Before I get to Meliora in Part II, I have a confession to make:
I have probably known who Ghost is for some time. It would be hard to be in the Goth and metal scenes for as long as I have been and not catch a glimpse of the tell-tale makeup of Ghost's pontiff front man Papa Emeritus I, II, and most recently III, who assumed the mantle of power earlier this year. I had heard their name, of course, but I had never sat down to their music.
|Papas Emeritus 2008-2015|
So I can't be everywhere and all places at once! Don't all of you act like yall are so perfect!
Before you all rip my head off, let's think on this for a second: I've been in the Goth and Metal scenes since before most of Ghost's current fans were out of high school. Ghost as most of us know it have has been around since 2008, their debut album Opus Eponymous coming to light right as I was finishing up college (2010). I've been around the Nu Metal, Goth, Doom Metal and Emo scenes for a while, and I think any sane adult would agree with me that it's really hard to hear everything, especially when you spend the majority of your adult life listening to European Power Metal (and some Japanese metal) My adult soundtrack was, and is, Nightwish, Blind Guardian, Falconer, Hammerfall, Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, Gackt, among many others that don't always fall directly under the heading of Power Metal.
Like every single fantasy novel ever written, like every author of classic sci-fi, it is impossible to consume every single band that ever crosses ones path.
And yet, for all that I just said, there is absolutely no excuse for my appalling lack of astuteness in this matter.
Forgive Me Father, For I Have Sinned!
I would like to now bow in obsequiousness before the wicked pontiff and those swirling winds of blackness on guitars, bass, keyboard, and drums. I prostrate myself before the ritual alter and beg forgiveness for this wrong that I cannot right. I had, for too long, observed others at Ghost concerts, wondering what it was I could possibly be missing. A simple group of musicians in funny costumes? What? Keep scrolling.
No, no! I was wrong! Please! Please forgive me! Take me into the fold at last, Father! I repent! I repent!
Rest assured, traditionally unnamed members of the best band in all of Prog Rock/Doom Metal, that though I have come late to the gathering, I am by no means ignorant. I have peered into the darkness in the blinding light and sought shelter within its depths. I no longer come to the alter an uneducated naysayer with benign shrug and tilted head, but a devoted disciple. I have donned the requisite attire in haste, and caught up to the back of the crowd. I've stumbled my way forward to get a closer look at His Eminence. I've tripped over my vestments, scrambled back up, brushed myself off, and have prepared myself for whatever fate He has in store for me.
Will Papa Emeritus III welcome me to the flock, the patient shepherd, or will he turn me away in disgust as punishment for my lack of faith?
I cannot know the answer to that. All I can do now is wallow in the music.
What do I think of Ghost? I mean what do I really think of Ghost? Well, I'll tell you!
It Is Always Best to Start At the Beginning
Ghost wrapped up the American leg of their Black to the Future tour in early November. However, I had no idea they were even on tour. I spend the vast majority of time hating the fact that I miss almost every single MIW concert that comes within a hundred miles of me. I came across no small amount of Instagram selfies containing costumed followers dressed as Papa Emeritus II and III for Halloween. Finally, a few band members I follow from a few other underground Doom and Black Metal bands posted some footage of a Ghost concert.
It was as if there was someone out there trying to tell me something...
I was very wrapped up in making sure Richard Sammel saw my Halloween costume (I went as a steampunk-like Strigoi from The Strain). As far as I know, Herr Sammel did not see my costume, but I kept my nose firmly glued to my phone.
So when the Heavy Metal Is Law Facebook page posted a video of a live performance of "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," I scrolled past it--and then immediately back up to it. Ghost had shown up not once, not twice, but three times in my social feeds in only a couple of days. At last, I took note. At last, I reached over to my laptop, as my work computer doesn't have speakers, and played the official video for "FtPttP".
I listened absently. I listened again, and watched the video. I followed that up with "Cirice". I was at work too, so I had a very unproductive day.
Within moments, I was reborn.
