Swedish Metal Sensation Ghost on Anonymity, the Coming Apocalypse, and Sounding Like a Million Bucks in 1978
Whether inspired by frigid temperatures, pre-Christian pagan mythology or brutally long winters, the Scandinavian nations of Northern Europe have produced more than their share of black-hearted metal bands singing the praises of Satan. The dark legacy stretches from the pioneering lo-fi chaos of Sweden's Bathory and the blasphemous banshee howl of influential Danish outfit Mercyful Fate in the 1980s through the notorious rise of the Norwegian black-metal underground that left a wake of dead band members and burnt-out churches during the 1990s.
The frantic blast beats and corrosive guitars of now-iconic groups like Mayhem, Emperor, and Marduk continue to spread their sacrilegious message. But the past year has found like-minded Swedish band Ghost earning a global following with a totally different approach. Marrying the occult riff-rock of Blue Öyster Cult and Black Sabbath with Mercyful Fate's costumed theatrics and unholy lyrical psalms to Lucifer (sometimes delivered in Latin), Ghost's outlandish year-old debut Opus Anonymous (on Rise Above Records) offers up some of the most hook-laden Satanic metal ever made. Fronted by skull-painted, demonic anti-Pope Papa Emeritus and filled out by a crew of faceless, black-robed musician disciples, Ghost's striking live presentation has helped make the group one of the fastest-rising metal bands in recent memory. A Nameless Ghoul (one of the band's two guitar players) recently spoke to All Shook Down about the band's first U.S. tour and the musical roots behind Ghost's apocalyptic hymns. Ghost plays Bottom of the Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 9 p.m. $13-$15 (sold out).
How was your reception in New York City and the other places you've played so far?
Overwhelming. It was really something. Especially coming back to New York and selling out for the second time there. We had a vague feeling about what to expect, but I think they actually topped that. Even though we're not particularly hard to get in terms of language... for some reason in England and the U.S., the reception is always better. People sing and there's something special about it. I guess there's some sort of will to be entertained as opposed to some European regions. So we feel very much at home in the U.S. as an entertainment group.
I wanted to ask you about the influences the band draws on. It's easy to hear elements of Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, and Deep Purple in your sound, but in terms of lyrical content and theatrics, Mercyful Fate seems an even bigger influence. How much of an impact did that band have on you?
Several of us in the band -- myself included -- are deeply rooted in the metal scene. Both King Diamond and Mercyful Fate are bands I've been listening to for 20 years. It's undeniable that records like Melissa and Don't Break the Oath are groundbreaking records and very much an influence on the band. Blue Öyster Cult, as you mentioned, and Black Sabbath have also played a major role.
But a lot of doom and bands that are in the scene that we're usually connected with are probably a bit more influenced by the harder stuff of Black Sabbath. Usually they sound like "Symptom of the Universe" or "Children of the Grave." That's all they wanted to sound like. And most doom bands are trying to sound like a less-produced version of the '70s, whereas I think in connection with Black Sabbath, we try to be as bold as they were when they did their ballads or their orchestral songs. We want our record to sound like a million-dollar production, but from 1978.
It's weird, because a lot of these really hardcore metal guys always refer to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath as being a miracle, groundbreaking proto-black metal album, where it's actually one of the softest Black Sabbath records. [It's] very mournful and openhearted. That same boldness is something we try to ... I'm not saying mimic, but we encourage ourselves to be very playful in the music that we're doing. We're not trying to fit in or think too much about what's cool or not. It's supposed to be passionate. I think you are really dead on that Black Sabbath and Mercyful Fate are necessary bands to have a band like Ghost.
Ghost is certainly a musical departure from what most people would think of in terms of Scandinavian black metal. Did you and your bandmates come from that scene? Were you were playing would be considered traditional black metal before it evolved into this new sound, while retaining the Satanic message?
I would say the black metal movement that happened in Sweden and Scandinavia in the early '90s played a major role in what Ghost is in terms of imagery and accessibility. We are a modern band as far being all over the Internet and being commercial. We're not denying that we're progressing towards hopefully becoming a bigger band.
What Ghost has in common with that old black metal scene beyond the imagery and message, it goes back to the fact that when you read about bands like Mayhem, or Emperor, or Marduk, or whatever band from that time, there was no Internet. There wasn't anything except fanzines. Obviously when the shit hit the fan, the bigger magazines wrote about these things. But there weren't a lot of pictures. There were a lot of rumors. And that lack of access made things much more mystical and interesting. I think that has played a major role in what we're trying to achieve.
Where most bands nowadays try to raise their profile and their band's as much as possible because they don't want to miss out on anything, we're trying to do the opposite. Meanwhile, we're still trying to go forward in terms of getting better known. I know it's a bit of a paradox...
It is. For most people who are putting their music out and performing onstage, fame is inevitably a core part of becoming more successful and more commercial. Yet Ghost makes a point of staying shrouded in anonymity.
But that's why we're trying to have Papa Emeritus be the star. Him. The old codger. The old pope. He's supposed to be the star. Not us as individuals. It's sort of like Eddie for Iron Maiden, except we have our Eddie singing.