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Grammy-winning metal band Ghost addresses 'satanic' accusations: 'There are other music styles that promote a way worse lifestyle'

The swedish shock-rock saviors' flamboyant frontman believes that “dark music, everything from gothic to death metal and black metal and hardcore” is a source of celebration and even salvation..

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Over the past decade, bombastic, theatric, operatic metal Swedes have become unlikely mainstream rock stars. They won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2016 and have scored three nominations since then, most recently for "Call Me Little Sunshine" off their 2022 studio LP, Impera. That ambitious 12-song cycle — despite being a seemingly willfully uncommercial concept album about "demigod worship" and "the unescapable fails and falls of empires" after the Black Plague, and boasting Aleister Crowley-inspired cover art — managed to yield the band's first Hot 100 single, “Mary on a Cross,” and debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Impera also won two big fan-voted honors, Favorite Rock Album at the American Music Awards and Best Rock Album of the Year at the iHeart Radio Music Awards. And among Ghost's biggest fans is Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, who in a torch-passing moment contributed guest vocals to a new version of the Impera anthem " Spillways " earlier this year.

But not everyone’s a fan. “We obviously are a polarizing band,” Ghost’s fearless leader Tobias Forge — alternately known as the diabolical priest character Papa Emeritus or Papa’s panda-eyed successors, Cardinal Copia and now the Impera -era Papa Emeritus IV — tells Yahoo Entertainment.

Although Ghost’s over-the-top, presumably tongue-in-greasepainted-cheek satanic imagery has always drawn detractors, as their fame has grown, so have protests targeting the band — including a bizarre one that took place in Midland, Texas, and made international headlines, during Ghost’s “A Pale Tour Named Death” U.S. arena trek.

In November 2018, Larry Long, the pastor of the Fellowship Community Church, said Midland needed to be protected from the supposedly devil-worshiping group, warning a local CBS affiliate, “This kind of band will bring spiritual influences into this area. We’re concerned about it, because we believe the devil is real, just as we believe God is real. … I think if [young fans are] singing along to those lyrics, who knows what in the world they’re opening their hearts and lives up to?”

Ghost’s Midland show went on as planned — and of course, the church's stunt only raised Ghost's profile in the United States. “At the end of the day, what [the Fellowship Community Church] caused was more tickets sold. So, thank you very much,” Forge chuckles.

Still, although Forge says such outrage is “to an extent, amusing,” he adds, “To a greater extent, I think it’s sad . … I find it saddening thinking that there are people who don’t know f***ing bad from good and shit from Shinola. I find it saddening that people would choose to stand out in the cold [protesting Ghost], thinking that they’re making a difference. I think it’s sad that people are wasting their time thinking that we’re bad for people, when actually what we’re really trying to do is make people happy and make people feel good about themselves when they come to our show and have a good time.”

Although certain PMRC-baiting shock-rockers that paved the way for Ghost — Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Judas Priest — have been accused of encouraging suicidal or homicidal tendencies among impressionable fans, Forge believes that “dark music, everything from gothic to death metal and black metal and hardcore” can, on the contrary, be a source of celebration and even salvation.

“There are definitely rock fans over the years that have done negative things toward each other and or towards themselves, but I don’t think that’s because of the music . That’s because they were in a bad place in their lives,” the good Papa stresses. “Actually, it might have even been the music that made them live so long, that kept them going. Hard rock, in general, does not promote that you should harm anyone. I definitely think there are other music styles that promote a way worse lifestyle, that you could look upon as being more negative. [Pop] music styles that promote a way of living that their fans will never have — when music is all about ‘making it’ and wearing ‘bling-bling’ and ‘all them bitches,’ and the idea that without that stuff you’re nothing — that is a bad influence for your fans. At least with most gothic or hard rock music, it’s about feeling good about yourself.”

Forge instead sees Ghost as following in tradition of “the big shock-rock bands of 1984” that his much older, punk-rocker brother introduced him to when he was growing up in a liberal, pop-culture-savvy home in Linköping, Sweden. “The artists I immediately grasped onto were when I was 3 years old,” Forge recalls. “[Mötley Crüe’s] Shout at the Devil , [Twisted Sister’s] Stay Hungry , KISS, stuff like that. My brother was so nice and just passed those records on to me, like, ‘Here, you’ll like this more.’ I played them all the time. Then it just blossomed from there.”

Now Ghost is being heralded as the imagination-sparking band serving the same purpose for today’s rock-starved youth. “I do believe that there is a glimmer of hope in what we do with regards to the fact that there are a lot of kids coming to our shows. We are the first band that they see live. That is a really good thing, thinking long-term,” Forge muses. “I don’t mind being that glimmer of hope. I do believe that the more exposure we get, the more time that we spend in people’s ears, I hope that the interest in analog rock will be kept alive or awoken or might find a way into kids of today. I guess we could be a little bit [for today’s young fans] what KISS was in the ’70s.”

