Ghost: on Retro Bizarro

They’re not an old band, but they have a retro appeal that many find irresistible.

Heavy metal, black metal, doom metal. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s and had even a remote interest in the stack of hard rock albums your parents had collecting dust in the attic or basement, chances are they were the gateway drug to a series of musical sub genres that evolved incredibly fast. Too fast, really.

Heavy metal didn’t just evolve from hard rock. It replicated, deformed and perverted its host like a cancerous boil. Then it dropped like a mucous-coated sac against the ears of a new generation. And it stuck. And while everybody in the 80s wore the same repertoire of heavy metal pins, T-shirts, and necklaces that they robbed from Columbia House with fake names and P.O. boxes, not everyone had the same tastes in metal. Sure, it was cool to wear an Iron Maiden shirt, but while Eddie looked badass, Maiden was actually pretty mild.  But they filled a niche with cohorts such as Manowar. Bands like these thrived on the outer perimeters of mainstream hair metal.

Then there was the darker metal: King Diamond and his earlier work with Merciful Fate which could easily be pegged as horror metal or “Halloween metal” by cynics. These guys trailed on the heels of Alice Cooper and Kiss, but their music featured darker themes.

The thematic organization of bands hasn’t changed much over the years. The music, however, has. Bands like Bolt Thrower came along, following in the vein of fantasy and war elements introduced by bands like Manowar, but upping the ante in terms of vocal aggression and speed. In the horror metal sub genre, bands like Death and Cannibal Corpse worked their way to the forefront. The artwork for bands like this remained relatively static (in that it was always awesome), and always spoke to a part of me, but I couldn’t get into a lot of the ultra-heavy music, especially if the vocals didn’t feature some degree of melody. I spent a few years buying albums for the cover art. I didn’t have a PC or the internet back then, and it was one of the few ways to enjoy fantasy art. I wanted to love the music, I did. But I couldn’t.

Bands like Amorphis brought melody back to death metal, but the melody rests with the Moog, not the vocalist. And whenever a heavy band tried to infuse their heavy music with clean vocals, it generally sounded awkward to me. I remember hearing Dawnless for the first time. The music was great, then the vocalist opened his mouth and it sounded like a Bon Jovi tribute band went rogue.

I’ve grown less picky over time, and I find myself growing into bands like Death and Godflesh, bands I used to try to avoid like the plague when I was young, back when I would beg my friend to play his Ghostbusters II soundtrack cassette, because back then Bobby Brown beat Spiritual Healing any day. Of course, when I was seven Bobby Brown beat everything in my friend’s collection, including Metallica, Iron Maiden, and all of the other bands I learned to love only a few years later. But I have always felt like something was missing, something reminiscent of progressive death, but with clean vocals. It’s like trying to find the missing link between Black Sabbath and early Tiamat. And no, the newer material from Amorphis doesn’t do the trick.

I can’t believe this was my music of choice twenty years ago. Now my mature tastes lead me to bands that dress up like executioners and sing about Satan. I’ve grown so refined.

The search, in part, is over. At least for me it is. Someone has managed to carve a nice classic metal sound out of the varieties generated since the earliest incarnations of metal. While it is reminiscent of many classic metal bands, there’s something fresh about Ghost.

Ghost’s first full-length album, Opus Eponymous, was released in 2011. Since then, the group consisting of four men fully garbed in black and their front man–dressed in what looks like some sort of satanic anti-pope outfit–have been touring dutifully to spread the word of the antichrist. Their lyrics are probably some of the most satanic I’ve taken a liking to. I heard my fair share of Deicide when I was young, but you couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying anyway, so I never thought much about it.

Ghost, however, features clean vocals. So when they start praying to Satan in their songs there’s no mistaking it. And they’re not preaching LaVey Satanism. These dudes are singing about the stale scent of human sacrifice in their altar. There’s something initially off-putting about the seemingly gentle voice that conjures up images of Armageddon and likens band members to terrifying historical figures like Elizabeth Bathory. But these guys are way too awesome to let even a strong aversion to Satanism deter you. You have to listen to this music. And in no time you’ll be singing about death knells and blood rituals like they were the latest pop hits from Justin Bieber.

Most reviewers are all about concocting a recipe for Ghost. You’ll hear names like Blue Oyster Cult and Merciful Fate thrown around (Review at Encyclopedia Metallum). But there’s a bit Pink Floyd in the transitions from verse to chorus, and a bit of Alice Cooper in the echo of the airy vocals. I’ve heard their music described as the kind of music you might hear in an episode of Scooby Doo as well, and they’re on target. There’s something about the harmonized voices that is reminiscent of those old Doo songs from childhood. I think all of the influences are present in the following song, which is incidentally one of my favorites:

Some critics give the band a hard time because they see Ghost as a retro gimmick (a critique described by theneedledrop). At the same time, veteran head bangers get upset because they think young fans are clinging to Ghost, mistakenly believing them to have carved out some new niche in metal. But most of my friends know full well that this is a band as steeped in nostalgia as the listeners. This is a band of guys who love classic metal. For me, hearing Ghost play like they do is no different from watching Loeb bring back classic Batman villains in the Hush series. Frankly, I’m amazed this sort of thing isn’t being done in the world of metal more often.

The showmanship is great as well. Why bother describing it when an image does them a sufficient amount of justice:

Yeah, they’re not so subtle about the predominantly satanic theme that runs through their garb and lyrics.

If you’re even remotely interested in metal, old or new, check these guys out. They have some great live performances on YouTube, which will likely pop up in the side bar when you listen to the song posted above.

Other Notable News & Updates related to Ghost:

1. Frontman’s identity possibly revealed

2. Metal Blade Records Ghost Page

3. New Album Announced

4. Interview with Metal Injection

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