A lot of readers have been suggesting for years that we add the Swedish group Ghost (or Ghost B.C., as they were briefly called here in the States) to the Weird List. But we never did, because frankly, once you look past their costumed, pseudo-Satanic theatrics, their music is about as mainstream as it gets. Yeah, the guitars shred and churn in a vaguely metallic way, but they still make My Chemical Romance sound like Slayer by comparison. One of the tracks on their latest album, Prequelle, even features a saxophone solo — and not a screeching John Zorn saxophone solo. More like a Supertramp saxophone solo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s just not even within shouting distance of weird.
But you know what? A band fronted by a Satanic anti-Pope called Papa Emeritus and made up of anonymous, masked minions called Nameless Ghouls playing what amounts to latter-day hair metal (minus the hair) is, we gotta admit, pretty goddamned weird. Especially at this point in the band’s history, when they’ve been at this for over a decade and managed to achieve something dangerously close to mainstream success while still seeming like an elaborate piss-take of metal’s fascination with Satanism.
The genius and/or huckster (depending on how you feel about Ghost’s shtick) behind all this is a guy named Tobias Forge, whose biggest claim to fame pre-Ghost was fronting a moderately successful Swedish death metal band called Repugnant. For years, Forge managed to keep his own identity in Ghost a secret, only speaking to press in the role of a Nameless Ghoul, even though he played Papa Emeritus onstage from the group’s inception. As word that he was Papa Emeritus began to leak out, he even tried to throw fans and press off by repeatedly firing and replacing Ghost’s evil lead singer with new Papa Emerituses (Emeriti?) — Papa Emeritus II, Papa Emeritus III and short-lived fan favorite Papa Emeritus Zero, who teetered onstage with a cane and an oxygen tank. All were played, of course, by Forge, and most Ghost fans seemed to be in on the joke — but it still added to the band’s air of mystery.
Early Ghost albums mixed galloping metal guitars, pop hooks and Forge’s oddly lightweight vocals (he sounds, not unpleasantly, kind of like a Swedish cross between Billie Joe Armstrong and Placebo’s Brian Molko) with the occasional church organ or medieval-sounding choir, making explicit the idea that they were literally worshiping Satan through their music. Think of it as anti-Christian contemporary rock.
Here’s a taste of their live show. We always suspected Satan was really into Carmina Burana and apparently Ghost think so, too.
In early 2017, Forge’s identity was officially revealed when four former Nameless Ghouls sued him, claiming they were all owed back pay, in some cases stretching all the way back to 2010, and that they were denied treatment as equal bandmates in the project. (Forge hasn’t responded to the suit’s financial claims, but has asserted that Ghost is essentially a solo project, as he writes all the music and is the group’s sole constant member.) The suit, as far as we know, is still pending — but that hasn’t stopped Forge from releasing a new Ghost album, Prequelle, and unveiling yet another lead singer character: Cardinal Copia, who in the video for lead single “Rats” seems less like a demonic clergyman and more like a gothed-out version of Jim Carrey’s character from The Mask, complete with some very Michael Jackson dance moves.
Not surprisingly, a lot of metalheads detest Ghost, which kinda makes us like them even more. Even though this line from a recent article by an angry metalhead for Vice is 100% accurate: “Their entire publicity strategy is like a teenager arriving at Christmas dinner with a face tattoo and then screaming, ‘GOD, LEAVE ME ALONE!’ every time someone points it out.”