Swedish Prog-Metal Act Ghost Comes to Masonic Auditorium on Heels of Grammy Win

click to enlarge Swedish Prog-Metal Act Ghost Comes to Masonic Auditorium on Heels of Grammy Win
BB Gun Press
Ghost isn’t your typical Swedish death metal band. For each album, a “summoning” is held at an undisclosed location in Lincopia, Otrogathia, and the group of anonymous Swedish musicians tweaks the lineup and decides what direction it will take things.

For its latest album, Meliora, the band anointed Papa Emeritus III to assume lead vocal duties. Since Ghost has such an avid cult fan base on an international level, the news circulated widely via the Net.  

And yet, members originally conceived of the band as the type of group that might play one or two shows a year and cultivate a small but loyal group of fans in its native Sweden.

“What we aspired to be was essentially a band that had an album out and would play occasional shows where the stars would align, so we could play huge shows in theaters with huge production values but still be anonymous and disappear and do the same thing a year later,” says Nameless Ghoul, one of the group’s members, in a recent phone interview from his home in Sweden. “We know better now. That’s not what it amounted to. We never thought we’d be a heavily touring band. We didn’t think there would be interest to the point that it could tour. We thought we could play a Doom Art Festival in New York and maybe L.A. and Chicago. It was on that level. We just aspired to be a seldom-ly working huge band. That was basically it. We thought we’d sell a thousand records, maybe.”

Drawing from the Swedish death metal tradition, the band catered to the type of fan interested in extreme metal.

“I grew up listening to a lot of the old death and black metal bands from Sweden and Scandinavia and beyond, obviously,” says the Nameless Ghoul. “It played an important role in my adolescence. I’m brought up in the underground tape-trading network. Speaking of aspirations, we never thought the Ghost project would reach beyond the realm of underground metal. Initially, it was set up for that scene and those connections. Our first label was rooted in all that and our first thousand fans were definitely in that sort of clique.”

In 2010, the band released a 3-track demo prior to issuing their full-length debut Opus Eponymous, an album that opens with an ominous sounding organ riff before launching into a series of proggy hard rock tunes.

The group subsequently made its major label debut with 2013’s Infestissumam, an album that debuted at the top of the charts in Sweden. The band released its third studio album, Meliora, in 2015 to much critical acclaim and high record sales.

The lead single, "Cirice," even won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. Meliora is the Latin word for "better" (and it also means "the eternal pursuit for something better"). As a result, the songs on Meliora strike a balance between metal and prog and feature the mellow, more nuanced side of the band’s music.

“We had a weird experience with Infestissumam,” says the Nameless Ghoul. “The material on that record was very good and came from a pure source. We got lost during the production of that record because it grew from a transitional period where we changed labels and all of a sudden we were signed to a major label and the demand was higher. All of a sudden, time was up and the mixing and mastering decisions were stressed together. It made the record a good record, but it didn’t come out the way we wanted. Quite quickly after that when I started writing again, I was adamant about making the right decisions early on. That is why Meliora sounds so different. We never want to leave mixing flying in the wind or do these mistakes again. Meliora sounds more like what we wanted Infestissumam to sound.”

A song such as “He Is” comes off as particularly accessible and sounds like ‘70s-era Yes with its upper-register vocals and keyboard flourishes that overlap acoustic guitars.

“On a musical level, it was inspired by Italian rock music,” says the Nameless Ghoul. “I don’t know if your readers are down with shit like that. There’s this tradition of prog music that borderlined into more mainstream music. There’s a band called PFM. Even if you listen to modern, more sleezy singers like Vasco Rossi, they still carry that explosive and open-hearted and overly romantic stuff. It was inspired by that. It was supposed to sound like an Italian radio ballad. It’s supposed to sound like a cruising ballad you hear while driving a convertible down the Riviera in Italy with a nice chick next to you.”

Given that the band features a newly elected singer and a backing group of Nameless Ghouls, does that ensure it will live on forever?

“That’s a good question,” says the Nameless Ghoul. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that Ghost would become something I could stand for if none of us was still there. There’s more to it than that. It’s definitely set up in a way that you can have rotation over the years without it being seriously affected sound-wise or direction-wise, but nothing lasts forever.”

Ghost Popestar Tour, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, Masonic Auditorium, 3615 Euclid Ave., 216-881-6350. Tickets: $35.35-$45.25, livenation.com.
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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