The Ghost Phenomena
Feeling the need to realize the phenomena from the beginning, I started with Ghost's debut album, Opus Eponymous. It surprised me that I enjoyed Ghost despite their muse, which, if my research proved fruitful, is predominately Pink Floyd. I actually hate Pink Floyd. Not hard enough for me. I'm a Power Metalhead, you understand. If myself and a group of like-minded individuals can't bash our brains out to fantasy lyrics, I'm usually not interested. I have been reassured that even the most stalwart metalhead will tell you Dark Side of the Moon was absolute genius before trashing it and running away, screaming something about life being too short for mellow rock. With Ghost it's different. I expected the bulk of their music to be metal, but that's no quite it. Like Pink Floyd before them, slow songs are slow ("I Am Waiting for the Night to Fall", the opening to "Zombie Queen" being most notable). The hard songs are hard(er). Up until Meliora (different concept), the lyrics have been dark and unrelenting set against a backdrop of upbeat major notes punctuated by the downbeat and heavily stressed syllables at the end of each line of the verse. It's like, "The Devil has come, but that's okay, ya know?"
I listened to If You Have Ghost last, and I'm glad I did. Having listened to their other three albums and watching a few of their videos, I found the EP is exemplary of Ghost's sound; it epitomizes the irony of the band. Not only does Ghost adapt an ABBA song, among others, but they do it in such a way that darkens and twists the Pop icons they are covering, leaving one to revel with them in delight as songs like "Marionette" and "Crucified" are rendered hilariously overwrought, ingeniously re-arranged in meter and instrumentation to adapt each song as if Ghost had written it themselves. The style of the arrangement coupled with the irony of the subject matter leaves one giggling. I wondered what kind of musical Mama Mia would have been if Ghost had covered the entire thing. Meryl Streep would have been sacrificing goats, but she wouldn't know why. She'd just stand on the beach covered in blood screaming, "I don't understand!", the proverbial marionette with Papa pulling the strings. Papa Emeritus II would have taken the head of the aisle in the wedding scene and commanded Pierce Brosnan to commit sepuku. I'd have paid money for that!
Ghost as Performance Art
All music is meant to be experienced live. Like trying to enjoy the Broadway theater experienced only through Pandora Radio, there is a lot of the Ghost experience lost in listening to the albums alone. Ghost is meant to be experienced live. That is the long and short of it. Ghost got its start live, as most indie bands do, touring and exposing the world to the grandeur and menace of the "rituals". Ghost has been a band since 2008 (Papa I), but did not release their debut album Opus Eponymous until 2010, featuring the favorites from the band's live shows, like "Elizabeth" and "Satan Prayer". Their EP If You Have Ghost reprised the go-to song "Secular Haze", which is featured as a live track.
Everything from the placement of props on stage to the makeup and costumes serves a purpose that is lost in listening to the albums alone. Music videos are a must for this band, their most high budget ones like "FtPttP"
"From the Pinnacle to the Pit" official video, Meliora (2015)
are beautiful, but incomparable to the old school elegance and swirling stage mist of "Secular Haze" and "Monstrance Clock".
"Secular Haze" a waltz from Infestessimaum (2013)
The live Ghost experience is nothing short of transcendental, with audience members transported from their own bodies to become one with the gathered congregation. To say that this is not done on purpose (that we're just a bunch of Satan-worshiping metalheads on drugs--lookin' at you, Mom!) is naivete itself. The purpose of the shows is to mock and ironize Christian and organized religious congregation, complete with spiritual touches and what the Puritans referred to as "ecstasies," in which the Holy Spirit would literally (and this is what Puritans truly came to expect and believe) inhabit the body, proof that the Puritans were not only the chosen few but also that God could in fact make Himself manifest. This most commonly referred to in the Bible and in most organized religions as "speaking in tongues." I've spoken in tongues before. You should see me in the moshpit. I'll show you jibbering and slathering in a spasmodic seizure the likes of which you have never seen.
At a live Ghost show, your ecstasies do not invite the Holy Spirit, but a different entity, one entirely at odds with organized religion. Your transcendence will not lift you to heaven, but merge you with the congregates in a soulless orgy of the mind and spirit that can only be accomplished under the tent at a Baptist evangelical youth camp or in the moshpit.
It is this merging of the inherent danger of metal, the ecstasies of spiritual inhabitance, the lyrics of the songs that call upon Beelzebub, Satanas and Lucifer, and the overall concept of Ghost that has gotten these guys exiled and banned from whole cities and countries around the world, unfairly in my opinion, since the band has no real militant message. Anyone who listens to the band's lyrics may find themselves at first rather uncomfortable until you realize you are not being called to the army of darkness. You are being seduced by an evil that is not coming as it was foretold, but who is already here.
Ban them, call them Satanists. There can be no light without the dark, and like the world's most enduring organized religions, Ghost isn't going anywhere.
Stay Tuned for Part II