That being said, Forge is reluctant to accept the pro-Ghost media’s proclamations that Ghost are the reigning saviors of rock ‘n’ roll. “I’d love for the mainstream music climate to steer back towards rock, and I’m sure it will at some point. But does that mean there will be image-driven shock-rock bands, as far as a movement? I don’t know,” he says. “I do believe that the rock bands that will be big in the future are the ones that are being formed by kids, the 18-year-olds, today, right now. They are the ones that will rock the future, because that’s how it always is. The bands that will be big in five or 10 years, when there might be a big domination of rock again, will be bands that we most likely don’t know as of right now.”

But those bands, as Forge hints, may very well be Ghost disciples, because today’s kids, despite the handwringing of concerned conservatives like Long, are loving Ghost’s epic live shows on their current "Re-Imperatour" — in which a Pope-robed Papa IV, flanked by Victorian-jacketed, steampunk-helmeted, and occasionally keytar-wielding Nameless Ghouls, performs dystopian anthems like "Imperium," "Rats," "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," "Year Zero," "Mummy Dust," and "Dance Macabre” in a rock ‘n’ roll church bedecked with inverted crosses.

As the tour climaxes next week with two shows at Los Angeles's Forum , the nearby Grammy Museum will even launch the Ghost Devotional Pop-Up for the band's especially faithful flock — complete with confession booth where fans are encouraged to "bare their souls about why they think Ghost are the best rock band in the world!" Ghost's imagery and themes may be alarming to some, but it seems the rock kids understand.

“The biggest misconception [about Ghost] is that the lyrical content is being provocative because it’s about God. And it’s not. It’s not about God at all,” insists Forge. “It’s about man , mankind. I use language and analogy to make it seem that it is about other things, but the songs are usually, they are about very real things. Sometimes I think it’s almost laughable to the point of annoying that protesters are just picking up on the literal meaning.

“There are many misconceptions about who I am or how I think, and of course it’s annoying. But that is just part of being in a band nowadays. If I didn’t want any of this, I shouldn’t be in a band. But I want to do this. I want to rock.”

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

‘I think they really do worship the devil’: Texas pastor leads community in prayer ahead of heavy metal concert

Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons remember KISS's failed, 'delusional' concept album 'Music From "The Elder"': 'We sold six copies'

Bassist Rudy Sarzo remembers Ozzy Osbourne's bat-biting, 40 years later

How Rob Zombie grew up to be ‘Alice Cooper, Steven Spielberg, Bela Lugosi, and Stan Lee’

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Papal regalia, on-stage rituals and razzle-dazzle rock’n’roll: Why Ghost are the biggest Satanic band on the planet

The wildly successful swedish group are bringing fun and theatrics back to heavy metal. jak hutchcraft meets founder tobias forge to talk blasphemy, steampunk and their wild new album ‘impera’, article bookmarked.

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Ghost frontman Tobias Forge

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“What we’re trying to do is orchestrate a religious event, with all the bombastic nature of a mass, but without the guilt,” explains Tobias Forge, the enigmatic frontman of Swedish metal band Ghost , of a typical gig. “We want you to make you feel good about yourself when you leave.”

For well over a decade, Ghost have been doing a pretty good job of that. Spreading their joyous gospel far and wide, they’re currently in the middle of a massive global arena tour and have just graced the covers of heavy metal bibles Kerrang! and Metal Hammer . In a few days, they release Impera , their extravagant fifth album. They are both very big and very weird – fans of ultra-gothic face paint, expensive-looking masks and dressing up like The Pope. A recipe for cult success maybe, but how did Ghost get so popular?

Let’s go back to the start. This eight-piece metal band began in 2006 in the small, lakeside cathedral city of Linkoping in southern Sweden. Theatre enthusiast and songwriter Tobias Forge had been cutting his teeth in local glam and death metal bands since the mid Nineties, but had long dreamt of being part of something bigger.

What he came up with was the airtight concept of anonymous musicians dressed in papal regalia, flamboyant stage shows in the style of Iron Maiden, and classic rock-edged, AOR-inspired gothic metal. Forge’s aim was to bring the razzle-dazzle of Alice Cooper and Kiss to the 21st century, with softly sung lyrics gunning for organised religion and political corruption. In 2008, he posted three songs on MySpace. Within a year they were signed.

Since then Ghost (originally known as Ghost BC in the US) have released four critically acclaimed albums, won two Grammys and toured the world with Guns N’ Roses and Alice In Chains. They’ve even sold out the Royal Albert Hall. They’ve got plenty of rock star fans – including Dave Grohl, who produced a 2013 EP – but their most important achievement is the dedicated on-the-ground following they’ve cultivated, spanning hardcore kids, veteran rockers and emo teens.

It would be hard to pinpoint a typical Ghost devotee, due to the impressively broad range of fans they attract. You could say it’s a broad church. “Style-wise you have the metal heads and the not-so-metal heads, and the pop girls,” says Forge. “They like Star Wars , they like comic books, they like horror films. They like rock music with a slight nostalgia touch of the Seventies and Eighties.”

Ghost’s frontman and master of ceremonies is currently between gigs. The band played a sold-out show in Cincinnati last night and Forge is gearing up for Milwaukie in a few hours. After their epic American crusade, there’s a run of shows across the UK and Europe – including the 20,000 capacity O2 Arena – to further share the lavish sounds of Impera .

