Though there’s a point to those who bemoan the loss of mystery in music during our social-media/information-overload age, it’s not as though no one is trying. Take theatrical Swedish Metal band Ghost, for example. After enrapturing audiences in their homeland, over the course of five years, the troupe rose to become one of the biggest Metal attractions on the U.S. touring circuit without the identity of the band members ever being known.
Ghost’s anonymity was built into the group’s schtick from the beginning, which uses a Catholic Church motif but switches out the Father, Son and Holy Ghost for Satan. Sporting costumes and masks, the band members — each known only as “A Nameless Ghoul” — were led in concert by a Satanic “Pope” singer, Papa Emeritus, who has been replaced (often forcibly) a few times over the past half-decade. For Ghost’s current tour and forthcoming album, Prequelle (due June 1), the group’s leader has been revealed as Cardinal Copia, though a promotional video suggests that all three Papa Emerituses would be joining them on the road — as embalmed corpses.
The obvious dark humor at play in Ghost’s persona makes for an entertaining stage show, but the music isn’t just an afterthought. The choral flourishes and compositional drama of religious music are just a part of the Ghost’s melodic sound, which also includes various strains of Doom, Prog, Death and Black Metal. Ghost’s albums have consistently been praised by critics and sold well, and the band even won a Grammy for a track off of its third full-length, 2015’s Meliora.
Despite the valiant effort, the past year has not been kind to Ghost’s veil of anonymity, which was torn after a few former Nameless Ghouls went to court over financial concerns. Public court records outed the musicians, as well as Tobias Forge, the ever-changing frontman and overall mastermind of the project, who has since said Ghost has long functioned with a revolving membership and that he had no illusions that everyone’s identities would remain forever secret. While a bit of a bummer, it’s hard to imagine the unmasking will have many Ghost fans going, “Yeah, they still sound great, but if those guys on stage aren’t actual demonic clergymen, I’m out!”