In today's age of omnipresent coverage and instant information, it's pretty difficult for bands to maintain any sort of anonymity. The art-rock collective The Residents has stayed unknown for more than 40 years, and Slipknot pulled it off for a while. But one eccentric Swedish act has kept their names and personalities shrouded quite well--an impressive feat, considering the band's most recent album was recorded with one of rock's most recognizable faces, Dave Grohl.
Ghost B.C. has achieved a lot in the United States since forming in 2008. Five of the band's members, called "Nameless Ghouls," don hooded monk-like robes and black masks, the look falling somewhere between Darth Vader and a medieval executioner. Representing the five elements of fire, water, wind, earth, and ether, they back up a strikingly skull-faced vocalist dressed like a Roman Catholic Cardinal, dubbed Papa Emeritus II.
Read our complete interview with a Ghost B.C. Nameless Ghoul: "We're not critiquing God, we're critiquing man."
Somehow, the band has brought the concept of black/Satanic metal mainstream, fusing pop and death metal in a way that's alarmingly comfortable. They headlined their first U.S. tour in 2012, and have since played in just about every city with a metal following. And the message, even though it incorporates much about the occult, religion and Lucifer, is meant to be more tongue-in-cheek.
"Obviously there is a thought process behind it," explains the Nameless Ghoul. "But I think what most people fail to recognize is that we're not critiquing against God. We're critiquing against man."
The rhythms are fused with Latin church choirs, keyboards, and euphoric hooks, alongside Papa Emeritus II's somber yet bluesy vocals. Their songs are multifaceted and catchy as hell, pulling from influences like melodic metal, classical, and horror movie soundtracks, as well as the adolescent rage that drove '80s underground death and thrash metal. One Nameless Ghoul has even admitted that they love the Beach Boys: "Pet Sounds has this fantastic melody, mixed between sunshine and complete dystopic hell."
"A huge part of the band comes from religious horror movies. We are an entertainment act," says a Nameless Ghoul guitarist. "We want people to go into the experience like they are going to get lost in a horror movie for an hour or two."
The band's kitschy, dramatic live performance could easily be labeled cheesy or over-the-top, but it's actually refreshing--and quite ghastly. If you're expecting a Satanic performance similar to bands often lumped into the same category as Ghost B.C., you might be disappointed.
They don't follow the typical we-have-more-pig-blood-on-stage-than-you-do standard, and their onstage presence is nothing like Watain's blood baths and slaughterhouse stench.
Ghost B.C. like to pretend that it's 1976 and metal doesn't really exist. They turn back the clock to a time when occult thought was intertwined within the mainstream, informing bands as far-flung as The Doors, Black Sabbath, and Blue Oyster Cult.
It's that aesthetic that sets them apart from their peers. The only post-1983 influences on Ghost's B.C.'s 2010 debut Opus Eponymous are Kyuss, Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, but that inspiration grew less evident on 2013's Infestissumam. The band's newest album, If You Have Ghost, is due out in November and features covers of Depeche Mode, Roky Erickson and more. It was recorded in L.A. with Dave Grohl, who has reportedly played drums as a Nameless Ghouls live--although the Nameless Ghoul I spoke with would neither deny nor confirm that fact.
The members may excel at keeping their identities secret, but who knows what the future holds--particularly with the challenge of staying anonymous during the mini video series they are currently recording with Vice, where interviews are key. Papa II's face has been seen; once in the "Year Zero" music video and again in an interview for Vice, where he is revealed as a carnal, bitter old man. However, it doesn't mean much, considering that Papa II replaced Papa I by vote of a "clergy," and will soon be replaced by Papa III in the same manner.
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It seems only Ghost B.C.'s century-spanning concept of time will tell.