So, as it turns out, Satanism is super fun. That’s probably not the most startling revelation to anyone who has been lighting candles at the altar of Slayer, Gorgoroth or King Diamond for the past three decades, but Sweden’s Ghost have made allegiance to the dark lord sound more appealing than it ever has. A troupe of anonymous, enshrouded monk-like figures fronted by the face-painted Papa Emeritus, a golden-throated dark pope of a singer who begins every tweet with “Children!”, Ghost defy the standard of imbuing metal with its most evil-sounding traits by, instead, making the concept of dark Satanic rituals more seductive via theatrical, endlessly hooky rock anthems.
There are, of course, precedents for this sort of thing: Alice Cooper, the aforementioned King Diamond, 1960s and ’70s “occult-rock.” And Ghost most certainly takes a sizable influence from these classic rock and golden age metal anti-heroes. But there’s no effort a la Marilyn Manson to lather on extra shock value, here. In fact, were it not for some moderately icky lyrics (“This chapel of ritual/ smells of dead human sacrifice“), Ghost’s anthems to the unholy wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on a commercial classic rock station between slices of Sabbath and Zep. That might sound like I’m overselling the band as stadium rock giants; I’m not. Though the band is young (I’m assuming; they’ll never tell), and committed to a pretty solid level of schtick, their chops are undeniable.
The rumbling bass and stomping drums in “Con Clavi Con Dio” set the hard rocking ceremony off to a mighty gallop, while the opening riffs to “Prime Mover” summon the sinister in as catchy a manner as possible. The spookily dense organ lends just the right touch of grave-digger atmosphere to “Ritual” and “Death Knell.” And there’s doubtful been a more infectious chorus in the last ten years of metal than that of “Stand by Him” (“It’s the night of the wiiiitch“).
That the band is committed to putting their cloaked, theatrical heavy metal on a regular touring schedule only warrants even more ample kudos, as does the band’s sense of humor, which is all the more apparent in the interviews that Emeritus, aka The Nameless Ghoul, gives. As any sermon at Sunday mass would suggest, blasphemy is dangerous because it’s just so hard to resist. Ghost are just making it that much harder to do so.
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
Blue Oyster Cult – Secret Treaties
Electric Wizard – Black Masses
Stream: Ghost – “Stand By Him”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.