Scar Tissue - The deep scar tissue of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
In the times when mainstream popularity still held rock and roll in its favor, countless currents developed within the genre, intrinsically forming the polar opposite of each other; from glam to grunge and from heavy metal to punk. Above these constellations, a subspecies was enthroned, which could hardly be more theatrical and yet clearly more suitable for the masses: Stadium Rock. Bands like Boston, Journey or Kansas created a not-to-be-despised niche for themselves, where, as the name already reveals, whole stadiums were made available for concerts, in order to provide the necessary space for the elaborate productions and, of course, to profit from them.
Evergreens like “More Than A Feeling,” “Don`t Stop Believing,” or “Carry On My Wayward Son” literally crave to be absorbed and sung along by an audience as large as possible. But then, around the turn of the millennium, a paradigm shift occurred that would propel the new burgeoning culture of hip-hop to the top of the charts, gradually pushing the stodgy stadium rock of the old generation into oblivion.
Let the curtain rise for the nameless ghouls, led by Papa Emeritus, now Emeritus IV, aka Tobias Forge, from Linköping, Sweden, who are reviving the long-established tradition of stadium rock in the 21st century. The popular listener-friendliness of the created sounds from a bygone era is maintained at the expense of reverence: the entire formation apparently pays homage to none other than the Horned One himself, as evidenced by the symbolism of the costumes, the macabre lyrics, and the individual interview statements, thereby bestowing upon Him an appropriate reception in front of a majestic backdrop in stadium form in glorious reverence.
Even the figure of Papa Emeritus is reminiscent of a kind of zombie pope, as he wears a traditional bishop's habit and numerous layers of makeup and prosthetics on his face that disfigure him beyond recognition. The intention behind the outfit is to be a sort of mascot for the band; perhaps a nod to the heavy metal legends from England, Iron Maiden, and their iconic mascot named Eddie, which adorns every single album cover in a wide variety of ways. Instead of this rather one-dimensional use of the mascot, though (Ghost also flaunt an iteration of Papa on all five of their previous works), the band expands the potential and presents a living mascot in the form of Papa, who also sings all of the songs.
The success of this unconventional formula clearly works for Ghost, as they not only fill stadiums around the world for their elaborate live performances, but even reap critical laurels, winning a Grammy in the "Best Metal Performance" category back in 2016. The fact that the elaborately staged heavy metal flirts with pop sensibilities is related to their common origin with the giants of pop Abba, as all of their musical output to date bears witness to Abba's inspiration: the infectious hooks and melodic choruses that couldn't have come from the pen of Agnetha, Björn and co. meet groovy guitar runs and 70s progressive rock-inspired synthesizers.
Similarly light-footed as their pop godfathers, Ghost maneuver from one macabre earworm to the next, as the lyrics are wonderfully somber, detailing satanic rituals and unspeakable deeds, and their pairing with sweeping melodies and actually joyous and melodious vocal progressions create an interesting soundscape. Parallels often fall to the undisputed masters of pop music, who completely turned the world of music upside down in their short creative period of barely 10 years—namely, The Beatles.
This comparison can't be dismissed out of hand, so on a special single release there is an eerily beautiful cover of the Beatles classic “Here Comes The Sun,” which got the Ghost treatment and sounds as if it was tailor-made for the band. Ironically, the Beatles themselves were often caught in the media crossfire, as they were said to have secretly made a pact with the devil, which is why none other than Aleister Crowley stuck his bald head out on the album cover (amid dozens of figures from British history) of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
What Ghost is all about is probably the most nascent question regarding the mysterious grouping. Until recently, all identities of the "Nameless Ghouls and Ghoulettes" were unknown, which was resolved on the recent tour of the current album "Impera" and confirms that renowned musicians and musicians of the Swedish rock and metal scenes were involved here. Singer Tobias Forge was exposed quite quickly when his singing voice was apparently identical to his performance in the alternative rock band Subvision—case closed.
Previously active in the death metal band Repugnant as a singer and guitarist, he wanted to creatively combine his love of classic rock and 60s pop, and so Ghost was launched without further ado. An own signature should be established immediately, and so the live mascot Papa Emeritus was born, which also adorns the albums - covers in various versions, which at the same time include allusions and variations of famous movie posters, for example, the debut with the Ghost version of the Stephen King film adaptation "'Salem's Lot."
With 2010's debut "Opus Eponymous," Ghost surprised the stagnant metal community with a still fresh-sounding album that skillfully blended catchy riffs with spooky '70s synths and a voice that was as haunting as it was pleasant, bedding the listener in a morbid lullaby. The title of the album deserves a special mention, as it initially bears a Latin title, like all other LPs by Ghost, only this one has a special twist, as the title can be translated into "self-titled composition", which is a clever way of avoiding an actual self-titling.
This was followed-up three years later by "Infestissumam," which is a Latin superlative meaning "most hostile." Here Ghost break out of their own niche and joyfully experiment around with progressive rock elements, and in addition the pop influences intensify. Many fans of the previous album were thrown out by this, but in fact the album is a firework of creativity and brought to light some of the band's best compositions, such as "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" and the closer "Monstrance Clock".
Another three years later came the album "Meliora," which has a positive sound, as it can be translated simply as "better," but for that Ghost moves to the battlefield with a real storm of riffs and stylistically row back in the direction of the debut album, especially in terms of heaviness, as it is one of the heavier albums in the discography. The band won a Grammy that same year for the song "Cirice," and Ghost found themselves flying high again. 2018 saw the release of the band's most pop-heavy album to date, which caused a lot of polarization within the fanbase, but commercial success skyrocketed even further. Nevertheless, "Prequelle" (French spelling of Prequel, ergo prehistory) represents Ghost's weakest output in terms of quality, which leaves much to be desired despite a few hits ("Rats," "Dance Macabre").
March 2022 saw the release of the fifth album called "Impera," ("command" in German), and the long break seems to have paid off, as the record has the band back at full speed, and feels more organic and cohesive than the previous work.
An eerie intro, which finds its reuse for the album's finale, thus creating a narrative arc, introduces the latest work of the Satan disciples from Sweden with a fair amount of gravitas to present a string of dance and headbang-able songs that entertain and captivate for the entire playing time. A return to old strength that makes one look forward to Ghost's future with anticipation and presents a recommendation for all who are open to unconventional music. Raise your horns and praise the horned one, Ghost command you and call for the dance of death!
It doesn't always have to be satanic. Here on mukken.com an array of musical diversity is just waiting to be discovered by people with an affinity for music. The cosmos of music is almost endless, and the range of topics on the blog, which is worked on daily by a multitude of talents, should also be almost endless. From features about artists to reviews of albums, movies/documentaries to books; from coaching to instrument tips. Here you will find everything that musicians desire and together we celebrate the unifying power of music, on mukken.com.
Originally published on January 18, 2023, updated on January 18, 2023