Ghost, the Swedish retro doom metal band whose medium goes beyond the music, are the only band successfully inverting the stale rock traditions.
In a recent social media post I lamented why Led Zeppelin marked the beginning of the end of rock music with the exclusionary and exceptionalist attitudes that followed from their obsession with occultism and celebrity-driven misogyny.
There can be little doubt that Led Zeppelin are one of the greatest rock acts of all times, but might it be possible they were the beginning of its end?
Rock and roll was initially viewed as an egalitarian art form. From its early history as a bridge between race and class and later as the soundtrack to the most powerful counterculture movement in American history, it brought people together and celebrated diversity and commonality simultaneously. But by the end of the 60’s the hippie dream was dying and rock was about to usher in a new era of excess and superstardom. Enter Led Zeppelin.
Right from the beginning Led Zeppelin eschew the lyrical romanticism and idealism of the hippy era and instead replace it with blues era misogyny. One cannot help when reading Plant’s lyrics to notice that women seem to be objects of male desire, lust and emotional insecurities.
From there we move on to the occultism, which prized hidden, secret and esoteric ideas. These were exclusive ideologies that were meant to separate Led Zeppelin and the ‘fans who get it’ from all the proles and ballad seekers.
Led Zeppelin effectively became an exclusive boys club governed by excessive maschismo and ideological pretentiousness. In the years since their demise the members have continued to shroud themselves in secrecy and suggestive superiority bordering on self-idolatry.
Punk rock recognized this and tried to fix it, but was instead co-opted by the same WASPish tendency towards aggression that eventually lended itself back to the same toxic rock masculinity and exclusivity that Led Zeppelin had taken the train off the tracks with.
As a vehicle for social change, rock and roll is almost entirely irrelevant, and Led Zeppelin epitomize the change that made that so.
This was written after I dissed the branch of magic generally referred to as occultism, then took a few swings at its most beloved figurehead, and finally provided an alternative perspective towards magical pursuits.
While I stand by my assertion that rock is dead, in the sense that it is no longer capable of being a vehicle for massive social change outside of entertainment, there is still the question of relativity. Are there any bands relatively relevant within rock music itself? Almost certainly many. But are any of them making relevant statements about rock music beyond the music itself?
If so then that band is undoubtedly Ghost. If rock music has become a perpetual playground of irreverence, hyperbole and Jungian darkness then Ghost are the antidote. And not because they deny those things, but because they turn them inside out on themselves. They are irreverent about taking irreverence seriously. Their hyperbole takes itself seriously enough to appear educated and meaningful, when in fact it satirizes and parodies the dominant forms of rock hyperbole. And their darkness is so dark, the visage and appearances so frightening, that it reverts back to a cartoonish absurdity.
Or as I like to call it, Scooby Doo Satanism.
Ghost are making fun of the very thing they appear to be, and they are doing at such an advanced level that this distinction is lost on many. These aren’t just cheap shots at rock cliches. There is a deep understanding of these cliches, as well as the subjects they are derived from. And the lambasting is not done in self-congratulatory snark, but lovingly, as fans and students of the very targets of their lampooning.
Through evolving story-lines and a strong multi-media presence, Ghost are more than just a band. They are a creative phenomena. In the post-punk rock world the new mantra became. “It’s all about the music.” With Ghost this simply isn’t true. It is about spectacle as a way of satirizing a society of the spectacle. It is a joke about the way jokes are made and told. It is everything rock and roll music came to symbolize, post-Led Zeppelin, turned upside down and reflected back at itself. It is the feedback loop of rock culture.
While most of my rock heroes have taken a turn towards late life conservativism and extreme metal has become a hotbed for neo-nazis and literal devil-worshippers, completely free of any irony, Ghost are thumbing their nose at the rock establishment norms. Even the godfathers of punk rock have become grumpy old men who take themselves and their art a little too seriously. Meanwhile Ghost are able to simultaneously spoof the videos for Thriller and Flashdance with a front man who looks like King Diamond’s spiritual leader.
If you don’t get Ghost, you don’t get rock music. You may like it, even a lot, but you don’t get it. And you may never understand why the only relevant thing a rock group can do now is to make fun of rock and roll. And to be able to pull it off with the such humor and brilliant musical chops makes it all the more amazing.
R.I.P. Rock and roll pretensions. Long live Ghost!