From the pits of the occult to the Grammys

Ghost reinvent themselves with Polestar.

Heavy metal bands with a penchant for the occult and outrageous costumes don’t win awards or get musical recognition. Or so you’d think.Enter Sweden’s Ghost. The cult-like group’s leader and front man Papa Emeritus III looks like a fallen pope who underwent a severe exorcism. Backed by his horn-masked “nameless ghouls”, the band casts a sinister appearance, which is reflected in its music.

The controversial group is eager to capture a new audience following a 2016 Grammy Award win. Being one of the rare metal acts to win a Grammy exposes Ghost to a bigger demographic.

“A nightmare has just turned into a dream,” said front man Papa Emeritus III holding the award at the 2016 Grammy awards.

Ghost’s Popestar ep, released just one day ahead of the band’s North American tour with no prior notice, is the next logical step for the band. The ep sees the macabre-flavoured outfit aim for mainstream radio airplay. With Popestar, the Swedes have completed their transition from darlings of the indie metal scene to that of a viable commercial and international act.

Popestar seems tame for a band that pushes the visual and lyrical envelope. Ghost understands they need to tone down the controversial gimmicks if they hope to reach a larger audience. This also means forging an identity that will connect with the masses rather than one specific niche.

With their new offering, Ghost meshes together elements of rock and pop in an unholy communion. Popestar is Lady Gaga meets metal gone twisted. It’s rock and it’s pop. It is Ghost and it isn’t.

Comprising one original song and four covers by the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen and Eurythmics, Popestar makes the most of its 23 minutes.

“Square Hammer” is the lead single on which Popestar builds its foundation. The song blends elements of Ghost’s past with a more contemporary pop sound, effectively establishing them as a haunting presence in popular music.

Cover albums tend to be risky affairs, but Ghost has the self-awareness necessary to make songs like the Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man” their own. Expect to hear unexpected twist on some popular staples.

Throughout their 8-year tenure, Ghost has put tremendous effort into building and cultivating a visual live show designed to throw parents into hysterics. Years spent on the road honing their craft and developing their act in front of Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper audiences has paid off.

If occult-rock isn’t your thing, rest assured. Papa and the ghouls make increasingly accessible music with each succeeding release. They’re distancing themselves from scare tactics once worn with pride on their collective sleeves and Papa Emeritus III showcases a vocal range broader than that of his predecessors.

Never has it been easier to embrace the world of occult-rock. Call Popestar an appetizer.

Ghost will be performing at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on November 9 and 10.

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Originally from Canada's east coast, now living in Durham Region, Tommy is an award-winning, multi-faceted journalist covering news, popular-culture, entertainment, sports and more. My work has been featured in The Chronicle, The Brooklin Town Crier and You can follow me on Twitter @itsTommyMorais