With Ghost now back out on the road in North America to support the brilliant release of *Impera *with Mastodon and Spiritbox, it shouldn’t be controversial at all to say that the Swedish band are currently at the top of the metal world. And don’t give me that tired “gHoSt iSn’t mEtAl” crap.
Is Ghost your typical metal band? Not at all and that’s by design. Still, it’ll be interesting to see the potential mix of fans at these shows given their recent rise in popularity on TikTok. If anything, it might mean even more concertgoers will be holding up and staring at their phones during upcoming “rituals” (because who actually views shows with their own eyes anymore).
As scores of fans prepare themselves for tour dates that dot the continent — hopefully without the slowed down version of “Mary on a Cross” — let’s look at some of the reasons why Ghost is one of the greatest hard rock and metal bands to ever indoctrinate the world’s children.
How do you keep your schtick from getting tired? Easy. Change it up every now and then, which is exactly what Ghost does. We only get to experience each Pontiff for about an album cycle or so, before they’re removed in a sometimes theatrical manner. These changes not only allow for new “characters” to be experienced on stage, but it helps serve as an easy entry point for new fans.
Unlike your most kvlt black metal band or beer-chugging thrash outfit, Ghost can write in so many different styles. Whether they’re taking a page out of Blue Öyster Cult’s book with “Elizabeth,” turning 180 degrees with an uptempo rocker like “Rats,” or the breaking out the oh-so-pop-sensible “Spillways,” Ghost knows how to craft a wide array of songs that touch on so many influences while still staying unique.
With today’s ticket prices continuing to rise in an economy that already is thigh-high with inflation, concertgoers should get the most for their money. In this respect, Ghost ensures that their fans get an experience that features elaborate stagecraft complete with pyro, a visually striking backdrop that transports you to another place, and a stage full of ghouls who ply their trade each night under Papa’s watchful eye.
Speaking of those Ghouls, when you go to a Ghost show it’s certainly clear that Papa Emeritus IV is the star. However, that’s not say the Nameless Ghouls aren’t highly talented and entertaining in their own right. Whether it’s the guitarists who can shred, the backup vocalists who bring energy to the ritual, or the drummer who crushes it night after the night, the Ghouls and Ghoulettes and their ever-evolving wardrobe are an amazing talent in and amongst themselves.
Ghost’s first two records evoked a great deal of nostalgia from the 70’s with their throwback sound and air of mystery. What better way to play on the nostalgia of the following decade, the decadent 80’s with the introduction of the keytar. It’s not just the introduction of keytar though that adds so much to the band, it’s the fact that it’s integrated so expertly in the track “Mummy Dusk” and performed so magically by one of the Ghoulettes.
Ghost’s album covers, sometimes inspired by classic horror film movie posters, are highly detailed and gives us a great deal to both experience and ponder. Whether it be the cover to an LP or a single, Ghost takes us back to the days when the cover helped sell the record as you browsed your local record store. Ghost’s covers are self-contained works of art worthy of display on their own, especially if you get the movie reference. Enlisting some of the best artists out there like Zbiginiew Bielak doesn’t hurt, either.
Not all that long ago, MTV played music videos. Lots of music videos. And there was not a pregnant 16-year-old to be seen. These days, however, MTV is something my kids have never even heard of. But thanks to the advent of YouTube, the music video can still be a very effective tool to bring images to music and Ghost does it so well, taking many cues from the heyday of Music Television.
Exciting arena bands that were once the darling of the ’70s and the ’80s seem to have left the realm of rock music. Bands like U2 have seemed to embrace the adult contemporary genre in recent years, while bands like Coldplay are just plain boring as hell. Ghost has perhaps not only resurrected arena rock, but they’ve also reset the bar.
From the Papa Emeritus Pope blanket, to the “rosary” beads, or the multitude of licensed action figures, Ghost’s merch is both unique and quirky. The revolving cast of characters lends itself to merch that’s anything but one note. Taking a cue from bands like Behemoth and Heilung, Ghost has been able to extend their brand well beyond their music and have become something of a lifestyle brand. While this may be the seen by some as “selling out,” the reality is that record sales and streams rarely pay the bills. Besides, I’ll take Ghost branded clothing any day of the week over H&M.
While the “members of the clergy” like Sister Imperator can make outlandish statements and craft overt schemes to recruit as many people to their own brand of Satanic monotheism, the support characters do so in a manner that’s both whimsical and fun. Unless, of course, you’re a religious fanatic… Then maybe not.
Ghost is about creating theater with a dynamic and exciting storyline that continues to expand. Folks can debate whether they are “really metal” or whether they are even really believers in what they preach to the masses, but ultimately, Ghost is about making art that’s interesting, accessible and to many, magical.