Reader Response: Why Ghost Are Important for Metal
Yesterday’s editorial in which MS contributor Emperor Rhombus posited that the problem with Ghost is the vocals — and suggested an interesting conspiracy theory regarding said vocals — caused quite the uproar. That’s not surprising, given that Ghost have been a lightning rod for strong-headed opinions at both extremes from the very moment they were birthed from
Satan’s Sweden’s womb.
A MetalSucks reader who prefers to remain a Nameless Ghoul took it upon himself to craft a well thought out and cohesive response and sent it to us via email like a real, actual grown-up. And we liked his response so much that we’ve decided to publish it in full right here. It won’t surprise you that he doesn’t agree with Rhombus one bit, but that’s what the Internet’s for:
name-calling, homophobia, misogyny and general bigotry opinions. Read his response to Rhombus below, then feel free to tell us how much we all suck.
So you don’t like Ghost. That’s fair. I get it – you can’t stand the singer. However, I think that dismissing them because of the vocalist (which is, on a personal level, a perfectly valid point) underestimates the band and what they do for metal.
Here’s the thing: Vocals are the most subjective part of pretty much any metal band. The genre is littered with bands that split the fanbase exclusively on whether or not you can stomach the singer. It’s always been like this.
How many metal singers are there out there who are truly universally loved? Three? Four? Maybe 10? Every once in a while, a band finds the perfect vocalist – someone who fits the music, conveys emotion without sounding contrived and through some kind of special quality instantly lifts the group above the pack. Those bands become the superstars – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Tool. Etc. Everyone knows these singers are/were special.
For the rest of the genre, you may love the voice, but you recognize that not everyone is going to feel the same way. Or there are the singers that don’t get in the way of a good tune. The rest of the singers? You hate ‘em.
For example, I like King Diamond, but there are plenty of metalheads whose opinions I respect who can’t stand him. I’m a fan of Overkill and Bobby Blitz, but was never able to get into Exodus because I don’t like Steve Souza. I recognize both are great bands. Why do I like one and not the other? I have no idea. It’s a subjective function of what’s pleasing to your brain and what’s not. Sometimes it’s worth taking some effort to overcome the initial response.
This doesn’t even take into account extreme metal, which repels lots of people just because they can’t get past the lack of clean singing. There are some great vocalists in extreme metal – you’d be hard-pressed to find another singer with the intensity and delivery of guys like Nergal, Travis Ryan and Pest. But for most good extreme bands, the vocals serve their purpose by fitting into the song’s structure. I don’t know anyone who would argue that the best part of Immolation is Ross Dolan or that Impaled Nazarene would be crap if some other guy was screaming instead of Mika Luttinen.
I’m not arguing that those vocalists are forgettable and I certainly don’t want to downplay their talent. I’m just saying that, after discounting a handful of superbands, there are lots of great metal groups with singers that excel through the personality and delivery of their singers rather than their technical prowess or a voice that manages to inspire the masses of metal virgins.
Megadeth’s Mustaine might be the most obvious example of this. Lemmy in Motorhead and Mille Petrozza in Kreator are other good ones. Metalheads love ‘em … but unless you already are into metal, you’re not going to be buying their albums.
Papa Emeritus I/II/III of Ghost is a special case in that he kind of straddles these categories. He’s a technically proficient, if not exceptional, singer. He probably won’t attract fans on his own merits, because yeah, his voice is kind of thin and nasal. But he injects hummable melodies (with a voice that to my ears is perfectly listenable) while letting Ghost’s true strength – the songwriting – do the heavy lifting. He knows he’s part of a team and he’s not the strongest member so his delivery is understated rather than the faux passion we’ve grown used to expecting.
He’s able to deliver the vocals in a live setting (an area where I’ve seen some of the superstar singers fall short). The music is fun to sing along to. You could conceivably sing a Ghost song at a Karoake party and it might not be awkward.
Ghost’s ultimate goal, and one that I think is sort of revolutionary in metal’s tru-kvlt context, is to sell albums to as many people as possible. It’s kind of subversive really – who else has made Satan so blatantly catchy? Ghost certainly have introduced more people to Satanism with Meliora than, say, Belphegor did with their latest record.
(Not that introducing Satanism to lots of people is inherently positive in and of itself. Rather, by appealing to a greater range of people it maybe sparks some to open their minds beyond mainstream thinking. Ok, maybe I’m giving Ghost a more lofty status than they deserve here, but still, the point’s not irrelevant.)
Which brings me to the next point: Ghost is the ultimate metal gateway drug. My toddler regularly asks me to put on the YouTube video with “los malos’’ (we speak Spanish at home, go to www.wordreference.com if you don’t understand) and she occasionally babbles along to the intro of “Year Zero.” Her other favorite music is the Frozen soundtrack. (Although I’m making some progress on getting her to accept songs from Tom Waits’s Mule Variations.)
I convinced my metal-adverse wife to go a Ghost concert and now, months later, she listens to Amon Amarth while jogging (and occasionally in the car). Ghost helped her figure out how to pierce through what was initially (to her) an amorphous mass of sound and focus on instrumentation, atmosphere, etc. (Yes, I know Amon Amarth isn’t especially difficult to get. Baby steps.)
In short, Ghost gives people the basic musical vocabulary to understand the genre.
I’m not saying that appealing to a shitload of people is by itself a great thing. Lots of crap has mass appeal. But in Ghost’s case, it’s appealing because the music is well crafted. I wouldn’t argue it’s the best thing going on in metal, and it’s not re-inventing the wheel, but it manages to be fun while giving a new take on classic metal.
If you don’t like the vocals, well yeah, you won’t like the band. But it will expand some people’s horizons and pry open some minds a bit via tight, accessible songs. This is both valuable for metal and enjoyable in its own right.
I love a 10-minute Leviathan soundscape as much as the next guy. But like much of the globe, I’ve got a lot of shit going on. I have to go to work, pay bills, clean the house and whatever. Sometimes, I’m standing in a pre-dawn bus and I’m just not feeling it when Nile’s “Unas, Slayer of the Gods” comes on the iPod. Sometimes, I’ll skip forward to something like, say, Ghost’s “Ritual.” I may love blasting Moonsorrow’s “Jotunheim” in the car by myself, but if the kids are in the back seat, I’ll probably opt to shuffle some Ghost along with AC/DC.
So maybe you should call Ghost family man metal. The term shouldn’t be an insult – it’s not an easy task to simultaneously please small children, a soccer mom and a lifelong metalhead. This isn’t Limp Bizkit – it’s worth taking some time to listen to, even if you hate the singer. I mean, I didn’t like Vader for a long time because of Piotr Wiwczarek. I persevered and learned to appreciate the band, and now I’m glad I did.
And yeah, it’s tongue-in-cheek. Maybe Papa Emeritus isn’t 100% sincere when he sings: “Up from the stinking dirt, She rises ghastly pale, Shapeshifting soon … But now she’s rigid, stiff and stale.’” Honestly, I’d be kind of worried if he was.
I mean, don’t you also need to take it with a grain of salt when Rob Halford belts, “Enraged and full of anger, he’s half man and half machine!’” Or Nergal shouts, “With every breath stolen from their lips, I raped and raped and raped the daughters ov Zion!’’
Maybe it’s not just the regular, non-metal folks who need their minds opened a bit. That’s why I like Ghost – like a good politician, they can pull both sides together.