Ghost aren’t fucking around.
Despite the fact that they are indeed another metal band dressed up in costumes and masks in an attempt to create larger than life stage personas and characters, they don’t approach their career with the same tongue in cheek, nudge, nudge, wink, wink attitude of bands like KISS or GWAR.
They keep their real names and faces a tightly guarded secret because it builds tension, drama and intrigue. This isn’t a gimmick – this is theatre.
And when it comes to discussing their music, the music industry and the state of heavy metal and rock today, they are (pardon the pun) deadly serious.
I found that out 10 seconds into my interview with the Swedish band’s spokesperson, A Nameless Ghoul, when I tried to open with a playful question about whether or not he was in some way possessed by the band’s enigmatic leader, Papa Emeritus III, or if he was simply a figurehead. The bone dry tone of his response was enough for me to toss out half my questions, most of which were varying gags about Satanism, the occult, and a pitch to co-write a musical called Anti-Christ Superstar.
Instead we discussed the writing and editing process for the band’s brilliant new album Meliora, the misconception that artists don’t need record labels to achieve success in the modern music industry, and his total and utter contempt for the popularity of metalcore.
He really fucking hates metalcore.
Music Feeds: I’ve never spoken to a ‘Nameless Ghoul’ before. How does this work exactly? Do you speak for Papa Emeritus III or does he speak through you as some sort of possessed vessel?
Nameless Ghoul: Basically Papa doesn’t give interviews. He’s not the kind of guy that sits on the phone chatting about Italian prog, he doesn’t – well Italian prog he might talk about – but general interview conduct is not really his style. He doesn’t really socialise with us anyway. I am the guitar player and instigator and write almost all the music. So, I speak on behalf of the band.
MF: Meliora literally means “better” in Latin. Would you say that this album is better than anything you’ve done as Ghost before?
NG: I think so, yeah. Any band with some sort of meaning or purpose or self-respect obviously enters the studio in order to make their best record ever, so it’s natural that you should feel like that.
But I definitely feel that this new album – we were really pushed towards becoming a better band and I think that some of the oddities and, I hate to say short comings, but you can always fine tune your craft and there was definitely a few things in the past that I can sort of look back on and think that might not be perfectly executed.
And in this one, obviously I was in the recording so I know a few things about this record that isn’t, like, perfect the way I wanted it, but I definitely think we took a big leap towards becoming a better band.
Watch: Ghost – Cirice
MF: So when you say you were pushed to make a better record were you pushing yourselves?
NG: We were pushing ourselves and we worked with a very pushy producer [Klas Åhlund]. There are the kind of cheer leading producers that are more like very opinionated engineers, then you have the producers that sort of dismantle a band and that question everything and you have to define everything that you are, in order to justify having your stuff in there.
Obviously I was in the good position of contributing most of the material, so obviously I could kill a darling or two without feeling like I’m being pushed aside, which obviously the other guys might have felt a little bit more challenged in that aspect.
Still, I think our anonymity and the way that we do things, also allows for a little bit of – non-selfishness is a weird word to add into a rock and roll context because everything is about being selfish, everything is about being exhibitionistic and ego, but in the context of all that I think that we made a very ego-less thing and that made the record better.
MF: There’s a real gravitas to Meliora. It sounds to me like the perfect soundtrack to going into battle – there are big choruses and a weirdly triumphant atmosphere – like it’s an ode to great warriors. At times it struck me as being music that would perfectly suit a game like Elder Scrolls: Skyrim or the show Vikings.
I know it’s a stretch, but do you perhaps see yourselves as going into battle against the music industry in some way? I know you’ve had difficulties with the industry at times due to the themes in your music [the band have had the sales of their records banned in certain countries because of the Satanic themes of their lyricism. There’s even a Facebook group called Christians Against Ghost].
NG: I would not put it that way. It depends on what you mean by the music industry. I mean for one, we are among the very, very few that actually sell records, which I am extremely humble about. I really respect the fact that to get someone to go out and buy a record – that is a big accomplishment nowadays.
We could never do that without the aid of the music industry because there’s a common misconception nowadays, especially amongst bands that never really have made it, that you can make it without a record company and that’s not true. In order to break through the clutter and to spread the word you need a record company – big or small, that doesn’t matter, but you still need the aid of others and unfortunately the last few years there have been a lot of bands from a completely different stratosphere that have somehow managed to make people believe that you can without it [a record company].
You know, Radiohead and U2 [laughs] don’t fucking look at those bands because they obviously sell a million records either way. They can give away a record like nothing. They’ve already earned gazillions of dollars on everything and still they can make a hundred shows on the back of those that generates millions too, so it’s very sad that that has spread a false hope among bands that think you can just fuck the industry.
However, I definitely think in the sense that we as a band, we are a part of the contemporary music scene – I don’t want to declare a war but I really hope that what we can change, or what we can help change, is the climate of the rock music scene because I am so gravely tired of this sentence for a name, emo, metalcore crap that has been infesting the music scene for the last 20 years.
I hate it with all my fucking heart and if we can anyway aid the music scene towards pushing towards something new or something different I would be extremely happy. That is as far as my war instinct goes, I guess.
Watch: Ghost – Year Zero
MF: I don’t think I could agree with you more. As far as the record goes though, the album is actually really cohesive and flows from song to song. Was it written with that in mind, or did you have to work to make the record come together?
NG: Well, we’ve always, always, throughout three records, always intended for each song to be pretty much an autonomous work that can pretty much stand alone, a little bit like the old school way of writing songs like the Rolling Stones or The Who did, every song is supposed to be a – they used to work hit singles – but, you know, it’s like a big statement.
Every song is supposed to be a statement, every song is supposed to be like a “best of” record basically. However, we are thematic in the sense that we want there to be a little thread through the selection of songs that we’ve done for each record. So for example there was a lot of material on the table when we started the pre-production that we intentionally took out, just because we know what album number four is going to be. We picked the songs that could fit into this futuristic thing that we wanted to create this time.
We do a lot of that – writing songs that we just put on file and ideas. There are still songs on the record that date back to the very early Ghost formation. Mummy Dust for example, the ground basics of that song, the little bit of the core was written for Opus [Opus Eponymous, the band’s debut album].
If you know that there’s an element in there that you can believe in you can just record it and then you can just leave it aside and if you feel differently in two years, maybe hate it, don’t feel anything or maybe figure out a way to do it. That’s what we do a lot.
MF: There is a really operatic or cinematic feeling to Meliora as a whole. Almost like it’s a musical. Does it feel that way to you? Even though, as you said, each song sits as a singular statement, do you see this album as a grander statement?
NG: I think so yeah, I definitely like the dramaturgy of it. I’m very happy that it turned out the way it did. Even though there are 10 tracks of real songs, I’m a big Black Sabbath fan, as is everybody or most people, but I’ve always been very fond of the records that came a little bit later, like Sabotage and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and I always liked the way that Sabotage was a very varied record with different songs.
I think that has been very influential and I think that we have managed to do something similar, which I think holds some sort of relevance – keeping in mind what I said earlier about the contemporary scene. Most bands actually sound very much alike and we’re trying to do something completely different. I’m not saying better or worse but I think that is irrelevant. It holds relevance today and for the future.
Ghost’s ‘Meliora’, is out August 21st, you can pre-order it here.