Ghost Takes it to the Next Level
Ghost is back to show their friends, fans, and enemies that there is no drama that can stop this dynamic band from doing what they do best: attempt to topple the establishment and open the eyes of the blind sheep that follow that established order. Ghost reveals that they are as steadfast and irreverent as ever with this one! At last, a long-awaited music video has arrived to accompany the song featured on Ghost’s third full-length studio album, Meliora, the controversial song that Ghost performed at the Grammis to the chagrine of everyone in attendance, “He Is”.
“He Is” has a turbulent existence. It was languishing in demo for a while, but was finally written for Meliora in tribute to the lead singer of The Devil’s Blood, Selim Lemouchi, a close friend of each member of Ghost, who sadly took his own life in March of 2014 at the age of 33. A Nameless Ghoul speaking on behalf of the band to Loudwire said that there were various personal meanings to the song, but ultimately it’s about “an expression of faith to “the great beyond””.
Though the song has a deep meaning that those outside of Ghost’s immediate circle may never understand, clearly “He Is” embraces some kind of faith. Papa Emeritus III returns in all of his romantic glory, a glory he has spent the last three years cultivating in everything from the way he makes enigmatic eye contact with those in the front row (I was so lucky to be drawn into those mismatched eyes myself), his more than sexual gestures, the way he will take a random girl fan’s hand and holds it (why not me, Papa!), and the rekindled inclusion of “Monstrance Clock” at the end of every set.
Though Ghost and Papa Emeritus have always been seductive, Meliora took that concept to the next level. Meliora was meant to be listened to as a full service, with each song representing a section of a mass or church service itself. There are processionals, recessionals, hymns, and worship songs. “He Is” on the outside, is a worship song. It moves slowly, seductively, inclusive of all, and offering comfort and salvation inside a dark faith that is both ironic and twisted. The video, released Thursday morning at 11:59 PM, illustrates it far more clearly. Though Ghost’s performance of the song at the Grammis presented him in papal regalia, Papa’s role in “He Is” is far different than even his stage performances.
Join Him: Ghost and Satire
Like Ghost’s previous single, “Cirice”, heralding the album’s debut in 2015, “He Is” is set in yet another worship scenario. In one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen from this band, Papa first embraces the small children, hinting at what is to come. The children run to embrace him in what can only be described as cherubim baptism robes. They know him. They trust him. They love him unconditionally. Zev Deans, the director for “He Is”, drew on a statue of Michael Jackson as inspiration for Papa’s outfit for this video.
This is also what makes my following remarks so disturbing.
Papa greets his congregation in a white suit emblazoned with gold buttons and aviator sunglasses in a blindingly bright church under stained glass. I’m not kidding about the blinding. Bright lights from behind make it almost impossible to look directly at him. Notice Papa’s outstretched arms, his palms turned up in the photo above. Papa is well-known (in all of his incarnations) for grandiose gestures both on stage and in videos. Though his gestures tend to make great theater, this one is clearly meant to be an imitation of Christ on the cross, as Christ has his hands turned out to be nailed to the wooden rails through his palms. Despite the obvious jab, I have never laughed harder at a Ghost video.
Hilarity aside, though (who doesn’t look at all of this and laugh?) perhaps what is most disturbing about this display is Papa is specifically portraying evangelical ministers. The evangelical leader Jim Jones comes quickest to mind. He was the leader of the People’s Temple and later responsible for the mass suicide of 918 of his followers, 300 of which were children, in his self-titled city state of Jonestown in Guyana in South America, removed from American intervention and cut off from the outside to prevent Jones’ hold on his followers from slipping. Papa’s embrace of the children, then, is frightening as hell when you consider the magnitude of Jim Jones’ influence over his people, who were able to not only convince themselves to join God alongside Jones, but to believe in Jones so much, that they, to a man, decided to bring their children to meet God too. It is no surprise either, that Jones’ idea to take his congregation directly to God came as the United States government closed in on him to liberate his followers.
