One of the great success stories of the last ten years or so, the inexorable rise of occult rockers Ghost has been nothing short of astonishing. From their inception in 2006 and the release of full length debut Opus Eponymous (Rise Above Records) four years later, the act from Linköping have gone on to become one of Sweden’s greatest ever exports.
The brainchild of enigmatic frontman Tobias Forge, each new record possesses a clearly defined sound, a different theme and is performed by a nebulous group of “Nameless Ghouls” (this particular release includes contributions from Forge’s former Repugnant bandmate, bassist Gustaf Lindström, and drummer Ludvig Kennberg). However, it’s Forge who, from under various costumes, masks and makeup, dominates the spotlight as he constantly regenerates into different, flamboyant clerical guises for each album cycle like a satanic Doctor Who.
Although the band now headline festivals and command arena sized audiences, life was a little different in 2010. After releasing a three track demo the previous year, it was from 7” single Elizabeth (Iron Pegasus Records) where the first real ripples of interest began to spread. By the time Opus Eponymous emerged four months later (a little while after for the US), that interest had already spiralled into eager anticipation. The beginning of an ongoing snowball effect had begun.
While most bands with Satanic predilections were happy screaming unintelligible profanities over screaming guitars, Forge’s approach was very different. Bands like Mercyful Fate were clearly a big influence but Ghost owed more to ’60s/’70s psychedelia and fellow Swedes Abba as they did to the likes of Deicide or Behemoth. By crooning their blasphemies rather than shrieking or bellowing them, Ghost’s first full length anti-Christian sermon was delivered into the subconscious with insidious ease.
From the church organ introduction of ‘Deus Culpa’ (actually Swedish Christmas carol ‘Betlehems Stjärna (Gläns över sjö och strand’ played backwards) to the upbeat finale of outro ‘Genesis’, every song and every lyric in between unashamedly delights in sacrilege and revels in the macabre. After opening with a simple, lightweight riff, ‘Ritual’ soon takes a turn towards the dark side, lyrics such as “dead human sacrifices” and “procreate the unholy bastard” not even attempting to hide among the outwardly benign melodies.
Written about infamous murderess Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (or Báthory Erzsébet if you prefer the original Hungarian), ‘Elizabeth’ is another uptempo number with an infectious chorus at its blackened heart. There’s simply no way that a song containing lyrics like, “to bathe in pure fresh blood” should be so catchy. The first ever song written for the band, ‘Stand by Him’ is another ridiculously evil little earworm that refuses to leave your brain while ‘Satan Prayer’ pulses and throbs orgasmically before unleashing arguably the album’s definitive hook. ‘Death Knell’ delivers creeping Slayer riffs and another canorous chorus before closing with the aforementioned ‘Genesis’ and the nun-fucking religious mockery of ‘Prime Mover’, both of which would serve as a creative springboard to 2013 follow-up Infestissumam (Sonet/Loma Vista).
Captivating to some, infuriating to others, from costumed curiosities to Grammy award winners, Ghost have crept into the collective consciousness arguably more so than any other band during the past decade and still possess the ability to spark heated debates on an almost daily basis. Poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”, and thanks in no small part to the success of Opus Eponymous, for better or for worse, Ghost is never far from the conversation.