Okay, so during the last several weeks, somehow (I don’t actually remember how it happened), I’ve become rather obsessed with Ghost, the mask-wearing Swedish satanic metal band. Obsessed as in I’m actually alarmed at how much I’ve been listening to them. Obsessed as in each day, I decide that today I’m going to listen to something – anything – else, but about 10 minutes later, I’m listening to Ghost again.
Serious fans of any species of Scandinavian metal (especially those church-burning death metal viking assholes) will take great issue with Ghost being labeled anything other than a purely pop band. And there is merit to that argument. One critic rather accurately described the band’s music as “metal for people who don’t like metal.” Which isn’t literally the case, but I absolutely understand what he’s getting at. Here’s what I think he meant: take Motorhead. I love and adore Motorhead and was rather crushed when Lemmy died. And like most other people on the night Lemmy passed, I went to Motorhead’s page on Spotify and started to play their top 10 most popular songs. “Ace of Spades” was first, natch, and I turned the volume waaaaaay up. Brilliant. Poured a shot of Jack and threw it back. Then the next song started to play. It was great, but I have no idea what it was. I know it was 3 chords and 3 minutes long because, well, damn near every song in the Motorhead catalog consists of 3 chords and is about 3 minutes long. So the second song ended, and the third song started up, and it was maybe half a minute into it when I decided that was all the Motorhead I could take and put something else on. It occurred to me then that I have never and will never be able to sit through more than 3 Motorhead songs in a row. I could never get through an entire album side. And I love Motorhead. That’s just the way it is. I talked to other fans of Motorhead who validated my opinion: love them as much as you may, you simply can’t sit around listening to Motorhead for any length of time. The same holds true for the Sex Pistols: absolutely love them, and they only released one actual album, but to sit through the whole thing if you’re over the age of 20 and have already heard it is more of an endurance contest than anything else. And so it is with metal. Especially any old school Norwegian death or black metal: if it speaks to you, it’s great stuff, but even if it speaks to you, one of its defining characteristics is that it’s recorded “dirty” (i.e., crappy and aggressively analog equipment with even crappier acoustics), and, let’s be honest, most of it sounds pretty much like some sort of missile strike with lead vocals that sound like a very angry Cookie Monster extolling the virtues of eternal damnation through a ludicrously distorted fuzz box. But now, along comes Ghost, who are very much “metal,” but with addictively hook-filled song writing, pristine production and digital bliss, layered harmonies, instrumental complexity, and melodies that are “musical” as opposed to literally monotonous, delivered by a vocalist with a multi-octave range whose intention is to be understood. Thus, “metal for people who don’t like metal.”
Other reasons I think Ghost is brilliant:
- Many of their song titles and lyrics are Latin, so of course I’m all about that.
- They utilize things like Lydian and Aeolian modes and other esoteric things I haven’t really encountered since music school.
- Ghost is what rock music would be like if the ’60s had never happened.
- They are what would have been the norm if we hadn’t eliminated music education from American public school curricula.
- In a screenwriting class I took in grad school, I had this idea about a huge rock star who wore a mask and concealed his identity, as did all the members of the band, so that they couldn’t be linked and followed. I loved the idea of some super-famous guy who was completely anonymous, who could be onstage in front of 10,000 screaming people on minute, and then a few hours later be standing in line at the grocery store, unrecognized and unharassed as one of his songs plays on the store’s speaker system. I couldn’t make the screenplay work, and I ended up turning in some dreadful thing about vampires. But the idea has always appealed to me. So when I saw these guys, it was almost a recognition: “I’ve been wondering when you guys were going to show up.”
- Ghost is the first band in a very long time whose music has got me not only reaching for the guitar again but also wanting to start recording again.
- Though I am an involuntary atheist, my world view has become undeniably Luciferian in the last few years, and it’s kind of nice to have a suitable soundtrack.
I’m sure this is a Me thing, just something that is hitting me at exactly the right time; however, Ghost won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2016, so that says something.
Give ’em a listen.