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Why The Hate?: Ghost
Welcome to a new edition of Why The Hate? Where we tackle divisive bands and artists in the metal world. Determining if the backlash and hatred towards them is justified.
Today is a band that is no stranger to turned up noses in the metal community. That would be Sweden's theatrical hard rock/heavy metal act Ghost. Founded in 2006 by front man Tobias Forge, the band rose to popularity through word of mouth and social media presence. Including an endorsement from Metallica front man James Hetfield, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, and Phil Anselmo while performing with his project Down. After five studio albums, a US Grammy award for Best Metal Performance in 2016, along with notable tour appearances opening for legendary metal acts Iron Maiden and Slayer. With so much success and support from legendary metal bands, why have they become a joke to the metal community? Akin to sometimes being dubbed "Scooby Doo Chase Music" or even "retro metal". Today, we're going to look into why this popular band just can't seem to appease the metal world.
In this piece, I'm going to judge this under four categories. The music, the band itself, the main arguments/criticism towards the band, and lastly the fanbase.
FIRST CATEGORY: The Music
As mentioned in the intro of this piece, Ghost is not your traditional or conventional heavy metal act. The band's 2010 debut record, Opus Eponymous, features elements of classic 70's rock, along with a stoner/occult-doom metal sound, especially with songs like "Con Clavi Con Dio". With popular songs like "Ritual" and "Elizabeth" playing on satellite radio station Sirius XM, along with opening slots on tours with the likes of Trivium, Mastodon and Opeth, the word of mouth and interest in the band grew. With occult lyrics, but in the sound of Blue Oyster Cult or Boston, mixed with Mercyful Fate, along with the costumes worn by the band live, Ghost became a name to check out in the hard rock/metal world.
The band would follow up their debut with Infestissumam three years later. The album received positive reviews from many music critics. Citing the album as an improvement in sound and production from the debut, while also continuing the band's fusion of classic rock, goth rock and heavy metal into the band's trademark sound. Not only appearing on many best of 2013 album lists, the band would win a Grammis (the Swedish equivalent of a Grammy) for Best Hard Rock/Metal Album. The band would release the album under the band name Ghost B.C. for legal reasons at the time of the release and tour, but later return to their original name in 2015.
Their third album, Meliora, would be the record that would launch the band into popularity with American audiences. With the debut single "Cirice" appearing on many hard rock/heavy metal radio stations in the U.S., the band's name would grow even further in the U.S. The band would go on to win a Grammy for that song as well. With other popular tracks like "From The Pinnacle To The Pit" and "Majesty", the band would begin to play around more with their sound on the album. Now adding elements of psychedelic rock and pop rock, along with progressive rock and doom metal.
On their fourth album Prequelle, Ghost would incorporate other rock genres like arena rock and even hair metal into this record. Taking influences from Blue Oyster Cult, Boston and ABBA on the record, further channeling that nostalgic 70's-80's rock and pop sound. Showcased primarily on the catchy lead single "Rats". This album would be the band's most critically loved by music outlets, along with the fans citing it as the band's best record so far in their history. Many critics saying that the band had perfected their sound with Prequelle and a great intro record for people who want to check out the band.
The band's most recent record, 2022's Impera, showed the band continue the success and evolution of Prequelle, but also diving into a heavier sound, while maintaining the sound the band is popular from. Channeling more rock bands like Dio, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard on the record. The album would also receive critical acclaim like it's predecessor. Even amping up the evolution from the previous record to a grander scale, appeasing the die-hards who were hesitant if the band would top their previous album and success.
Musically, does Ghost deserve the hate? No, not at all in my opinion. A lot of metalheads claim they are just King Diamond-lite, but if you feel that way and don't like it, then go listen to King Diamond. I like the nostalgia feel of their sound and I love the band's evolution over their discography. Seeing how they evolved from an early occult, stoner, heavy metal, hard rock sound on the debut, into the grandiose sound that the band has perfected up to Impera. Yes, it is not heavy metal in the sense of Metallica, Dying Fetus, or Avenged Sevenfold. But it is the sound of bands like Katatonia & Opeth, incorporating that tinge of heavy metal over progressive and experimental soundscape.
SECOND CATEGORY: The Band Itself
Though Forge is the main spokesperson for the band, the band does include members, but are credited as Nameless Ghouls. This has drawn some ire, since many of the musicians in the band are talented and show great musicianship in their performances on stage and in the studio. To credit them as just Nameless Ghouls can be considered a slight to their talent and their contributions to the band. Giving a underlying feeling of Forge being a dictator or the mentality of "you can be replaced" or "I AM Ghost". In 2016, four former members of the band, Simon Söderberg, Mauro Rubino, Martin Hjertstedt, and Henrik Palm sued Forge in Swedish court of withholding financial information and payments to them and other members of the band. The case was later dismissed, but any reputation like that can hurt your image and has come across hurting their front man, see popular punk band Dead Kennedys and the legal battler with their former front man Jello Biafra for the same similar situation. Which these kind of incidents can hurt a band or person's legacy. I am all for Ghost being Forge's solo work under the Ghost banner. Although, if one of your bandmates writes/contributes to any material, they need to be compensated on agreed terms or if you are lying to your bandmates about finances, that is just greedy and low. If this were to happen again, and Forge was found guilty of this, then I can completely agree with the critics, but since this was dismissed, the hate is not justified.
