Song Of The Day 4/27/2013: Ghost - "Secular Haze"

Well, it's Metal Week Day 2, so let's just get Satan out of the way now, shall we?

Ghost (or Ghost B.C. as they're forced to be known in America) has been a big topic of discussion lately, especially between me and Ian Jensen. They're the most intriguing band I've listened to lately, I'll give you that. They're Swedish. Their identities are cloaked, although you can do a little research and get some good theories as to who their ringleader is. They have a new album called Infestissumam which, I will go on the record as saying, I found quite enjoyable on an aesthetic level. I think it's a good album.

But it makes me remember an interview with Paul McCartney from a few years back that I've read a couple of times, I believe in Rolling Stone. This was around the time of Tipper Gore's PMRC deal, when she was trying to get albums with explicit lyrics identified as such, which of course succeeded. The interviewer asked Paul what he thought about the whole thing. Diplomatically, he said, "Well... I kind of see their point, you know?" Paul went on to conjecture about a band in the future that everyone believed was really great, played fantastic music, but whose lyrics portrayed straight-up, no-doubt-about-it endorsements of Satanism. Paraphrasing Macca: "I mean, maybe this band is great and all, but we don't necessarily want de debbil running around our houses, now do we?"

Thirty years later, we have that band. But it doesn't exactly play out the way Macca envisioned. In fact, Ghost isn't really metal all the way through. They are not your stereotypical musical depictions of Satan. First of all, they're not the melodramatic, clichéd personage of Satan that you might have come to expect -- no thrashing, wailing, double-time metallic riff Slayer exhibitions here. If you believe those types of bands want to get you into Satan -- and they're not, they just know how to make you lose your inhibitions, which is kind of Satanic but not the whole ball of wax -- then you're not really doing it right. The point of Satan is that he's trying to seduce you. And not all of us get seduced with hammers to the head. Sometimes we need to be wined and dined. Romanced. Given an airy melody.

That's what Ghost does. I put on this album expecting to hear someone trying to force me into metal submission of the Hooved One, but I didn't get that. For one thing, the lead singer -- Papa Emeritus is all we know him as -- doesn't sound the least bit like Tom Ayala, or even David Lee Roth. Frankly, he sounds like the lead singer from America. There are metal riffs on the album, but they're more accoutrements. The way Ghost uses metal guitar riffs is somewhat analogous to the way Metallica used a string section on "Nothing Else Matters": they just show up. Then they go away again.

Ghost also uses copious makeup and a total lack of actual identity. You can see it in the video. But why? If you're doing music that's as tame as Ghost can be, that doesn't evoke theatricality in itself, then why do you and your "Horse With No Name" voice dress yourself up in the guise of evil? Why exactly do you do that shtick? What effect are you trying to have? What business do you have dressing up like that and not sacrificing a goat?

Lyrically they're dead-on Satanism -- not the stupid suburban acne-pocked moron teenage boy who chops up a stray cat over a pentagram made of sticks, but the theoretical, philosophical LaVey kind, which isn't really Satan worship at all (the Church of Satan doesn't believe in Satan), but a social commentary on the hypocrisy of certain strains of Christianity. (Well, I think LaVey was calling out all strains of Christianity, and certainly Ghost is. I happen to know a Christian or two who gets the joke though.)

So the countering balances here -- the enjoyable, but rhythmically and melodically tame music, the "may-I-take-your-order" vocals of Papa Emeritus, going along with the most directly (I didn't say "earnestly") pro-Satan lyrics ever written and some really overdone makeup -- well, what's not to be fascinated by? It's the old trick of using symbolism we're all supposed to be terrified by in order to point out how utterly ridiculous it is to be terrified by it. Ghost stories, if you will. I find it hard to believe this music is going to possess me, because I've been alive on this earth a considerable amount of time, met scads of people, and have never, ever, not once, met one single person who was ever possessed by Satan. I heard this album in its entirety less than twelve hours ago and my eyes still haven't rolled into the back of my head.

I have known some other people who proclaim to hate Satan, work basically 24/7 against him and have some incredible beliefs that Satan came come to your house and possess your dinette set... yet also believe their god's anti-Satan solution tells them to be racists, to cheat on their spouses and lie about it,  to spend money they don't have and to be hateful. So to me their delusions are just as, well, deluded as those Midwest kids who chop up domestic animals to an anti-Christ who also can't be bothered to make house calls.

I'm assuming Ghost's mission's accomplished.



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