With this imagery, Ghost plays with both the seductive nature of Jones’ charisma, the seductive power Ghost, and Papa Emeritus (and arguably all celebrities, but especially evangelical ministers), have over their fans during a “ritual”. As the video progresses, Papa speaks to his congregation in escalating fervor and violence. His faithful beg to be presented to him. They fall on their knees before him and rejoice that he bestows his grace on them. He incites them to speaking in tongues, clearly a representation of of an evangelical Christian pastor.
Fan interaction at a Ghost concert is paramount to their success, and Ghost is so far the only band to successfully make their fans a part of the overall performance. They openly take advantage of the seductive power of the performance and their fans’ willingness to partake in the act. As I mentioned earlier, Papa III has been known to wade out into his fans and grasp the hand of a lady of his choice, much the way Papa Jim Jones does in the video. In the video, a select few of the congregation are presented to Papa, whom he incites to some sort of violent reaction, though it’s open to speculation about what that reaction is to. At a Ghost ritual, or any metal concert, violent, sympathetic reaction is common. The crowd bangs heads, forms a circle pit, and depending on the show, otherwise descends into chaos. A Ghost ritual finds mostly devoted females (myself among them) clamoring to get closer to Papa. Notice Papa has a much more gentle touch with the women than he does with the men of this video. I’ll get to the significance of that in the next section.
The Sisters of Sin are another example of fan interaction, where two “nuns” with Ghost emblems wander down the front row and hand out the unholy sacrament and blood of Satan. I actually got to partake at their show in Austin in April of 2016. It’s wine and communion wafer, but the fact that Ghost as a concept espouses anti-Christian rhetoric through pro-Satanic “rituals” turns the entire idea of the Eucharist on its head, especially when accompanied with the song, “Body and Blood”, which, when performed is nothing short of irreverent. This draws a lot of criticism, as you can well imagine. Ghost’s purpose, though, is not to turn people into God-haters, but to point out how ridiculous the idea of the Eucharist is, how it operates only as a form of mass hysteria: it only works if everyone believes in it, ironizing the mob mentality it requires to be an active member of an organized religion. Unlike most Christian rhetoric that relies on the belief of the flock, Satanism emphasizes the development of the self, the individual, and Ghost has taken it upon themselves since their inception to open the eyes of their followers.
For a more in-depth look at the tradition of satire in Satanism, director Zev Deans has the director’s cut of the video and behind-the-scenes footage here.
Ghost As Sexual Awakening
I mentioned earlier that Papa Emeritus III pays particular attention to the ladies. Not that Papa has not always paid attention to the ladies. However, Papa III does not merely invite the sexually awakened to follow in his wake like Papa II:
Papa III is by all accounts, “the one lascivious”. In “He Is” Papa III is responsible for the sexual awakening of his female followers. By the end of the video, he performs a strange baptism on all the girls who are sexually of age.
Each of the girls is dunked into the bright baptism pool, fully submerged. They go in dry and smiling, and they come up visibly shaken, shocked even, changed. Their breasts are clearly visible under their shifts. They stare at him in utter disbelief. Before they were too awe-struck to touch him. Notice the girl’s hand on Papa’s shoulder after her dunking, a lover’s touch.
This does a couple of things: it is yet another example of Ghost’s rhetoric of freedom through individuality and shared sexual experience. Since Ghost is the antithesis of a religion that enslaves women through sexual suppression and repression, then Ghost is the religion that frees them. Sexual awakening and sexual power have always had a major role to play for Ghost. Another thing this does is reinforce the previous dangerous imagery of the evangelical minister. Jim Jones and other cult leaders, including Charles Manson, often separated the females from the males, ostensibly to protect their sacred bodies, but more often than not so as to keep the women and sexually mature girls for themselves, with always their choice of virgins to “liberate”. Notice Papa does not baptize any men in this scene.
