Mysterious Swedish metal band Ghost B.C. invades Ohio
Subversion and influence of the masses via popular music is hardly a new thing, whether by design or just uninformed opinions of those who “don’t get it.” This issue has long dogged the heavy metal genre, in particular. Dating back to the beginnings of heavy metal, British metal forefathers Black Sabbath were accused of spreading the gospel of evil and being “Satanic” for their doomy melodies, lurching song structures and dark, ominous stories about Lucifer’s love, spell-weaving wizards and the wicked nature of humankind. Some 40 years later and in light of more overt expressions lyrically, musically and visually of all things blasphemous, heavy metal has lost some of its initial intrigue and mystery over the years as public tolerance for all things dark, twisted and owing to the Devil doesn’t ruffle the feathers of the status quo these days like it used to.
Along comes the then-unknown Swedish heavy metal sextet Ghost. On the strength of a demo and a single released in 2010, the band created a stir in the metal underground both for its retro heavy metal sounds recalling artists such as Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, Blue Oyster Cult and Witchfinder General. While referencing these classic metal acts, Ghost drew even more intrigue for its unlikely pop-influenced melodies and sing-along choruses about morbid subjects as human sacrifices, evil witches, allegiance to Satan and the birth of the antichrist. This intrigue was solidified upon with the band’s first official full-length release, Opus Eponymous, in 2011. Press release materials for Opus Eponymous added an extra layer of curiosity to their burgeoning reputation, stating that, “Ghost is the name of an anonymous devil worshipping ministry, that in order to spread its unholy gospels and trick mankind into believing the end is ultimately a good thing, have decided to use the ever so popular rock music medium as a way to achieve their ends.” The band refuses to identify its members by names, choosing to only by known as “Nameless Ghouls” and hiding their faces underneath black hooded robes, masks, costumes and makeup. Even when giving face-to-face interviews, band members appear in their creepy, ritualistic regalia and have their voices distorted a la those secretive interviewees one might see on “20/20” or “Dateline NBC.”
With its macabre visual mystique and arresting musical mixture of heavy metal and ‘60s psychedelic pop, Opus Eponymous garnered Ghost accolades from both the metal community as well as music critics, earning the group the 2011 Grammy Award for “Best Hard Rock Album” in their native country – quite an unusual feat of mainstream recognition. Meanwhile, tours all over Europe and North America commenced to rave reviews praising the band’s musical chops and theatrical imagery. Then, in 2012, Ghost found themselves perhaps inexplicably signing to the Loma Vista imprint of Universal Records and receiving a jaw-dropping $750,000 advance for the making of the band’s first full-length for the major label. These reports seemed suspicious given Ghost’s self-imposed rule of anonymity, as well as its lyrical dedication to praising the Devil and all its related intent. Let’s face it, what corporate radio station would ever allow singles with “Hail Satan” chants anywhere near its Top 40 playlist?
The signing of Ghost – now known as Ghost B.C. in North America, due to legal issues – to Universal Records turned out not to be a hoax, and in April 2013 the band’s second full-length offering Infestissumam was unleashed. Despite an obvious lack of commercial potential, within one week of release the album debuted at #28 on Billboard. Why? First of all, the band’s imagery of faceless, hooded would-be monks and a frontman resembling a skull-faced Satanic pope has proved to be a visual aphrodisiac, drawing curiosity from even the most oblivious music rag reader and Youtube purveyor.
Then there’s the music itself – Infestissumam, while being slicker in production, is still musically a logical successor to Opus Eponymous. This time around, though, Ghost emphasizes its penchant for pop melody over the chugging, doom metal riffs that dominated its debut album while taking some ambitious musical chances to keep the proceedings fresh and adventurous.
Infestissumam’s debut single “Secular Haze” begins with a carnivalesque, waltz-time organ melody that is joined in by shifting metallic guitar chords that eventually swells into a glorious, soaring chorus led by Papa Emeritus II’s harmonious, cleanly sung lead vocals. Another song of note is the album’s follow up single “Year Zero,” which features the juxtaposition of Satanic chanting and a bouncy disco drumbeat underscoring lyrics of mankind’s failures and ultimate demise with the rise of Satan, aided by choirs and a sonic overload of bells and manic guitar work that builds to an intense climax before fluttering airily into a subdued keyboard solo. It is this type of subversion and juxtaposition that Ghost B.C. specializes in – using their metal roots along with their photogenic band imagery married to ear-infectious pop melodies, Ghost has managed to indoctrinate both underground metal fans as well as the unrelated, unsuspecting members of the music listening public into their fold that otherwise would not identify with the band’s obsessions with Satan and evil in general. This skill that Ghost has in spades might just explain their unlikely popularity.
Ghost B.C. is scheduled to play at the Rock on the Range festival in Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus on Sunday, May 19. Single day tickets are $69.50. For more information, visit rockontherange.com or infestissumam.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com