The curtain opens on the phantom’s opera, a masked demon in the basement of a decayed theater, hovering over a pipe organ, bringing forth demented canticles of lost salvation. If the B.C. is silent, as they say, Ghost B.C. also hew to a vow of silence, preferring to remain nameless, tithing their public personas to their chosen roles in a band hierarchy much the same way as a congregant joins a church, or in this case, antichurch.
Ghost’s version of the Albigensian Heresy surfaced in 2010 when the band’s first album, Opus Eponymous, cut through the underworld of the Scandinavian metal scene with a sense of bold purpose. Beyond the psycho-religious trappings, their riffs ‘n rhythms were precise and catapulting, leavened with a sense of harmony as inventive as Blue Oyster Cult and not sparing the crunching horror show of Iron Maiden or Helloween. Their newest release, Infestissumam, brings them to the Jerusalem that is Nashville, where they recorded with producer Nick Raskulinecz; and as the band approached their venue for this night’s human sacrifice in San Francisco, I made contact through the ether with a Nameless Ghoul — who, if I’m not mistaken, did sound a lot like Papa Emeritus II.
If the first record is about prophesizing the Antichrist, and the second heralding arrival, it seems to mirror your own movement as a band, now undertaking your first headlining U.S. tour and a major label album release.
I never thought of it like that, but that would make sense. Obviously for a band that was for quite some time considered a hype, or by many as a fluke, what we have managed to do is announce ourselves to the world with this record.
This may be a chicken-or-egg question, but which came first, the band or the theatrical concept?
Myself and the other guys are musicians, and we’ve been in several groups together in the past. And while being together in another band, Ghost started when I played a riff to everybody else. I said that this is probably the most heavy metal riff that has ever existed. Then I showed them the opening riff to “Stand By Him.” When the chorus came to me, it haunted my dreams. Every time I picked up the guitar, I ended up playing that progression, and when I fit the words in, it seemed to cry out for a Satanically-oriented lyric. This was in 2006. When we came up with the name Ghost, it seemed only natural to build on the foundation of this heavy imagery. Within that concept we were able to combine our love of horror films, and of course, the traditions of Scandinavian metal.
The shock-horror lyrics, the celebration of devil worship, the guttural vocals and massed slabs of guitar — they’re practically part of Swedish folklore now. The complex overlay of vocal harmonies and the predominance of the keyboards seems to broaden your appeal.
I think on the new record we’re not stepping away from it, but trying to expand on the classical themes of where we come from. When we began we were in an embryonic state, without knowing anyone was listening. Now we seem to be growing along with our audience’s expectations of what we are capable of.
There is a definitely a different feel to this new album than the first. It seems more expansive and inclusive. When you went into the studio with producer Nick Raskulinecz, what kinds of goals did you have in mind, ways in which you hoped the music would develop and grow?
All the songs on the new album, with the exception of “Ghuleh,” were written and demoed in 2011. We knew pretty well what we wanted to do, and going to Nashville was a way in which we could feel a sense of dislocation, of being outsiders. It was almost as if you were a Star Wars fanatic going to a Star Trek convention. Being so out of sync with the city left us to our own devices, like we were on an alien planet, and I think in some ways it pushed us farther out, allowed us to take chances we might not otherwise have were we in our homeland. We are certainly not a country band.
I’d surely agree. In fact, one might say you’re the Anticountry. Speaking of which, how much does the religious imagery you use reflect your own beliefs? Is it more of a theatrical concept, or do you spiritually believe in the dark side?
Let’s put it this way. My whole upbringing was within the extreme metal scene, where diabolical imagery is a way of communicating alienation and otherness. I have been a fan of music like that ever since I was 10, 11. That whole language, that whole way of thinking comes very natural to me. You can view it from different angles, and with Ghost we are attempting to fashion an aesthetic work of art, reflecting the artistic entertainment values of a Biblical linear anti-Christian Satanism. From a personal point of view, we are basically making a mockery of linear religion because it’s such a simplified way of looking at divinity. I think of philosophy and theology as so much grander.
It does seem that your staging and presentation is more for spectacle than hardcore devil worship. No one thought that Alice Cooper was really cutting heads off babies after the show; or that Black Sabbath was drinking the blood of virgins. What are some of the bands you take inspiration from?
We’re influenced by everything ranging from classic rock to the extreme underground metal bands of the ’80s to film scores to the grandeur of emotional harmonic music; that combination gives us a lot of freedom to move our music and staging anywhere. We don’t want to be confined to being any one thing.
So can we expect a Papa Emeritus III with the next album?
Well, I can’t reveal the future. Anything can happen in the antichurch, as within the church itself. In the days of the Avignon schism, back in the 14th century, there were once three Popes fighting for the right to lead the church, excommunicating each other. And that was before the Borgias. There may be a bloody war of succession to come.