There can be little doubt that the formidable rise of Ghost and the lurking threat of their mainstream acceptance is not only one of the most remarkable success stories of recent times, but a cause for great cheer. Openly endorsed by the not insignificant likes of Metallica frontman James Hetfield and former Pantera singer Philip Anselmo, their reputation as a buzz band has inevitably been met with scorn and dismay by many, who continue to wheel out the age-old bellyaching of “style over substance” and bemoan the bands carefully constructed image as contrived and a mere crowd-baiting gimmick.
Of course, this is patently utter bollocks. Notwithstanding the rich theatrical heritage of hard rock and heavy metal (KISS, Alice Cooper, King Diamond, Slipknot), the overtly satanic world that Ghost inhabit is about as refreshing a shtick as can be seen in 2018, especially given the sanitised, corporate rock currently dominating the airwaves across the pond (where the Swedes are particularly massive). Distinctly cartoonish and Hammer Horror it may be, but the sacrilegious pomp and gothic nightmare of infernal anti-Pope Cardinal Copia and his faceless companions is still enough to make the uninitiated grab their crucifix and reel off a few hail marys. It most certainly ensures that the band stand apart from the identikit radio-rock masses, embracing the sort of atmosphere and esoteric force rarely felt from any of their so-called peers and managing to sit on the cusp of a minor breakthrough whilst pledging devotion to The Great Horned One. Give me Ghost over Shinedown any day of the week.
Image aside, however, the barefaced pop sensibilities of the band’s catalogue are bound to irk a certain strain of metal fan. Owing more to Blue Oyster Cult than Behemoth, Ghost’s disarmingly sweet-sounding hard rock sits rather at odds with their much-proclaimed allegiance to Beelzebub, yet the sheer quality and cross-appeal of their music is undeniable. Indeed, whilst there are plentiful examples of prog rock’s unhinged ideas and bombastic arrangements littered throughout their discography, enormo-anthem ‘Square Hammer’ unerringly flaunts an ABBA-esque chorus and arena-sized singalong, ‘He Is’ strides fearlessly into power-ballad territory and ‘Secular Haze’ sees a thunderous collision between refined pop tunefulness and old-school metallic thud. Groundbreaking it may not be, yet the fact remains that this is a band taking everything that has driven the appeal of heavy metal since Black Sabbath struck their first chord and repackaging the immortal essence of metal’s vaudevillian past, whilst simultaneously delivering some of the most massive tunes of the decade which still, somehow, ensure we sense that smoldering hell-fire alongside those humongous melodies.
Sure, those who will claim to have left the womb clutching a first press twelve inch of Harmony Corruption will more than likely disapprove of Ghost’s infiltration of the heavy music world (without a blast-beat or death growl in earshot), and it is understandable that many will be left cold by the overt melodrama of it all. But Ghost aren’t for these people. It’s not Gorgoroth, well done, have a sticker. Yet with so much spoken of ‘gateway’ bands nowadays, there is no doubt that many of Ghost’s young fanatics will be the underground devotees of tomorrow, and for any knuckle-dragging purists to denounce the band’s standing as an entry point towards extreme metal’s bountiful delights is not only ridiculous but detrimental to their beloved scene.
Disregarding question marks over personal taste and originality, there is an ironclad reasoning why Ghost are, and deserve to be, a modern hard rock treasure. Despite their unhallowed lyrical themes and image contradicting the rather beauteous songs tossed our way, everything ties together for a distinctive Ghost magic, harnessing a uniquely subversive approach which looks set to resonate with audiences for years to come, inviting them to step somewhere blasphemous and beyond. A welcome antidote to the aforementioned bland and cynical rock superstars of today, between their awesomely warped facade and startlingly catchy songs, Ghost are ripe for criticism, devoid of limitations and primed for super-stardom. Hail Ghost!
Ghost’s Prequelle is out June 1st on Loma Vista Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss