This year Swedish dark horses GHOST took out the GRAMMY Award for Best Metal Performance with their 2015 single ‘Cirice’. But who are they and why should you care? Good question!
Aside from the fact that the Best Metal Performance is probably not as high on your priority list as Album of the Year (or any of the eleven categories for which hip-hop champion Kendrick Lamar was nominated), GHOST are a band you need to know about.
First you must know that the Grammy’s have not always shared the most fruitful of relationships with the metal community. Historically, the Grammy’s have discourteously grouped Metal and Hard Rock genre in the same award and consistently snubbed new bands in favour of veteran bands’ new material (somewhat of a ‘safe’, token award). The perceived disrespect was amplified when, in 2015, the Grammy was loutishly given to comedy act Tenacious D in what was widely regarded as a piss-take by many metal devotees.
Group that together with a subculture that rejects popular sentiment in music and you have a boiling cocktail of outrage. A constant battle exists between not caring about the biggest award show in the music industry and simultaneously being insulted by the result. 2016 was no exception when this Swedish six-piece upset legendary acts in August Burns Red, Lamb of God, Sevendust and even Slipknot to take out the honour. That is because GHOST are not your average metal band… or band for that matter. Here’s why.
A UNIQUE STYLE
The thing that set GHOST apart from their counterparts this year was their refreshingly innovative sound. Where their fellow nominees favoured highly-technical, loud, angry, fast and raw brands of heavy metal, GHOST seamlessly integrate the gloom of doom metal and the pace of traditional metal (think Black Sabbath) to create a uniquely slow incarnation of the genre. Described by some as mere progressive hard rock, GHOST does away with shredding, blast beats and screams, instead letting the uncomplicated yet heavy riffs speak for themselves. The gong of church bells and ring of piano keys makes the music eerily stunning to listen to.
GHOST have secured themselves an exclusive spot in many music fans’ libraries for being metal without the expected increase in heart rate. Almost ‘easy listening metal’ in comparison to most of today’s metal landscape. They are easy to listen to from a newcomers perspective due to their accessibility and easy to respect from a veteran metaller’s perspective for their nuanced musical prowess.
A SATANIC SPIN ON THE CLERGY
Inspired by Bowie musically and visually, the band certainly has a flair for the dramatic. Satan and metal may not be so distant from each other initially—especially in Scandinavia—but GHOST’s image has made them infamous in the scene for all the right reasons. The six musicians are uniformed to embody a darkened, satanic congregation of clerics sporting inverted crosses. Creative licence or social commentary? You decide.
The vocalist takes the form of archetypal character Papa Emeritus III, a prosthetic-mask-wearing satanic ‘reverse-Pope,’ currently played by his third performer—although theories suggest all 3 Papa Emeritus’ are the same person. The band’s identically-dressed instrumentalists—known collectively as the Nameless Ghouls—are named for the five classical elements: Fire (lead guitar), Water (bass), Air (keyboard), Earth (drums) and Aether (rhythm guitar).
NOBODY HAS A CLUE WHO THEY ARE!
The identities of GHOST have never been revealed. The band are deeply influenced by identity-hiding forerunners Kiss, whose mystique kept fans and paparazzi eagerly on their toes for a decade in the 70’s and 80’s—pictures of Kiss unmasked were non-existent and media bounties for tens of thousands of dollars were known.
The genius of GHOST’s anonymity is remarkable. Most importantly, it fundamentally changes the dynamic of the twenty-first century band. The cult of personality that surrounds vocalists and their ego is non-existent, in a deliberate effort to keep all music concentrated solely on the music. Fans are unable to bicker over the replacement of a singer.
Likewise, the roster of musicians is as fluid as it is static—Schrödinger’s Band, if you will. They could keep the same members forever as easily is change weekly. It really is all about the music. Additional perks include band members being able to lead normal lives, depart without drama and to even sneak in cameos. It was confirmed by a Nameless Ghoul in 2013 that Dave Grohl had donned the outfit of an undisclosed Nameless Ghoul and performed with the band at some point, given that Grohl himself produced the band’s 2013 covers EP -If You Have Ghost-.
“Regardless of your religious beliefs, we like to trigger the imagination of the listener so they can become a devout burner in Hell or a keen participant of devil worship for at least an hour or two. That’s the GHOST experience.”
A Nameless Ghoul (interview in Decibel Magazine #100)
GHOST won the Grammy for creativity, innovation and risk-taking. They provide a novel and meaningful contribution to today’s music landscape. These underdogs did the one thing many metal acts have yet to do since the seventies: slow down—which they do in a very pioneering fashion.
GHOST are bringing the attention back to the music itself. It is for this reason that GHOST are a band to watch in the years to come, especially if you do not listen to heavy metal in the first place.