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Ghost B.C. in the machine

With assists from Dave Grohl and Darkthrone, the sacrilegious Swedes are primed for the big time

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'You're confirmed for 11 a.m. Wednesday morning. You will have 15 minutes with a nameless ghoul."

Last week's message from Ghost B.C.'s publicist, while amusing, was also a little worrying. With its conspicuously costumed anonymity (think Residents, KLF, Kiss), the Swedish metal band's attention-getting image overshadowed one of the most musically intriguing debut albums of 2010. The band has also conducted interviews in costume and in character, with voices electronically altered, making the prospect of one more deadpan interview with a "nameless ghoul" seem unpromising.

So it was a relief when Ghost's guitarist unexpectedly spent 30 minutes talking about music and Mayhem, upcoming B-sides with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, and, of course, corpse-painted frontman Papa Emeritus II's failed campaign for Pope.

Yes, the identities are still secret, at least for now, and the lyrics, in English and Latin, are appropriately sacrilegious. But Ghost's music continues to evolve. Sophomore album Infestissumam, released Tuesday, boasts highly melodic vocals, catchy unison guitar parts, and keyboard-heavy arrangements that compare favorably to Blue Oyster Cult-era metal, vintage prog-rock, even West Coast psychedelia.

Surprisingly, the band continues to find favor among black metal fans, not least because Darkthrone co-founder Fenriz praised Ghost as a combination of metallurgists Mercyful Fate and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

Meanwhile, the band's cross-genre appeal threatens to make 2013 the year Ghost hits big. Here's a Nameless Ghoul to tell you all about it.

Indy: Listening to the new single "Secular Haze," with its time signature and keyboards that sound like a circus calliope, I have to wonder: Did you ever expect the metal community to embrace you the way it has?

Nameless Ghoul: When we began working on the first album, we had in mind the music and imagery that we ourselves would want to hear and see. The songs are sort of dramatic and moving, and the imagery and ideas made the band seem a bit bigger in people's minds, maybe, than we actually were. And we were very lucky when Fenriz of Darkthrone blogged about us as his "band of the week." Obviously his following is predominantly the metal community, and we come from a metal background ourselves.

Our music does have popular elements, but shit, so did most bands from the '70s as well. We knew it was weird and sort of catchy, but we didn't know that three years later we'd be in the position we're in right now: being on a major label, releasing our second album, and being able to play places like the Ogden Theatre and Coachella.

Indy: I'm surprised you mention the Ogden. Most bands, especially coming from Europe, wouldn't know what state I'm calling from, let alone what venue they'll be playing here.

Nameless Ghoul: Right, right. I'm a stickler for venues. I think that if there's one ingredient to making it, especially as a band like Ghost, it's being interested in a lot of aspects that go outside just the immediate aesthetic part.

Because if you're just a bunch of 22-year-olds that are out there to get fucked up, you don't learn anything. Most of those bands just get spit out a couple years later, and then they're completely destroyed because they didn't know what happened. We're slightly older and we've been in bands before that have toured to some extent. So we know that, in order to make it fly, we really need to be focused. Because it's so easy to just fall apart otherwise.

Indy: In terms of staging, the corpse makeup is the thing that most evokes black metal. As teenagers, were you guys into bands like Immortal and the kind of theatricality they favored?

Nameless Ghoul: I personally really like that whole black metal movement of the early '90s. Up until '94.

Indy: Back when it was more raw?

Nameless Ghoul: Yeah. When a lot of those bands got to their third record, that's when everything began to change in a way that made it very uninteresting, for me at least. And before that, it was the whole death metal thing, and thrash. And yeah, that's a big part of the DNA of Ghost.

Also, there was an element of inaccessibility about a band like Mayhem back before the Internet. And that's what we've tried to do with Ghost, to be a band that you didn't know everything about.

Indy: And with regard to being nameless, is there some way you could assure me that you're not former Pink Floyd or Moody Blues members, or some kind of Coldplay side-project?

Nameless Ghoul: No, I can't really guarantee you that, no.

Indy: I want to ask a non-musical question about vocalist Papa Emeritus and his Internet campaign for Pope. How disappointed was he about not being chosen?

Nameless Ghoul: From our point of view, we weren't complaining when he didn't land the job, because he had signed up with us. But to him it was an annoyance, which is understandable. I mean, he saw the vacancy as a potential career move, whereas playing with these five dudes from Linköping might not be in the same way. I mean, put next to being Pope?

Indy: There are a lot of advantages, like getting to ride around in the Popemobile.

Nameless Ghoul: Yeah, well, we promised to make it up to him a little bit. We're gonna rent him one.

Indy: Is the Vatican renting them now?

Nameless Ghoul: Yeah, they're leasing, and they cut us a really good deal. So it worked out way better for everyone in the long run.

Indy: I should also ask how you first hooked up with Dave Grohl.

Nameless Ghoul: We both played at a festival; I don't remember whether it was Lowlands in Holland or Pukkelpop in Belgium. And since we knew that he was a fan of the band, we thought, "Well, let's have our people call his people and maybe we can go over there." So we went to say hi, and pretty quickly got to the point of, "You want to do something?" And he was like, "Yeah!"

Indy: Did he engineer the sessions?

Nameless Ghoul: He was more of a producer. And he played drums on a few songs.

Indy: Which ones?

Nameless Ghoul: He played drums on [the ABBA cover] "Marionette" and "Waiting for the Night," a Depeche Mode cover we did. And he played a little bit of guitar and other things on a few of the other songs we recorded. So it was very much a playful thing where we came in with the material, rehearsed a little bit, and just recorded.

Indy: And finally, I saw a video online where an interviewer asked when the apocalypse was coming, and you — well, one of you — said that it was already ongoing, and seemed to allude to the environment. Are you guys concerned about that?

Nameless Ghoul: The environment? I think that any person in the world that doesn't at least give the environment some sort of thought doesn't deserve to live in it. I wouldn't say that we have an environmental agenda, but we do sing about mankind, and we're mirror-reflecting the human mind and the human psyche and how people treat each other. And one of the most obvious ways of seeing mankind's failing in general is to just open up your window and smell it. I mean, there you have the apocalypse, that's the end of the world.

bill@csindy.com

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