Ghost’s Nameless Ghoul
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The last time Ghost—the Swedish doom metal band, not the Japanese psych-rock band—tried to tour North America, the band members got held up at the border. According to Ghost’s website, it was matter of “some last-minute complications” with the group’s visa. But we like to think more sinister forces were at work, keeping Ghost from communing with a North American audience.
Ghost brings that most primordial force of heavy metal power—Satanism, and all things pertaining to the Dark Lord—to the fore of its music. This involves cloaking the band in all kinds of shadowy mystique. The members of Ghost identity themselves only as “nameless ghouls,” and onstage they dress in face-shrouding black robes. The singer, Papa Emeritus, dresses like a Catholic cardinal in corpse paint. So it kind of ruins the fun to imagine that the band could be tripped up by something as petty as terrestrial bureaucracy.
Exult, though, Ghost fans and all ye mortal celebrants of Ghost: The band has worked out these kinks and is finally playing Denver Jan. 27 with Blood Ceremony and Ancient VVisdom. The A.V. Club braved the forces of darkness and a shaky transatlantic phone connection to speak to one of Ghost’s nameless members about getting into North America, the influence of Satan on the band’s music, and something called “the black bubble.”
The A.V. Club: The last time Ghost planned a full North American tour, the band had difficulty getting into the country. What exactly happened?
???: Well, obviously, being nameless has its downsides. Actually being able to prove yourself and what you’re doing on paper was even tougher than we thought. Basically, the immigration issues got postponed to the point that we had to cancel, so we wouldn’t have to cancel on the day that the tour started. We also wanted to give the other bands a chance to find someone to tour with.
AVC: It must be difficult to get a visa when your name is just three question marks.
???: Yes. They didn’t go for that, unfortunately.
AVC: What was the deciding factor this time around?
???: Really it was just a matter of having a bit more time to get everything together.
AVC: North America has a strong metal scene, though maybe not as strong as Europe’s, for the kind of music that Ghost plays.
???: We’re looking forward to the tour tremendously. The response that we got while doing shows in England was phenomenal. I wouldn’t say we’re not European, because we are, and we have a very Nordic sound in many respects. But I think what we’re doing may be more easily embraced in the U.S. and Canada.
We’re in the U.K. playing right now, and when you’re playing in front of an English-speaking audience, they embrace the music so much more, for some reason. I’ve never, ever heard so many people singing the correct words in unison as when we play England. It was really thrilling. You can really notice a difference when you go somewhere where people barely speak English, and they have a hard time embracing the lyrics.
AVC: Ghost played its first big American show at Marilyn Deathfest in 2011. What was the response there?
???: That show was great. Obviously, it’s not optimal to do what we are trying to do in a setting where you play with a lot of bands. Usually at a festival an audience is going back and forth between a lot of bands. An optimal environment for us is to headline a show where you can put everyone who’s attending and trying to experience it into the black bubble, basically, for slightly longer. But we’re used to playing festivals, so it worked out fine. We were very pleasantly surprised.
AVC: What does that mean, to put the audience into “the black bubble”?
???: Well, that’s one of the things that’s quite important. We’re not only semi-theatrical; we’re theatrical in a large part, which will, in time, be even more evident. As we go along with more records, we’ll be able to put together a slightly larger production. Where was I?
AVC: The black bubble.
???: Yes, the black bubble. When you’re playing a headlining show, you’re more able to pick acts of your choice, which might actually be part of advancing the crowd into a certain mindset that would be suitable for what we’re doing. We are a very theatrical band, which means that we offer a similar experience as the movies, or going to a film. With guys in rock or metal bands, usually—usually—it’s just guys in T-shirts saying “Fuck yeah!” and playing songs. That is not what we wish to do. We want every song to be an act in a grand scheme. So we want the show begin before our show even begins, and we want to end slightly later, after we’ve gone offstage. We want nothing to be out of character.
AVC: You’re touring with Blood Ceremony, from Toronto, which is another very theatrical metal band. But, a lot of times, metal fans or the press will write off these elements as being “gimmicky.” Does Ghost come across this?
???: Well, we are very gimmicky. Even though we have the songs to back up what we’re doing, we are obviously relying heavily on our image. The whole idea is to bring something forth, from the twilight between rock and roll and theater. Naysayers will accuse us of being pretentious, which we are, or gimmicky, which we are. “Oh, you’re wearing masks?” “Yes, we are.”
AVC: Bands like Ghost and Blood Ceremony seem to be bringing elements like paganism and Satanism back the forefront of heavy metal. How does Satan influence what Ghost is doing?
???: On a philosophical level, definitely the whole concept of Satanism and the traditional Christian Satan is a huge influence. It’s the main core of what we’re doing. Even though the subjects that we’re dealing with are from a very, very humanist place, in terms of actually talking more about the relationship of deity and man. Or woman. We’re using the old—what’s the word?—the imagery of classic devil worshiping and damnation. It’s a very strong vision, and a very strong message. It deals with everything that’s human—every thought, and laughter, and everything you do is highly, highly blasphemous. That’s why we incorporate laughter into what we’re doing: because it is a tool of the devil.
AVC: You mentioned earlier how a lot of metal bands are just guys in T-shirts. But now these guys, like James Hetfield from Metallica and Phil Anselmo from Down, are wearing Ghost shirts onstage. How does it feel to see some of the biggest guys in metal wearing your shirts?
???: It’s definitely has a huge impact on us, of course. I mean, especially being a band on a very, very small independent U.K. label. And they obviously didn’t have [Hetfield and Anselmo wearing Ghost shirts] on their agenda, so that means a lot.
AVC: How much of the live show is built around your debut full-length, Opus Eponymous? In August of last year, there was a post on the Ghost website that said you were working on some new songs. Can we expect to hear any of this on the North American tour?
???: That’s very uncertain at this point. We’re communing with the elders, and we’ll see. It depends on when our next album comes out. Again, we’re a very theatrical band, and we cycle what we’re doing. So we’re doing a show at this point, and when our next record comes out, it takes the show to the next level. If you start adding numbers to the current show, it’s like putting a scene from an upcoming movie in your current movie. Obviously we’re a rock band, and we can add songs. But we haven’t really decided yet. The new album is currently being written, and we know we’re it’s going. What I was saying before about man’s relationship to God and deities—that will be even more of a theme.
AVC: It sounds like the black bubble is expanding.
???: Oh yeah, definitely. This is just the foreplay. This is just the first stage.