THIRD CATEGORY: The Criticism
Since the band's rise to success and recognition, the metal community has not met the band with open arms. The main argument is the band's sound. Citing the "it's not heavy enough to be called heavy metal" argument. Leaning more towards some would call a "cheesy" hard rock version of Blue Oyster Cult or the gothic rock sound of Christian Death or Bauhaus, but not heavy metal in the sense we know it as. With their Grammy win for their song "Cirice", they beat heavier bands like Lamb of God, Slipknot, Sevendust and August Burns Red. Rubbing metal heads the wrong way with their victory. Citing this example from the metal community as not only does the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) who awards the Grammys, not know what heavy metal is (some also sharing similarities to when Deftones won in 2001, beating Iron Maiden, Pantera and Slipknot), but continuing the frustration the metal community makes that band's that aren't heavy metal in their eyes winning the award & the recognition over bands that have been around longer and paid their dues. Or the recording industry only picking the "flavor of the month" acts instead of the well-established, hard working bands.
The band's image has also lead to assumptions that the band is much heavier than their sound, in an odd bait-and-switch type of effect. Expecting a black metal sound, like Portal or Imperial Triumphant, then shocking the listener when you get their 70's rock sound that your dad or grandpa would like. Others also claim the band is just following Slipknot and Mushroomhead's schtick with new masks every album & tour cycle, while Ghost creates lore and backstory for the transition for each character Forge portrays for the next cycle as well. Critiqued as being "cheesy" and "corny", but I disagree. If you don't like this idea, then you can't like Slipknot and Mushroomhead for doing it either, it's a double standard. The last argument from the critics of the band is they basically write the same song, making all of their material interchangeable and could appear off of any of the band's studio albums. I disagree with this fact, since the band's production and sound has developed over the years, along with infusing different influences in genres and bands, that you hear throughout each studio album. Again, bands like AC/DC have been doing that for years and no one is yelling at them, so it's the same double standard argument. I can see the viewpoints that some of the critics have, for not liking or hating the band, but I don't think the hatred towards the band is justified.
FINAL CATEGORY: The Fanbase
Ghost has a loyal fanbase, and stand with the band and defend them just as strongly as any other band against nay-sayers or critics. A lot of the cringe from the metal fanbase is their appearance on social media sites like Tik-Tok. The cliché stereotype of "I listen to the HEAVIEST, DARKEST of metal" and then play or mention Ghost. Almost as a satirical attempt to mock the genre. Which of course angers the metal gatekeepers, almost in an attempt to poke the bear for the hell of it. From the fans I've interacted with who like the band, also hate that Ghost is being used in that way. Ghost fans like the music, understand that the band isn't your typical metal band, and are aware that Ghost has become a guilty pleasure band to some. But they stand by the band, accept their love of the band and are not obnoxious or pretentious about their band's popularity like Tool or Sleep Token fans (I'm ready for the pitchforks and torches from both fanbases for that remark). The band's fanbase does not deserve the hatred.
After the dust settles and both sides have pleaded their case in the court of metal, does Ghost deserve all the scrutiny the band gets from the metal world? In my opinion, no, the band does not deserve the hate that it gets. Yes, the band is not as heavy as modern metal acts like Avenged Sevenfold or Lamb of God. Are they in the vein of original hard rock and heavy metal that bands like Black Sabbath would make heavier, yes they are. AND THAT'S OK. Ghost has some songs with some heavier elements, but full on 100% heavy metal they are not. They were doing something different, something unique for the time. Almost attempting to revitalize the genre.
Ghost could almost be an intro band to people getting into heavy metal music and that's a good thing. We need bands like that to get people into the genre we all have grown to love. To show the gatekeepers that people's musical taste can start from anywhere. Ghost is a band that understands they aren't for everyone, but are welcoming to people who want to check them out. At heart, they fanboy over the greats like any other metalhead. Forge himself has said in interviews that he treasures and respects everything acts like Metallica and Maiden have done for the band and what they've taught him to make Ghost a better band. To me, Ghost doesn't deserve the disrespect and visceral bad-mouthing they get. They don't deserve any of it.
I must reiterate in doing this series that myself, along with everyone here at This Day in Metal, are only tackling why a band is getting this sort of anger and disrespect towards them. We support all bands, artists, and their fans in every way when tackling this series. All we ask is a discussion amongst our readers and the metal community to really deep dive into the bands and artists we discuss here and keep an open mind. To make your own opinions when listening to their music and your own research on the band. We aren't trying to change your mind or force you to like something. All we want to do is help understand, clarify and maybe explain why a band might not be popular or educate you on why there is backlash towards a band or artist. Music is all opinion, and we support your opinion if you like a band, but also support your opinion if you don't. Our only ask is to not insult or attack anyone who likes a band you don't. That is something we do not support and we will stand by that. I apologize for the soapbox moment, but I feel with this series, that needed to be said.
Do you think Ghost deserves the negativity and why? What are your thoughts on the band? Let us know in the comments here or on our social media. Cast your vote in the poll below. I'm Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal.