delegitimize them. Do you really think your local classic rock station will ever play a song praising human sacrifice or mocking the Lord’s Prayer after “D’Yer Mak’er”? It’s unlikely.
Here’s why Ghost is one of the most important bands on the scene.
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Does anyone doubt Ghost’s songwriting prowess? I recommended Opus Eponymous to a friend, a talented musician who toured the indie rock circuit throughout the ’90s. He is in no way an extreme metal fan. He was hooked on the first song. I could play this album for my mother, a Carly Simon devotee, and she’d find something to like.
We’ve toiled for too long under the illusion that metal should be inaccessible except for a chosen few. That wasn’t the case for Judas Priest, a band that captivated the world with “Living After Midnight”. When you strip everything aside – the expertly crafted image, the communion wafers, the breathless press releases – Ghost is about songs.
The Journey Factor
When I was a kid, I owned a 45 of the Journey single “Any Way You Want It”. I played it until it was scratched and beaten. Roughly half the songs on Opus Eponymous have the Journey factor, particularly “Con Clavi Con Dio”, “Ritual”, “Stand by Him”, and “Satan Prayer”. I can’t get them out of my head. How many bands can do that? It’s like trying to bottle lightning. Most bands are lucky to do it once. Ghost does it throughout their entire debut. It bodes well for future albums.
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Having a secret identity is cool again, thanks to Ghost. It’s been boring in metal for years. Everyone knows Oderus Urungus from GWAR is Dave Brockie and “E” from Watain is Erik Danielsson. There is probably a tour map of Des Moines pointing out where the members of Slipknot live.
I’m so attached to Ghost’s anonymity that I intentionally avoid sites aiming to out them. They’ve created a genuine mystique. I like to imagine there are demons under the black robes and that The Undead Pope’s face looks just like his mask. When I was a kid, I hated the attempts people made to out KISS. There was something tantalizing about the Unmasked album despite the horrible songs. The cartoon on the cover sold the album. When KISS finally removed their masks, they were revealed as the Starchild, The Demon, The Cat, and the Spaceman.
Our metal tribe needs new members. Without them, labels can’t sell albums, bands can’t tour, and new generations of bands don’t form. You can’t just walk up to a kid on the street and hand them Noisear, Gridlink, or Altar of Plagues. They need to be seduced. Ghost offers the ultimate gateway experience. I see The Undead Pope becoming an effective recruiter, much like Eddie or Anton LaVey. He is metal’s own Uncle Sam.
Metal cover songs have also become stale, perhaps because Six Feet Under has released about 10 albums of nothing but covers. With one song, Ghost has raised the bar on metal covers. They could have done the easy thing, like cover Mercyful Fate. Instead, they took The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” – a paean to hope – and turned it on its head.
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Ghost – “Here Comes the Sun”
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Thfew who have seen Ghost play have described a show bordering on transcendence that somehow didn’t take itself too seriously. I regret missing their performance at Maryland Deathfest. I’ve watched every video I can find, and the show looks captivating. There’s a minimum of movement, yet you are transfixed. I’m there in the front row this fall.
The Devil hasn’t been this fun or scary in years. Most music praising Satan is inaccessible to all but a few extreme metal listeners. What’s more subversive than an album that could be translated into one of those Rockabye Baby! CDs? Ghost is scary because you find yourself singing lines like “This chapel of ritual / Smells of dead human sacrifices” in the shower.
Metal is about presence, an intangible “it” factor. It’s about projecting an image. It’s why bands wear corpsepaint, pose in front of snow-topped mountains, and wear more spikes than a porcupine. Metal has always has an operatic bent. Ghost understands this and uses it to their advantage.
Every band – even the uber-kult– is looking to get noticed. They want to sell records. And metal fans like merchandise that enhances the emotional connection they have with artists. Take shirts, for example. Metal fans love shirts, and Ghost has the best shirts. Did you see the Deathfeat shirt with The Undead Pope as the Statue of Liberty? Brilliant. I’m waiting for them to release a special edition of their next album with a custom-made incense burner, Ghost pendant, and one-size-fits-all Undead Pope robes.
I don’t think they’ve taken this far enough. Ghost could take over the merchandising world like The Misfits. The Undead Pope could become the new Crimson Ghost. Where is The Undead Pope limited edition action figure? Bring on the Ghost bobbleheads. What about a lunchbox and Thermos? Are you listening, Metal Blade?
There is a gimmick involved – many, in fact — but Ghost is far from a gimmick band. They are tremendously savvy musicians as skilled at showmanship as they are at music. Metal hasn’t been this fun in years.
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Photo by Metal Chris
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GHOST – NORTH AMERICAN TOUR
w/ Enslaved, Alcest
Sep. 23 – Springfield, VA – Jaxx
Sep. 24 – Millvale, PA – Mr. Small’s Theatre
Sep. 25 – New York, NY – Gramercy Theatre
Sep. 26 – Cambridge, MA – The Middle East
Sep. 28 – Quebec City, QC – Impérial
Sep. 29 – Montreal, QC – Cafe Campus
Sep. 30 – Toronto, ON – Opera House
Oct. 01 – Columbus, OH – Outland Live
Oct. 02 – Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
Oct. 03 – St. Paul, MN – Station 4
Oct. 05 – Winnipeg, MB – WECC
Oct. 06 – Regina, SK – The Exchange
Oct. 07 – Edmonton, AB – The Starlite Room
Oct. 08 – Calgary, AB – Dickens
Oct. 10 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theatre
Oct. 11 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon
Oct. 12 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theatre
Oct. 13 – San Francisco, CA – Slim’s
Oct. 14 – Los Angeles, CA – The Troubadour
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