Noisey vs. MetalSucks: Are Ghost Worthy of All the Hype?
Welcome to Noisey Vs. MetalSucks, a bi-weekly column in which the staff of Noisey and the staff of MetalSucks will engage in vigorous academic debate concerning some of extreme music’s most relevant topics of the day. For this week’s edition, MetalSucks’ own Vince Neilstein does battle with Noisey’s Jon Wiederhorn on the subject of 2013 buzz band Ghost: are they a fresh, exciting and vibrant band or are a bunch of silly pretentious twits with bad retro songs? Read Vince’s position below, then head over to Noisey to check out Jon’s counter-argument. Enjoy!
It’s not that Ghost are a bunch of silly pretentious twits with bad retro songs. They may be pretentious (whatwith their secret identities, who really knows?) but with all their calculated success they certainly aren’t twits, and their songs — albeit definitely retro — are by no means bad. It’s just that… really? THIS is the band people are going gaga over? Strip away the masks and the mysterious identities and what you’re left with is a decently OK band… but nothing more.
Metal has certainly never shied away from gimmicks, and not all gimmicks are bad: black metal dudes dress up in corpse paint and pretend to be super-grim, death metal tough guize scream about horrible, bludgeoning deaths, goths are all woe is me, thrash guys are all PARTY ALL THE TIME, and so on and so forth. Metal — more than any other genre — is all about presentation, and that presentation can often serve to enhance the musical experience, the notes coming out of your speakers. But Ghost’s particular satanist/mysterious/mask gimmick has been done ad nauseam (for one, by King Diamond). And what’s worse, that gimmick is being peddled to non-metal listeners — the core target group of Ghost’s big label marketing campaign — as if it’s new and exciting. And what’s WORSE worse, those people are taking the bait, hook, line and sinker.
Strip away the corpse paint, and a band like Behemoth still makes powerful, gorgeously arranged music. Take out the gory lyrical content and Cannibal Corpse still write stunningly complex, technical and precise death metal that gets any room moving. Even without the party hardy attitude Municipal Waste’s songs would still inspire headbanging among the staunchest of arm-folded graybeards. But without the imagery and feigned secrecy, what has Ghost got?
Some pretty decent songs, absolutely, but I wonder if they’d have ever gotten noticed without the makeup? For every Ghost there’s a Graveyard, Christian Mistress, The Devil’s Blood, and so on and so forth that’s exponentially less popular… I wonder why? There are some stellar cuts in Ghost’s young catalogue, I’m not denying that. But are they good enough to stand on their own? If any of the aforementioned groups had released those songs exactly as is, would they have been as successful as Ghost is?
Which brings us to the “twits” part of today’s proposed topic: if we accept Ghost’s success as a brilliant marketing campaign on their part — and it certainly seems to be, gauged by how fast they’ve risen to success — then we’d have to say they’re some pretty smart gentlemen, and I certainly agree with that. But if we go the “marketing campaign” tack, then we’re veering dangerously close to ICP territory, another contentious band who are frequently touted as marketing geniuses. Are Ghost the next ICP? They may play a different kind of music, but yeah, they sorta are.