From Ultraje magazine, ahead of Ghost’s Lisbon show.

No. No, no, no, no, no. Fuck no. That would have been delusional.”
These are the words of Ghost guitarist A Nameless Ghoul when asked if he would ever have expected the band’s unbridled success, which has seen them pick up numerous awards, enter countless top ten lists and be chosen for a tour with a little-known band called Iron Maiden this summer. It’s fair to say the last few years have been good to the Swedes. The most imminent matter, however, is a European headlining tour that will see them take on Lisbon’s MEO Arena – a modest upgrade from the Paradise Garage gig of two years ago, to say the least.

“Porto and Lisbon were the two greatest shows of the entire European tour.” he says of their last visit. “Getting to Portugal, finally, was definitely finding a hidden gem. It’s always been a problem – Portugal, even from a European point of view, is pretty far off. You have to find the time to fly there and usually on the European festival route, we’ve always been offered Portugal right next to a show in Finland or Norway, so it makes it extremely difficult. I was so happy when we finally got over there on the regular tour.” 

Ghost have been one of modern metal’s bona fide success stories. Having spent a few years haunting the lower tiers of festivals, their satanic, psychedelic sound, tantalising theatrics – the band have remained disguised and nameless – and religious controversies have catapulted them into the genre’s limelight. This culminated in a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2016 for the track ‘Cirice’, for which they were appreciative – pseudo-papal frontman Papa Emeritus telling bemused red carpet interviewers that it was “always fun to get the prize for the craft” – but it’s the acceptance in the metal scene, their natural home, that has meant the most to the Nameless Ghoul.
“The first sign of making it, one of those epiphanies of ‘Wow, this is slightly bigger than I thought’, is when we played in London for the first time. It was our second show and we played the Camden Underworld. It was a festival, so it wasn’t our crowd, but when we got there, it definitely felt like it was our crowd. It was just packed and everybody was singing the songs. The songs had just been in my head and maybe between myself and a few more people, and the album had just come out, but it was still something associated with a very intimate scene, then suddenly you’re sharing it with 500 people in the room. It catapulted into what it has become. It’s farfetched.” 

While such unexpected success has naturally widened Ghost’s audience, it has also made them more of a visible target for detractors. The band might enjoy anonymity, but in our interconnected digital world, so do the haters, and the presence of a small but vocal minority is often palpable when it comes to metal acts who defy the apparent rules: Myrkur’s Amalie Bruun has received death threats for nebulous reasons, although her gender is likely, sadly, a factor; Deafheaven have invoked ire for sporting combed hair instead of corpse paint; grown men have embarrassingly lashed out at Japanese teen idol band BabyMetal via YouTube.

Papa and the Ghouls have had it too – one unimpressed listener even went as far as to start a petition to get them to split up for being “a watered-down version of Blue Oyster Cult.” They’re rightly unfazed by this obsessive need to segregate and compartmentalise popular music, and the Ghoul is reluctant to commit to a particular genre, even professing an appreciation of “kindred spirit” Lady Gaga when asked about her controversial collaboration with Metallica at this year’s Grammys. 

“It’s provoking for people.” he says, almost boastfully. “The ever-growing discussion is whether or not Ghost is metal. From where I’m sitting, I don’t care if we are or not, because I don’t necessarily regard us as a heavy or metal band.
“I grew up listening to metal – I know what it feels like being the only metalhead at school and wearing your influences on your sleeve, wearing T-shirts and standing up and being proud of being alternative. That’s why it’s become so emotionally frail, because as soon as someone else steps in claiming to be the same thing, it becomes a challenge.
“I regard the phenomenon as a beautiful thing, good for any kid who embraces punk or metal or whatever if it makes that person live through adolescence, school and all that shit that is, for many people, a big turmoil. But the problem is that sort of stigma is carried amongst a lot of these grown-up metalheads. Come on, you’re 30, 40, 50. Fuck, man! You’re discussing everything the same way we used to when we were 14.” 

On the subject of this myopic view existing within the scene and bands lacking their own USP, he goes on to provide an allegory to horror films, which seems fitting for a band of Ghost’s thematic calibre.
“I’m a big horror enthusiast, but I’m also a film enthusiast. If you consider everything that’s horror good, you’re stupid, ‘cause there’s a difference between quality and entertainment. Decades into the horror genre being established, you have hammer horror, and if that’s the equivalent of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, you have ‘70s and ‘80s horror, the equivalent of thrash and death metal. If you talk to real film enthusiasts, it always comes down to the same films – Jaws, The Shining, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby. What usually would happen is those films are made by people who don’t only make horror films – maybe that’s the one horror film they’ve made – whereas if you have B and C movies, it’s usually made by someone who makes horror films only and probably only watches horror films. I think that’s masturbating; it’s circle-jerking in the realm of that genre you move within.” 

Ghost’s uncompromising, almost Wildean outlook – that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – is one that has brought them undeniable good fortune and, with multiple sold-out dates on the upcoming European trek, they show no signs of slowing down.

“For every year that we got bigger, the more people are going to expect.” he concludes, with reference to their Lisbon comeback. “It’s going to be better now. I guess this is going to be the first time we really do the show.”
So if Ghost are just getting warmed up in terms of what they have to offer the congregation of Portugal, this could be something very special indeed. Let us pray.

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