Monday, 21 September 2015

Masks, cloaks and Satan: Inside the esoteric cult-rock band Ghost

Lincopia, Otrogothia, 2015. “The clergy has adjourned and the Nameless Ghouls are summoned…” A new and very much anticipated album is about to be released, and it’s time for Papa Emeritus II to step down and let a new pope take office in the Ghost clergy.

This event is marked through a ritualistic video, where the band is praised for their efforts so far - two album releases, one of which was a gold record. But they are told there is still room for improvement. The cardinals have elected a new pope, and the smoke burns black as a symbol of the Ghost and the arrival of the new member of the cult band. One of the cardinals, who remains nameless in the video, says: “This man will take the band further than any of us could ever have imagined. I present to you now Papa Emeritus the third.”

The unique delivery of the vocalisation and the harmonics has always been one of the Swedish band’s staples. Their music takes on an ethereal atmosphere that reminds you of going to a church. The only difference is that this is a church that is being led by the band, which is kind of the point whenever you consider the structure and naming of everything that they do - and the fact that Papa looks like an inverted pope. It is one thing to have a theme, but it is another thing to have the music actually remind you of that. With each theme it is as if you are involved in some sort of parochial environment, one that is illuminated towards the dark cultish side, which is what Ghost have done throughout their career.

Opus Eponymous

When Ghost released their first album, Opus Eponymous (2010), they caused mayhem within the music industry. No one knew who these masked geniuses were; nor did they care. The music spoke for itself, and it made no difference whether the members were well-known musicians or not. Releasing an album influenced by 60s, 70s and 80s rock, with bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult and Pink Floyd at the centre of it, was exactly the breath of fresh air the metal and rock industry needed. Ghost came in with such grace, but managed to blow everyone away with their Devil worshipping theatrics.

It didn’t take the band long to get recognised for the simple yet majestic music they had produced - soon after the release they were touring with bands like In Flames and Trivium. A lot of musicians have been mesmerized by their act and you will often hear big artist such as Phil Anselmo (Pantera and Down) praising their work. Anselmo, wearing a Ghost t-shirt, invited Ghost on stage to close their set at Download Festival 2011. They finished off the set with Bury me in Smoke, but Anselmo changed the lyrics to Bury me in Ghost. In an edition of Sweden Rock Magazine the album was named the third best in the past decade, with the first two being The Final Frontier and A Matter of Life and Death by Iron Maiden.

Each album has thus far been based around a theme. A Nameless Ghoul said: "The first album is about the forthcoming arrival of the Devil, spoken very much in biblical terms, much like the church will say that doomsday is near.” The album ends on the song Genesis, the birth of Antichrist. Their second album, Infestissumam, continues from the Antichrist’s birth onwards. The Nameless Ghoul said: “Everything on the first record was about a coming darkness, an impending doom. Whereas Infestissumam is about something present. And literally, it deals with the presence of the Antichrist. But subliminally, the meaning of it is more what mankind - predominantly men - have deemed to be the presence of the Devil, throughout history and even nowadays. That’s why the record is so fuelled with sexual themes and females.”


Musically, Infestissumam took the band to a new level. It was more thought through and even more theatrical than the first. Now, being on an American label, the recording process wasn’t as straight forward as it had been with Opus Eponymous. As they were recording in Nashville, the band struggled to find a choir to perform their satanic lyrics. One of the Ghouls said: “We told them what they were supposed to sing, and one of the guys almost cried as he took offense…So we ended up recording the choir in Hollywood, where people have no problem with worshipping the Devil.” The album was finally released in the beginning of 2013. It reached number one in both the Swedish album charts and in the US Billboard Hard Rock Albums.


Meliora was released August 21; still keeping the cult rock theme alive, with prog interlaced within it. The album has a mixture of different kind of tracks, all working together in harmony, but also as stand-alone pieces. Each song uses its own energy and its own atmosphere, encapsulating the ministerial feeling of being in the house of Christ (or Antichrist). The album is musically constructed with much finesse, with elements of ABBA and The Beatles, and some heavier elements of early Black Sabbath present - a strange combination that somehow seem to work euphonically.

Being an unusual group, openly worshipping the Devil, the band has been met with some controversy. The band recently had to postpone a concert in Pennsylvania, as it coincided with Pope Francis’ visit. Show promoter Sean Agnew of R5 Productions said the event - billed as “Ghost vs. Pope” - was to be a religious “head-to-head battle for Philadelphia.” He said: "The band wanted to get really creative, and have their own Ghost motorcade where the singer would go around the city. We had these great ideas to create an alternative to the pope. But more and more stories started to come out about the lockdown. We had to scale back."

As for the members, the band has revealed that only their closest friends and family know who they are. Some critics have said that the decision of remaining anonymous is to gain more attention. The band quickly disputed this and said that the idea behind removing their personalities would allow their audiences to focus upon the artwork itself. Speculations and rumours are of course all over the internet, with the most recent being Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) on drums.

It is confirmed that Grohl produced and played drums on the If You Have Ghost EP, but if he is a permanent member has not been confirmed. In an interview with Rolling Stone a Nameless Ghoul said this about Grohl: “Well, we can’t really know, can we? I can tell you this much: He has played Ghost material in a ghoul suit. And he might or might have not have [performed onstage], and he might or might not in the future. How’s that for a commercial cliffhanger?”

As they embark on their Black to the Future world tour, it now remains to see what Papa Emeritus III will bring to the band and how he will utilise his time in office until the next Papal Conclave.

Who are they?

The identities of the six members are something which has been speculated on since their first release and appearance. These speculations will remain so until the band (if ever) decides to unmask. For now, this is Ghost: Five Nameless Ghouls and Papa Emeritus III. Each Ghoul has been allocated a symbol (pictured on their cloaks). When signing autographs they will stamp their symbol.

The lead guitarist:              

The bassist:                         

The keyboardist:                 

The drummer:                      

The rhythm guitarist:          

Papa Emeritus will sign his name as P.E.

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