One of the 21st century’s most unlikely success stories, the enigmatic ghouls of Ghost have risen to become one of the most recognised bands in the world. Like a rock musical of The Omen, their albums have charted the birth and rise of the devil and, with third album Meliora on the way to continue his ascent, we cornered one of the elusive Ghoul writers to discuss greed and attempt to figure out the identity of the shadowy papa Emeritus III.
Congratulations on the release of Meliora. How are things with the band now that it’s been recorded and on its way?
Right now it’s quite slow, especially considering how things are usually. For the past five years we’ve been touring heavily every summer so this summer we’re not touring very much. We’re doing just a few carefully picked out festivals and stuff in Scandinavia so it’s not touring at all – just go away over the day and night and just play. Some of us are obviously more involved with the promotion and the setup of the album so for me, it’s not really time off but I’m still homebound, which is nice. But some of the other guys are definitely off – they have nothing to do all summer.
You’ve already played some of the new material at shows in Sweden. How was the reaction to them?
I think that the reaction overall was very good. It’s always odd playing songs that people haven’t heard, especially as we are a band that have fortunately grown accustomed to having a very supportive crowd. We’ve played in front of a lot of people who aren’t that supportive too so we know how it works, but it’s a little bit different when you are headlining a show and all of a sudden you play a new song and everyone freezes. It is odd because you’re so used to having the crowd working with the material. Six months after the album is out, everybody comes to our show knowing the songs and they sing along. It’s a very give and take scenario whereas now you have to fill in the gaps and pretend that everybody knows the song already. It’s not optimal, but we felt that we really needed to deliver something this summer. It’s a hit you have to take – a little bit problematic but worth it in the end.
What was the selection process for Papa Emeritus III, or is just Pope Benedict in disguise?
Well, it is, actually. No, usually that process is taken care of by the clergy so I can’t really answer. The only thing we’re asking is for them to appoint someone who is in time and in tune and somewhat clad.
What is the meaning of the title Meliora, and does it continue the themes that were explored of the first two albums?
It’s definitely part of the previous albums’ themes in that the first one was about the classic, so-called ‘occult rock’ thing, that normally tends towards a slightly more gothic, medieval theme. All the lyrics were telling about a foreboding, impending arrival of something evil – very classic, church-like – if you don’t behave, the devil is gonna bite your ass. With Infestissumam we moved the clock a little to a Baroque, 1700s kind of environment; still upper class but still very basement – the secret chamber in the castle where they practiced Satanic rituals. Lyrically, that album was all about the presence of the devil, which usually comes in different forms. Many times it’s the appearance of women – very symbolic of the devilish presence; women make us turn into beasts. This third album, rather than Infestissumam’s presence of the devil, this is the absence of God. I had the idea for years that I wanted to take the whole Ghost concept into a futuristic setting – as opposed to the medieval gothic, which is a little more wooden and it’s a little more earthy – where in the futuristic version it’s very metropolitan and super-urban; very clean and sterile. We chose to do the futuristic version from some kind of 1920s version because it’s more aesthetically pleasing but it’s still a symbol of modern society where we’re building the tower of Babel over and over again. The idea is for us to be peaking right now and continuously building that peak higher and higher. We all know so many creative people, where everybody has to have a beard and a really cool job and live in a cool apartment and they know all the right people, and for some fucking reason all them need medicines notto have anxiety attacks. Obviously there is something wrong with our peak. We are striving for better but it seems to be going backwards. The title is ironic – the front cover and the ten pictures inside the record show that this modern world is very dystopic. Even though it’s grandiose and large, it’s definitely something disturbing. That’s the overall theme of the record and then Ghost take the details from there.
“… we are not politicians and we are not trying to turn ourselves into a little demonic Bono…”
When you talk about dystopias, especially from your standpoint, the obvious comparisons are with 1984 and Metropolis. Were these influences on Meliora and did you draw upon anything else?
I think that a few of those films clearly show a picture of a skewed future, and Brazil is one of them. They are in a way influences but it wasn’t like we just sat on the bus one day, watched one of those films and figured the whole concept out. Those films are symbolic milestones in terms of explaining the phenomenon but the phenomenon itself is very much influenced by just living it. It’s actually very self-portraying in a way. Throughout all our records there has been hints about judging down upon ambition and to some degree there’s a bit of self-loathing in there. We too are very ambitious people. We are like everybody else. We are aware of the problem and we know we are going in the wrong direction but as with everybody else we refuse to understand that we also have a responsibility to be part of the collective that needs to work in a different direction. That’s pretty much the problem. We don’t have a solution. We’re just reflecting on the current state of our civilization in a way. A lament to the world.
There are recurring themes of greed and avarice on the record, which typically isn’t explored in this way within rock music. Do you feel that it’s a notion that cuts a little close to the bone for many?
I guess so. There seems to be a divide between those who fully lyrically and thematically engage in that idea in rock and there’re the other ones who openly criticise it. The easiest examples are Pearl Jam, who are criticising it, and Kiss is not. Let me be clear, at the end of the day we are an entertainment act and what we are trying to do is entertain everyone and for once try to forget a lot of these things, but it comes with the territory for me and the band that once you have the opportunity to say something it’s hard to avoid it, especially as the themes we’ve always embraced are from this darker side of life. Once you’ve uncovered all the spider webs and sung about the cemeteries it’s very hard not to go into the broader spectrum of the mental cemeteries. Still, we are not politicians and we are not trying to turn ourselves into a little demonic Bono. We don’t have an answer, we’re just asking for anyone who’s willing to go one inch deeper into our concept to maybe have a slightly more open mind and accept that there are things that you don’t know and we don’t know. Maybe we should be a little humble to that fact. There are smoke signals coming out of mother earth and we should acknowledge that, and maybe we could possibly do something about it one day. Or you guys can do something – I want to do something else.
