“A lot of black-metal bands have an agenda where they actually say, ‘We want you to kill yourself,’” bemoans Ghost’s frontman. “We don’t have an agenda. Our uppermost goal is not to make people change anything. We want to change people into attenders of our concerts.” For an anonymous Swedish rock frontman who goes by the cryptic nomer “A Ghoul With No Name,” he’s pretty sincere.
Ghost is a Swedish pop-metal supergroup that chooses to hide its identity behind dark robes and satanic pomp. The singer goes by Papa Emeritus, and could easily double for Skeletor at a He-Man convention. Despite all the darkness, the group’s 2010 debut album, Opus Eponymous, is filled with shockingly hook-oriented retro metal. But the occult themes have helped capture the imagination of the underground metal scene, leading in short order to a key performance at Britain’s Download festival and a cover story in Decibel magazine.
The debut disc begins with a haunting church organ, guaranteed to whet the appetites of vintage horror fans; then a rollicking bass line kicks in and seven classically composed rock songs follow. Fans of Mercyful Fate will recognize the vocal conventions that Papa Emeritus employs—banshee wails one instant, a demon bellow the next. Comparisons to Blue Öyster Cult abound in reviews, but one can hear dark twists on Foreigner and Journey, too. There are moments when Papa’s voice recalls no one more vividly than Weird Al in the latter’s original horror camp piece “Nature Trail to Hell.”
“We as a group, we don’t have a militant agenda,” says the Ghoul, via telephone, when asked how serious his band is about the Devil. “We are entertainers. We are here to entertain everybody with a very horrid mind. Obviously, we’re six dudes playing in unison. So we’re a rock band. But we are drawn to create something that has more in common with theater or going to see The Omen at the cinema. Traditionally everything that’s remotely rock is devilish, and basically the first transparently really blasphemous artist was probably Elvis, with his sexually pulsating rock.”
Resting lyrically on the sensational aspects of Satanism and penning such catchy tunes as fan favorite “Ritual,” Ghost has drawn a large female audience. “Ironically, we are a band surrounded by women,” the Ghoul laughs. “It’s by chance, I guess. We aren’t as ‘male stereotype’ as you can expect from a lot of other bands. Just for example, [the song] ‘Stand by Him,’ it’s about witches. But it’s actually about male stupidity. It’s about superstition. And retardedness. And fear. There are a lot of aspects in what we are singing about that are based on the dualism between man and woman and the confusion that occurs when the attraction between the two are very natural.”
As accessible as the recorded music is, Ghost emphasizes that it’s a live band, with goals to make a future stage show on par with the best of Alice Cooper or KISS. “Obviously, being such an image-oriented band, you need to see the band live in order to get the full experience. We want people to step into that black bubble for an hour and a half,” the Ghoul says. “We are painting a picture with very, very, very clear messages to get attention, yes. We are using [horror films and philosophy and religion] in order to build an atmosphere of fear, authority and speaking from a kid point of view—just cool stuff that makes you shiver.”
This short U.S. tour presents the Opus Eponymous album live in its entirety, but a new disc is almost ready. “The old record was about the forthcoming doom of the arrival of the Antichrist,” relates our friendly Ghoul. “The new album is about the present of the Antichrist, the presence of the Devil, and how mankind relates to that. And the Devil can come in literal shapes. A good looking woman is the Devil. Any kind of lust that you might have is the Devil. And any kind of doubt, confusion itself is the Devil. It can come in terms of an occult rock-’n’-roll band. That’s the Devil. And laughter is the work of the Devil.”
You can almost see the wink from the darkness beneath his hood.