From the outside it seems that Swedish heavy metal band Ghost (formerly known as Ghost B.C. in the US due to legal reasons) have a solid foundation for success.
I, like many of their cult-like fans, were drawn towards the band for their unusual stage presence and the mystery which surrounds the band as a result. The five instrumentalists in the band are simply referred to as Nameless Ghouls and on stage they all wear the same silver masks and hooded robes. Meanwhile their lead singer, who is known as Papa Emeritus*, is dressed as a satanic pope, using skull face paint and more decorative dress.
Despite Ghost’s wishes for anonymity, it is widely rumoured that Swedish musician Tobias Forge is Papa Emeritus and that Dave Grohl has made guest appearances on stage. However, apart from this, the band member’s identities remain a secret, leaving a shroud of mystery over the band, which in today’s digital age is rarity. The last mainstream band to accomplish this was Slipknot, but over time side projects and the increased media scrutiny that comes with success, has led to every band member becoming unveiled, including the extremely media-shy Craig Jones.
Having such a strong image and an accompanying intrigue factor has proved to be a catalyst for their success, as the brand gets fans on board before they even listen to their music. However, here in lies the problem for me: Ghost’s music is too bland in comparison to their intimidating satanic look.
With their name, their look, their mystery and their satanic links, I fully expected the band to be re-inventors of the metal genre with a powerful sound, like Slipknot were in 1999. Instead Ghost produce middle-of-the-road, traditional heavy metal, with average tempos, a haze of vintage keyboards and melodic pop vocals. The only hint of their image in their music is the satanic lyrics and the odd heavy riff, which soon subsides into organs, danceable drum beats and memorable melodies – hardly the music of the devil!
This is not to say their songwriting isn’t good. Jigolo Har Meggido is a catchy classic rock number that fuses the psychedelic rock of the ’60s with the progressive rock of the ’70s, whilst Year Zero layers choral vocals over a galloping riff to great effect. But despite the focused writing and the diverse influences on show, I can’t help myself wanting more. Listening to their second album Infestissumam, I am waiting for the band to unleash their instruments; to crank up their amps, but Ghost seem happy to cruise by, recycling ideas from decades gone by. I feel the band are just missing a sense of urgency from proceedings; a bit of adrenaline or octane perhaps.
Ghost’s third full-length effort, Meliora, is due next week and despite my reservations, I am interested to see what direction the band have taken. The first single Cirice has embraced heavier riffery, but the same flowery vocals remain, however this is corrected with the second single, From the Pinnacle to the Pit, which adds the odd menacing vocal and a rumbling bass riff to the mix – giving me reason to nod my head.
This is not supposed to be a negative blog post, after all Ghost are a big part of today’s metal scene and it would be silly for me to discount their success. There are many elements of their music to rave about, but when I listen to their music I am waiting for it to spark into life; to reach full vibrancy. I am hopeful that they will convince me one day; that I will suddenly ‘get’ them, but until they do, I’m afraid they remain in a bizarre no-man’s-land between pop, classic rock and metal that doesn’t really appeal to me.
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*Papa Emeritus III is now used to reflect their third studio album.