Swedish horror metal act Ghost shows are a twisted medley of everything I love about a rock show experience.
Costumed in devilish outfits and masks, the band delivers music that is as progressive and glam as it is heavy. The shows embrace the macabre — including a ghoulish pope-inspired character named "Papa Nihil" on saxophone — and come across as a crazed blend of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alice Cooper.
Bakersfield will get an up close and eerily personal opportunity to see the band in all its unholy glory when Ghost kicks off their Ultimate Tour Named Death at Rabobank Arena on, you guessed it, Friday the 13th.
Speaking by phone from the band's latest festival tour stop in the very metal capital city of Warsaw, Poland, lead vocalist Tobias Forge is fairly upbeat for an artist with such a mysterious reputation. No scary voice, and without a sinister hint of evil in its timbre. The group’s latest release, “Prequelle,” its highest selling record to date, is still floating on the global rock charts much in part to the album’s second single, “Danse Macabre,” a melodic departure from the group’s previous works.
“When I write a record, it’s very similar to writing a film,” said Forge. "If you’re script writing and you’ve already done a really good car chase with a lot of explosions, it might be a little overkill to add another.”
Formed in 2006, the group’s steady rise among the scores of heavy metal acts around the globe is not so much an anomaly as it is the result of sheer creative genius. Backed by band members known anonymously only as “Nameless Ghouls,” who wear matching costumes and masks to conceal their identities, Forge also stepped out in the first of his many character creations. First as “Papa Emeritus,” complete with papal-styled clothing, mitre (pope hat), and skull makeup. Almost sure to offend some while entertain others, the group was quickly caught in a bidding war after posting its songs to MySpace. A Ghost-ly fanbase quickly grew after the release of the band's debut album, the melodic and technically sound “Opus Eponymous,” in 2010.
“Good records are written to be one sort of craft," Forge said. "You add to the record what it needs to be a cohesive story. Dramaturgically, somehow you can’t put too much of one thing in there. The same way that you would construct or compose a seven-course meal. It’s like if you serve a carpaccio with truffles. It’s kind of against the rules to go with more beef and truffles for the main course. You don’t do that.”
Much like Forge’s chef-like approach to music, Ghost is very much a “fan’s band” always looking to keep things fresh. To avoid any possibility of boredom, the group has introduced (and retired) new characters to their musical theatrics: Papa Emeritus II and III as well as Forge’s latest incarnation as slick-haired Cardinal Copia. The band also added a pair of female keyboardists dubbed the “Ghoulettes.”
Despite accusations of sacrilege from religious critics over some of their provocative anti-religious imagery, Forge says the band has been relatively unscathed adding this would not have been the case during the “Satanic Panic” of the '80s when heavy metal was put on trial with the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) to put warning labels on covers of rock and rap albums deemed dangerous to the minds of impressionable youth.
“I think that there is something new to being recognized between Ghost and the more historically controversial music acts. Some of them have done very little to ask for it or done nothing to ask for it at all. A band like Judas Priest for example. They did very little to evoke those accusations of aiding people’s suicides through their music. Some of Ozzy’s (Osbourne) antics were maybe not thought through from a PR view, but he also did a lot of those things with no spite intended.”
Forge says Ghost’s music and live show are meant to be enjoyed in an escapist fashion much like the discomfort and joy of a late-night classic B-movie.
“I am an entertainer. I’m here to make the people who want to be entertained and want to be happy come to our show. Look at us, of course we’re provocative, but I’m not interested in taking it any further than that just for the sake of annoying people. I’m way too fond of my career and my audience to do that."
He said he regards Ghost as a "very humanistic band" that aims to get people to feel good about themselves. Forge also added, "I’ve always been very adamant about not wanting to entice any act of violence."
In other words, relax Bakersfield. It’s only rock 'n' roll, Forge said.
“I want us to have fun, and anyone who doesn’t like it, can (expletive).”
Ghost with Nothing More, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, Rabobank Arena, 1001 Truxtun Ave. $26.50 to $66.50 plus service charges; rabobankarena.com or 852-7777.