The Ghost vs. Religion Debate Is Silly

“We're not critiquing against God. We're critiquing against man. That's one of the most fundamental differences with the critics... when you start going into the mainstream, there's a lot of talk about God, and that is not exactly what we're talking about here.”—Nameless Ghoul, interview with New Times, October 23, 2013. 

When a generous amount of music blogs starting talking about the “Papa vs. Pope” “controversy” a week ago, all I could do was sigh audibly at yet another stupid metal/religion controversy the media causes on the reg.

If you hadn’t heard, the Swedish heavy metal band Ghost was scheduled to play a sold-out show at Union Transfer in Philadelphia on September 26 to promote their new album, Meliora, which comes out today. That also happened to be the same day that Pope Francis was to arrive for the 2015 World Meeting of Families.

Last week, Ghost released a video with a sinister spokeswoman from behind a dark pulpit, a delightful example of a band’s dedication to the show. The woman held up a letter that allegedly was from the World Meeting of Families that Ghost fans wouldn’t be permitted to use public transportation or park their cars near Union Transfer because of all the traffic issues caused by the Pope’s visit. She went on to condemn Pope Francis’ “oppressive effect on Philadelphia.” 

Numerous conversations were started about the issue, from backlash to excitable fans. What’s exasperating to me is what people in the U.S. fail to understand about music by bands like Ghost.

In Sweden where the band was founded, everything is secularized. The band isn’t degrading religion—but at home, devout Christians are seen as failing to understand certain aspects of what life is about.

Ghost’s music is sensational and refreshing. It’s performance art — delightful social commentary. They are one of the few bands that has had years of success hiding its true identities, which they want hidden for good reason. And it’s not out of vanity. It’s out of respect for trying to make people understand that the music is what’s important to focus on; the bravado and theatrics that go along with such dramatic song writing.

The band recalls a time when acts like Black Sabbath and Zeppelin incorporated elements of horror, mystique, the occult, and a mash-up of different influences. Ghost's roots are in Scandinavian metal, but they also bring in prog, classical, church choirs, and a much larger pop element than many realize. In fact, early on the band was most motivated in the opportunity to create melodic music but to incorporate the pop show aspect of a grand show and theatrics. Ghost sees itself as an entertainment act, as much music as cinema.

Still, they’ve been dubbed as the one band to bring satanic metal to the mainstream. Papa has been dubbed the anti-Pope and anti-Christ.

“Nobody would ever question someone that has written something about what's he written or the film he has made. Nobody has ever criticized the makers of Exorcism or the Omen. Not to say that everything we're saying is justa joke. Obviously it comes from somewhere. There is a ....there is a thought process behind it,” said the Nameless Ghoul in our interview.

And whether you love them or hate them, you have a chance to see them right here in Phoenix at Zia Records on Camelback, Friday, August 21 at 7 p.m. 

Short notice, huh? Well, that’s what intimate shows are all about.

The band has booked a string of small acoustic shows at a select few record stores throughout August, dubbed “The Summoning II: Unholy/Unplugged Tour.” It’s said to be a wild heavy metal circus, with an incredible stage set up for the band to play some acoustic songs.

So let’s call this Philadelphia/Pope stunt what it is: a clever, pre-meditated publicity stunt to help promote their killer new album. Critics—stop trying to make things more complicated then they are, and seek meliora: Latin for “the eternal pursuit for something better.” The new Ghost B.C. album by the same name showcases the band’s sharpest and melodic material to date, and is reminiscent of Alice Cooper, Bowie, Gwar and The Misfits.

Ghost first revealed details of the new album in a late-night trailer, which also introduced Papa Emeritus III as the new vocalist (actually, last year it got out the Papa Emeritus II was actually Tobias Forge of the band Repugnant, and even now, some fans suspect that III is still Forge). Each time their singer “retires,” the whole idea behind it is a feeling of succession, a feeling of dynasty. And dynasty is what all the legendary bands are about.

“Staring at those Sabbath, BOC, and Zeppelin album covers and wondering what the images meant and who are these people in the trippy psychedelic sleeve photos? Were those urban legends you heard on the school bus true? Biting the heads off bats? Band names that are actually infernal anagrams?” says Zia Records General Manager Michael Ledington.

“The element of mystery and a hint of the macabre is what used to make music so exciting. While I'm sure no bats were harmed in the making of the new record, these guys have definitely sold their souls for rock and roll. This is going to be amazing."
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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise