Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Tough Being Satanic

Hell on Earth! Satanic Band Files Suit Citing Dreary Work Conditions
Band members from Ghost wear ghoulish masks and praise the devil but squabble offstage over money, food and stinky costumes; ‘unabashed dishonesty, greed, and darkness’

Papa Emeritus and a Nameless Ghoul of the Swedish band Ghost at an April concert in Norway Gonzales/Terje Dokken/Avalon/ZUMA Press

The Wall Street Journal  by John Jurgensen June 12, 2017

Ghost, a Swedish heavy-metal band, built a cult following over a decade using demonic pageantry and rhyming lyrics like “hypnotizing horns of ram” and “paralyzing pentagram.”

A Nameless Ghoul

Band members perform in eerie masks and keep their identities secret, adding to the group’s mystique.

It all worked like a charm—until a recent lawsuit unmasked the satanic musicians as a bunch of earthly beings. In court papers and other documents, band members discuss such pedestrian matters as salaries, tour buses, laundry arrangements and how concert venues should prepare the bananas in their backstage spread.

“Don’t put any fast food under our noses,” the band tells venues.

In a realm where celebrities market their personal lives as much as their music, Ghost’s anonymity was an anomaly that fans flocked to. 

The band’s lead singer, Papa Emeritus, pairs skeletal face makeup with a pope hat bearing an inverted cross.

He performs while flanked by musicians known as Nameless Ghouls who wear silver-horned, mouth-less masks. Without revealing their faces, the band walked the red carpet at last year’s Grammys and accepted an award with Papa proclaiming that “a nightmare has turned into a dream.”

Dirty Laundry: A lawsuit filed by four former Nameless Ghouls alleges they didn’t get their fair share of the band’s profits Photo: Amy Harris/Invision/Associated Press

Four Nameless Ghouls are now suing Papa—a 36-year-old whose real name is Tobias Forge —in a Swedish court. They have accused him of financially shortchanging them and reneging on an agreement to make them partners and distribute the band’s profits equally.

The suit identified all the band’s members and has divided fans world-wide. Some have pored over the court documents and soaked up the behind-the-scenes details, while others resent the revelations for ruining Ghost’s spooky image. The dispute “really messed up the whole mythos of the band,” one fan complained online. “The lawsuit reduces them all to boring, flawed people.”

Devil in the Details: Ghost fan Kathleen Higgins said she was disappointed to learn about the band’s money squabbles Photo: Kathleen and Sean Higgins

Kathleen Higgins of Halifax, Canada, a pet-store manager whose husband plays in a Ghost tribute band, avoided news of the lawsuit online and said she was bummed out by the band’s money squabbles and mundane affairs. “It’s like watching a Broadway show. When I saw ‘Phantom of the Opera’ as a child I wasn’t interested in who the actors were or what they ate for breakfast,” she said.

In character, Papa is a sort of occult sect leader who leads audiences in chants of “Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer,” incantations in the song “Year Zero.” But ahead of the band’s 2013 American tour, the front man was especially excited about Ghost’s transportation upgrade.

“It will be a real tour bus on the U.S. bit!” Mr. Forge wrote to the band in an email included in the suit. “Had we taken the van we would [have] gotten a minimal profit, but not sufficiently large for us to endure a month in the van.”

During concerts around that time, the band churned through songs such as “Death Knell” and “Satan Prayer.” At one point, Papa handed out unconsecrated communion wafers and sang about the stench of “dead human sacrifices.”

Afterwards, one of the Nameless Ghouls was tasked with cleaning the band’s gamey vestments in his apartment building’s communal washing machine in Sweden.

“It was like getting the whole football team’s dirty wash,” Martin Persner, the former Ghoul, said in an interview. Minutes from a band meeting included with court documents noted him raising concerns about the dank wardrobe situation and asking if it was possible to do laundry at the concert venues. Mr. Persner, a longtime Ghost guitarist who left the band last year, didn’t join the other Ghouls in filing suit.

Corporeal Punishment: Ghost lead singer Papa Emeritus was identified as Tobias Forge in the former band members’ lawsuit Photo: Sergione Infuso/Corbis/Getty Images

As Ghost ascended in popularity in recent years, its concerts—known to fans as “rituals”—became more elaborate, featuring faux stained glass and burning incense. A confetti cannon shot fake money with Papa’s scowling face printed next to the number 666. Friends and audience members recruited as “sisters of sin” dressed up as nuns to administer the ersatz communion.

Backstage protocol was more basic. A list of requests sent to concert venues, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, included Ghost’s demands for cold cuts, beer and room-temperature bottled water. The band stipulated that bananas remain bagged in the catering area due to “a very severe banana allergy” among the traveling crew.

At each tour stop, they asked for six local postcards plus stamps (“YES WE REALLY WANT THESE”), along with good chocolate (“NOT HERSHEY!”) and quality food. “You are what you eat and in this regard we want to stay healthy,” Ghost noted in a dossier sent to venues.

When band members weren’t on stage or discussing evolutions in Ghost’s devilish mythology, they grappled with the earthly concerns of road life. In the cramped confines of the tour bus, sleeping schedules conflicted, recalls Mr. Persner. Debates about which restaurants to eat at were common.

The ultimate behind-the-scenes clashes, however, were about money. Mr. Forge’s legal response to the Ghouls’ suit, filed last week, describes showdowns over the band’s salaries, and claims the Ghouls were never more than musicians for hire. Their lawsuit “destroyed the mystery” of Ghost, Mr. Forge said, and their anonymity made them replaceable. He didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

Papa Emeritus recently debuted a new set of Nameless Ghouls, with no announcement to fans. The band launched a U.S. tour earlier this month.

The former Ghouls who filed suit declined interview requests. In a statement released in April, they accused Mr. Forge of “unabashed dishonesty, greed, and darkness. Not the darkness of which Ghost sings, but a darkness that pushes a person to betray his best friends when fame and fortune appear within reach.”

Ghost’s anonymity is a throwback to the 1970s, when groups like Kiss shrouded themselves in sinister mystery. Pre-Wikipedia, fans had to piece together group lore by poring over music magazines, album liner notes and urban legends.

To be sure, some inquisitive and savvy Ghost fans were able to ferret out details about the musicians before they were exposed in the suit. But for the band, concealing their everyday identities was just a way to amp up the theater. The goal was to fuel rumors and “to create something larger than five dudes. Like comic book characters,” said Mr. Persner, who went public separately in a YouTube reveal meant to promote his own band, Magna Carta Cartel.

Being shrouded in a cloak and mask had practical advantages, too. “There was never a bad hair day,” said Mr. Persner.

-- Neanda Salvaterra contributed to this article.

Write to John Jurgensen at john.jurgensen@wsj.com

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