Skulls, Satan and Dave Grohl: Inside Mysterious Occult-Rock Band Ghost
“You know, we thought we were going to be completely outed and everything was going to be over basically one week after the first record came out,” says one of the six anonymous members of Swedish occult-rock troupe Ghost. “We’re as baffled as anyone that it hasn’t happened yet. I have no idea how we’ve done it.”
In fact, it has been five years since the shrouded six-piece issued its debut, Opus Eponymous, an unholy amalgam of metal riffing (reference points: Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Pentagram, Mercyful Fate), Satanic musings (first lyrics uttered on the first record: “Lucifer/We are here for your praise”) horror-church atmospherics and, perhaps most subversively, sticky-sweet hooks and melodies.
Since then, Ghost have hardly come to an end. Rather, the band has, among other things, signed with a major label (for a rumored, if never substantiated, hefty sum of money); issued a second, and considerably more trippy, record, Infestissumam (the release of which was reportedly delayed after several CD manufacturers refused to print the 16th-century orgy scene depicted in the deluxe version’s artwork) and performed on the main stage at Coachella. Along the way, the group has garnered accolades from high-profile fans like Metallica (who put them on the bill at their Orion Music + More festival), Phil Anselmo (who had a few Ghost members join Down onstage at the U.K.’s Download Festival), and Dave Grohl (who produced and played on their 2013 EP, If You Have Ghost). Generally speaking, the band has done more to bring blasphemous, religion-skewering devil rock to the mainstream masses than perhaps any act since Marilyn Manson rose from the swamps of Florida to declare himself the Antichrist Superstar.
What’s more, Ghost has done it while somehow keeping its members’ identities under wraps (though, as with most things in this day and age, if you look hard enough online there are clues to be found). In the 1970s, Kiss at least provided us with (mostly fake) surnames to go along with their superhero alter egos; with Ghost, we are presented only with five cloaked and cowled Nameless Ghouls and their frontman, an “anti-pope” adorned in skeletal face paint, a papal mitre and plenty of inverted crosses while answering to the designation Papa Emeritus.
“The reason for us doing this band the way we chose to do it was so that there would not be any focus on us as individuals,” explains Nameless Ghoul, speaking to Rolling Stone late one evening from his home in Linköping, Sweden. (For identification purposes, he helpfully offers up that he is the band’s lead guitarist). “But as we have grown, we understand that there is, anyway.”