Haunted by “Ghost”: Swedish Satanic Metal Saves My Night

I was supposed to write about the OC Music Awards that I attended last Saturday for my next blog, but instead I have chosen to write about a Swedish Satanic metal band called Ghost. I might say that I have chosen to write about the lesser of two evils, but Ghost revels in being pretty comically evil. Never fear, I will write about a few bands worth mentioning from the OC Music Awards, but I need some time to process.

While at the awards ceremony, I found myself feeling familiar feelings that I hadn’t felt since childhood. It made me want to listen to metal and I asked myself why. Tracing back into my psyche, I realized that the OC Music Awards ceremony was reminding me of church. I hated church so much as a child that I formed my first punk band “The Virgin Marys” specifically to be sacrilegious. In silent protest, I used to wear comically offensive costumes to church and I’d revel in writing silly sacrilegious lyrics for my band or drawing naked women to entertain myself through church services. Now, it wasn’t church or religion that specifically made me protest as a child, it was having to do as I was told without question and fit some specific mold of a person that I just was not. Somehow the OC Music Awards reminded me of this scenario. Not saying that it was all bad- church or the OC Music Awards- but just saying the highlight of my night last Saturday was listening to my new favorite band Ghost in the car ride there and back. With all the egos flying about the room at the OC Music Awards, it’s refreshing to write about a band whose members never show their faces and simply go by “Nameless Ghouls.”

Ghost is a Swedish metal band formed in 2009 who will be playing at the Gibson Ampitheatre in Los Angeles on April 26th, opening for Mastodon and Opeth. I am so excited for the show, because I am a huge Opeth fan, but now I am also a huge Ghost fan. I will be reviewing the live show in this blog (along with a May 5th Meshuggah, Decapitated and Baroness show at the House of Blues). I don’t know how many metal fans read the OC Art Blog, but hopefully they’ll find me. I’ll tell Ozzy to send out some messenger bats.

Now, I feel the need to write about Ghost prior to my review of the Opeth show because I have heard from several Opeth fans that they will arrive late in order to avoid seeing Ghost. The general consensus is that Ghost seems like merely a gimmick band that does not even play skillful metal in comparison to the intricacies of the music of Mastodon or Opeth. Even though I am totally in love with Opeth’s music, I disagree. It took me a few listens, but Ghost’s debut album has won me over and I’ve found myself singing their guitar riffs to myself for the last two weeks. (I try not to sing their lyrics in public because lines like “the Devil’s power is the greatest one” don’t go over well.) I even found myself finding depth in their music and lyrics, past the comical Satanic theme concept.

Ok, so yes, Ghost is a six-piece band whose members dress in black monk robes and never show their faces, like the Nazgûl from Lord of the Rings. Yes, Ghost is a band whose lead singer dresses like an evil skull-faced cardinal who- rumor has it- burns cannabis in a censer (a Catholic incense burner) like he’s a priest performing mass. Some audience members might see this only and walk away, and fine. I am not saying look past this to hear Ghost’s music. I am saying that Ghost is fucking awesome because of their stage gimmick AND their music.

Ghost performing in 2011.

Ghost reminds me of my pastimes to get me through church (and my entire Irish Catholic upbringing) as a child. I can see them as Catholic schoolboys passing notes, covered in sacrilegious drawings and jokes, back and forth to each other in the middle of mass. Their band just might have been born in the same way my first band was, out of an inside joke that made them have a vehicle to write some really fun music.

Ghost writes the most delightfully fun Satanic metal. Think if Murky Dismal and Lurky from Rainbow Brite formed a band and sang about how good was bad and bad was good. Ghost flips pop music on its head, by using their Swedish musical chops to write pop metal songs with vocal harmonies and epic key changes that remind me of Abba at times, all with comically evil-themed lyrics. At times, Ghost has a 1960s garage band sound, similar to the rawness of Black Sabbath. At all times, Ghost sounds like they are having an endearingly gleeful time writing and playing the music they do.

Ghost’s debut album Opus Eponymous begins like a mass with a somber organ on “Deus Culpa” and then goes into “Con Clavi Con Dio” that opens with the line “Lucifer we are here,” which almost seems like a provocation to put off the wrong fans.  But if you stick around, what you discover is really creative, intelligent metal. “Con Clavi Con Dio” cleverly mixes Benedictine-sounding chants with metal riffs. “Ritual” is catchy as hell, pun intended. The chorus could be a typical pop song if only it wasn’t speaking about sacrifices. I adore the guitar riffs that finish out this song; Ghost has you dancing happily until you remember what you are dancing to.

Ghost truly won me over with their song “Elizabeth” which is basically a love song that sweetly sings “forever young Elizabeth Báthory” in its chorus. It’s sweet until you recall that Elizabeth Báthory was a 16th-century Hungarian countess who was accused of torturing and killing hundreds of young women. Legend has it that Báthory bathed in the blood of her victims because she believed it would help her retain her youth and beauty. (This was, after all, a pre-plastic surgery era.) Therefore, Ghost’s pop-y and sweet “forever young” chorus, yields the perfect irony and comical darkness. Living in the image-obsessed OC and Los Angeles area, makes this song all the more delightful to me. Ghost applies their similar pop sensibilities to “Stand By Him” which is like a pop song about a woman standing by her man, though in this case the woman is a witch standing by her man Satan. Opus Eponymous ends on an epic note with “Prime Mover” blending into the instrumental “Genesis” which shows off the band’s musicianship in creating a moving musical build, which left me (at least) wanting more.

To those Opeth fans who say Ghost is all gimmick and lacks any musical skill, listen to the instrumental song “Genesis” and hear Ghost for their music, versus their Satanic lyrics. But it’s true, you can’t get around the Satanic gimmick, you just have to revel in it to love Ghost. I can’t wait to report to you about what Ghost is like in concert. Until then, I am indebted to the band for keeping me sane and entertained during the OC Music Awards.


8 Responses to “Haunted by “Ghost”: Swedish Satanic Metal Saves My Night”
  1. axelgrease says:

    Disenfranchised from an established religion’s domination over school pranksters, my Catholic grade-school friends revealed dark secrets of recess torture, kneeling on bricks in the playground, wacked with rulers and publicly humiliated before their class mates. This was done while the girls hiked up their green tartan plaid skirts and stuffed kleenex into their training bras behind pressed cotton button-down blouses, terrifying us public school suppressed-and-conflicted heathen boys and girls with their abject precosity. Metal was made for those who suffered during childhood, in particular.

  2. Digging ‘Ghost’!

    I saw Opeth at the house of blues Anaheim several years ago, simply amazing.
    Love Baroness. What a line up coming up.

    And your upbringing story was insightful, do you have recordings of ‘The Virgin Marys’? 🙂

    Great article Joy!

    • Joy Shannon Joy Shannon says:

      Thank you Stephen! I don’t have any recordings of the Virgin Marys sadly… I feel they live on best in legend ;).

  3. Damien says:

    WOW. Have been following GHOST ever since their Download Fest performance in June last year. Love your review..Looking forward to more of them from you. Keep it up !!!

    • Joy Shannon Joy Shannon says:

      Thank you for reading! I only wish I could have gotten an interview with Ghost… we were joking when we interviewed Mikael Akerfeldt that you’d have to interview Ghost through a confessional.

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