First, this is the only music video of Ghost’s that I have ever seen in which the entire band is not present. Ghost is a packaged deal. You do not usually see Papa Emeritus unaccompanied by the Nameless Ghouls. There has been some drama with the band behind the scenes. I do not spread or perpetuate rumors, and I do not speculate about the absence of the band. There are those better qualified than I to write on the subject of the band’s absence from this video.
Second, Ghost has come a long way from the low-budget stage productions and music videos of past Ghost albums, namely Opus Eponymous and Infestissumam. Though always in keeping with the band’s theme and concept, music videos have always been straight forward and conceptual. For example, “Secular Haze” has the feel of being broadcast from a local access evangelical television station.
“Year Zero” only has two scenes in which “plot” actually occurs.
With the coming of Meliora and Popestar, we see a rise in animated, artistic videos, such as “Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Square Hammer”.
And then of course there are videos like “Cirice” and “He Is” in which there is a clear story and what Zev Deans, director of “He Is”, refers to as a “punch line” which is meant to convey criticism as opposed to simply offending anyone (though that does not really matter).
Third, Papa retains the black and white skull makeup marking him as the third incarnation of Papa Emeritus for the video. Papa always has a place in Ghost videos. Notice in “Cirice” that Papa III is played by a small child in the talent show. Papa usually always plays himself in one form or another, and in this, “He Is” is no different. However, it gives the video’s message an edge of irony. You do not serve just any evangelical prophet, you serve Papa Emeritus III. Ultimately the bright pastels and lighting is a lie, a criticism of the highest order of the ridiculousness of evangelical liturgy.
Fourth (I’m sorry!), but the idea of the sexual awakening is not sexually liberating. I feel that the unfortunate result of Ghost’s message is that sexual awakening and sexual growth does not serve the women of Papa’s following, but it serves Papa in much the same way as the evangelical cult leaders that Papa imitates in the video monopolized the female bodies of their followers. In every instance of female sexual awakening, Papa is at the center of it, even with the music video for “Monstrance Clock” in which a young, sexy woman can be seen towards the video, meant to embody the spirit of “Coming together”. Papa and Ghost is the center of this awakening, and it exists only to further romanticize the band. Ghost enjoys a singular coed fan base that is largely due to the power and seduction exuded by Papa in all of his incarnations, even his nasty first incarnation. In my opinion, I feel that to call Ghost “woke” to any feminist idea of sexual liberation grossly misses the point of feminism in which females own their own sexuality as opposed to only being sexualized for a male agenda. If anything, Ghost undermines this and has done so ever since it’s inception. If Ghost were to reverse this, it could be classified as yet another part of their rhetoric, but since they don’t reverse the undermining of female sexual power through individual ownership (which is clear from their depictions of women in their videos), no assertion can be made to me that Papa’s vow to invite sexual freedom to his female followers and promote the enjoyment of sex for all of Ghost’s followers is anything more than sensationalism. Know it, see it, own it, recognize it, and take it for what it is. I do not enjoy Ghost less for this. It’s part of the romance of the band, and part of its allure.
Ghost is one of my favorite bands. While it’s saddening to see that the full band was not part of the video for “He Is”, it is heartening to see that Ghost is still committed to criticizing organized, evangelical religion that preys on the faith of it’s followers for the sake of a privileged few instead of bringing a community closer together for the sake of the many. Ghost embodies the spirit of individualism, pushes boundaries, encourages conversation, and above all, preaches tolerance through a rhetoric of allegory and satire with decadent spectacle that goes back to the days of Faust. There is Satanism and theater at work in Ghost. Those who tell you otherwise do not understand Ghost.
Though Ghost offers a clear ironic message in “He Is”, it cannot be mistaken for anything but the satire and theatrics the band presents and, unfortunately, continues to undermine feminist individualism (though it is not weaponized and certainly is not meant to be undermining in a way that subjugates. It just doesn’t do its job that well).
The music video for “He Is” is available to watch on YouTube. Spread the Word!