One of the things that’s very striking on this album is the use of odd time signatures, particularly 5/4. When did you decide that this would be a motif in the album?
I naturally gravitate towards having odd signatures. I’ve always been very, for lack of a betterword, hit-driven. Even back in the day, when I was doing much more extreme metal that obviously wasn’t very commercial at all, it always had a steady verse, and a steady chorus and pre-chorus; something that you could wave your hands to and sing along to. Some of the earliest influences I had when I was a kid and started playing guitar was Pink Floyd and The Doors, which sort of skewed my head a little, so for me it’s absolutely natural to do a count in on three, which is odd, but not if you listen to Possessed. As much as I like Genesis and prog music, sometimes you have to stop fucking with the listener because it’s so tricky sometimes, and I naturally fall into that. I want the music to be smart but sometimes, because you’re trying to show off a little, it breaks the balance and you start to lose focus. However, one thing I really wanted on some of these songs, was that 5 bar chorus. It’s a little bit weird and I remember very clearly when Klas (Åhlund, producer) heard that first. He’s very much a Kinks guy – he likes everything to be four, or eight, very straight – and he was immediately, “It’s fucked up. It sounds right but there’s something wrong with it. Now I see what you’re doing. That’s screwed up. Why are you doing that?” I really wanted it to be a signature for the album because I felt we could do it; if we just had that extended period, as long as the vocal line makes sense, it should be fine. But then you have to make sure that everything that’s going on in those choruses is very clear because if you start fucking with peoples’ metronomes, that’s the prog death. It’s cool if you’re wanting to play in a jazz club but if you’re intending to be a bigger band it’s not something that we recommend.
“I know it sounds vague and it a little bit high-horsed but from that aspect I think we failed a little, or the end result failed us, with Infestissumam because it sounded too much like the band who tried to just recreate something.”
There seems to be a change in dynamic between this and Infestissumam – it’s a little harder, more aggressive. Was this tone necessary to fit in with the album’s themes?
I think that this album sounds very much like how we wanted the previous albums to sound too. I feel Infestissumam is getting a lot of step-motherly treatment because everyone is assuming that we wanted to make a soft record, which is not the case. The reason why it came off softer, and thus Meliora sounding harder, is because of a few last-minute, very on-deadline decisions in the mixing and mastering process that made the record sound a little bit too retro-leaning. We have always tried to use old techniques and try to harness that into some contemporary sound for tomorrow rather than just nostalgically looking back and trying to be part of the scene that we sort of missed out on. I know it sounds vague and it a little bit high-horsed but from that aspect I think we failed a little, or the end result failed us, with Infestissumam because it sounded too much like the band who tried to just recreate something. It was a very painful thing once you’ve gone past the deadline and then you hear it and think “Crap!” and it’s already on the way. The album was very well-received so it wasn’t a failure but it was never intended to sound that way, so we definitely took that into consideration with this recording. “What did we do wrong last time? This and this and this. Okay, let’s not fucking do that again.” On this album we do come off as rougher sounding; yes, we do put a little more emphasis on some things but this is more in line with how we intended it to sound even back then – we just didn’t know how to do it.
So how did the writing and recording differ, in that respect?
It was a little bit different. Again, without giving anyone any stick, it wasn’t his fault anyway but by the time that Nick Raskulinecz came in of Infestissumam we had already done the whole pre-production. We had already recorded the whole album once, or the demos that we felt that we could turn into the real record, in 2011. We had this whole ordeal where we were going from one label to another and the first thing that popped up was “When are you recording the record?” Well, we’ve already recorded the record. “No you haven’t.” Just for formality and to be cool we agreed to re-record the album so when Nick came in it wasn’t too meticulous, production-wise. It was more adding fills or extending parts – there was very little surgery done to the songs. By the time we had entered the studio the record was one year old in our minds; maybe had also taken a little toll on the recording because it wasn’t fresh for us. When we worked with Klas, he had never really done a rock record before, so the first thing he asked was “I really want to work with the band, but I have to know – how far are you into the production?” I said that I have songs for two albums and I know where we’re going. I have the embryos for each song but still right now it’s quite open. That’s when he said, “I really want to do the album then.” He was adamant about being part of the pre-production. As a producer, you don’t want to come in when all the decisions have been made because there are so many decisions there. Is it a fast song? Is it a powerful song? Is it a slow song? What is the dramaturgy of it all? What’s the BPM? We spent three months – not the entire band but me, another guy in the band and Klas – in one studio and we basically recorded and re-recorded all the songs until we got to the point where we felt we were really ready to record. That’s where the band came in and we recorded the album. It was a different thing because usually we had done that part ourselves. We were a little bit more challenged and he was very adamant about questioning everything. “What do you mean with this? Why is that there?” And you have to have an answer! Eventually you come to a point where it’s, “Why is this there?” I don’t know. It’s not important. If you don’t have that person there, you might just leave it in for shits and giggles. We definitely found a producer who got us into shape; unfortunately not physically but mentally and aesthetically. The mojo got a little bit more erect – the mental penis.