Its 12 tracks don’t stray too far from the extravagant metal of their previous records, full of dark sing-alongs and vintage songwriting that sounds as if rock never entered the Nineties. When it comes to inspiration, Forge name-checks artists as diverse as US punk trailblazers Bad Religion, singer-songwriter Tori Amos and Danish heavy metallers King Diamond. It’s a combination that makes Ghost truly unlike any of their contemporaries and Impera is the sound of a band at their musical peak. Try the gothic groove of single “Call Me Little Sunshine” – a highlight on an album that’s full of them. Not only will it make old fans rejoice, it’s the perfect starting place for the curious and uninitiated.

Mass appeal: the band Ghost

“On this record, we are in a kind of Victorian industrialism,” Forge explains of the concept behind the new LP. “It’s the late 1800s and there’s no city that fully embodies that more than London, so it’s set there.”

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In January the band projected huge, eerie images onto landmarks in the capital, including St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, to promote the record. Forge cites Tim Burton’s Batman and Bram Stoker’s Dracula as inspirations for the semi-fantasy world of Impera , while closing track “Respite on the Spitalfields” is a story of companionship and fear in the time of Jack the Ripper.

“Not only is it a visually pleasing and interesting era, but it’s similar to today in the sense that the world was also going through a big industrial revolution,” explains Forge, channeling this historian within. “People were made redundant, but back then there were a lot of other jobs. Nowadays, for every invention, for every app that some asshole comes up with, there are so many people who are made completely superfluous. That is not good for humanity.”

Speaking of redundancies, Ghost have gone through four incarnations of Forge’s frontman character over the years. First he was Papa Emeritus I, dressed as a wicked Pope with skeletal black and white makeup, then he became Papa Emeritus II, before Papa Emeritus III and Papa Nihil. Each character is dramatically killed off or replaced at the end of each album campaign, with the new character foreshadowing and teasing the theme of the next record. Impera is the first to see Forge performing as Cardinal Copia aka Papa Emeritus IV, complete with bejeweled robes and immaculate corpse paint.

For the first 11 years of the band’s career, Forge was an anonymous and unnamed frontman, further adding to the mystery of Ghost. But his anonymity was brought to an abrupt end in 2017 when four ex-Ghost bandmates tried to sue him for allegedly cheating them out of their share of profits. Forge maintains that they had “no legal contract” and were paid as session musicians. He won the case but in the process lost the mystique he’d meticulously maintained for over a decade. In 2019 he was quoted as having “slightly mixed emotions” about being unmasked. Now he barely gives it a second thought. The unexpected big reveal made little impact on the hold Ghost have on the imaginations of their fans – if anything, it seems to have brought them even more attention.

Rock n regalia: Ghost in 2021

The fans – who are known as “Ghuleh” if women and “Ghouls” if men – can often be seen dressed in homemade Ghost-inspired attire at gigs; flowing robes, painted faces and ceremonial masks. I ask Forge about his vision and intentions for the live shows, known within the community as “Rituals”.

“Well, it’s theatrical. We are sort of the opposite of Pearl Jam, in that way,” he laughs. The dark side of divinity drives Forge’s creativity. “I’ve always had an intense relationship with organised, linear religion, let’s put it that way. I’m very fascinated with the art and the history of it, but maybe not so much with the rules and the blame and the guilt.”

Ghost’s flirtations with religion have caused some bumps in the road. In 2018, a Christian group prayed outside a gig in Texas, accusing Ghost of “bringing glory to Satan”, and their second album Infestissumam was delayed because manufacturers refused to print its “blasphemous” artwork. I ask Forge whether this kind of reaction is an issue as they continue to ascend into the rock mainstream. “A lot of that [Christian backlash] sort of disappeared after the Eighties,” he shrugs. “You had the crazies or the pastors on TV who came out and said ‘Don’t go and see Ozzy Osbourne! He’s the devil’s advocate!’ But all that did was sell out the show and maybe sell 500,000 more records. They learned their lesson after that.”

I ask if Forge identifies as a Satanist and without hesitation he opens up. “You know, Christianity is to blame for so much evil. And you have Isis, you know. That’s all in the name of God, right?” He goes on to say that modern Satanism is probably closest to his own belief system. “Pop cultural Satanism is all about humanity. It’s all about being able to express yourself and having the ability to. We’re f***ing humanists.” He goes on to say that he’s been invited onto TV debates with various religious leaders but always politely declines. “At the end of the day, I am an entertainer,” he reasons. “We’re here to make people happy, our goal is not to make [religious people] angry.”

It’s true that the world of Ghost is a fun one. There’s a playfulness in their on-stage theatrics, catchy choruses and shock ‘n’ roll celebration. As pop’s major players endlessly share personal content on social media, mystery and myth seem hard to come by. But Ghost have resurrected rock’s arcane and exciting distant past; the epitome of a creative vision well-executed, a cult-following captivated, and the longevity and success that comes with both.

‘Impera’ is released 11 March

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ghost band bad

Former GHOST Members Accuse Singer Of Trying To 'Shamelessly' Turn 'Band' Into 'Solo Project'

**This story has been updated to include a lengthy statement that BLABBERMOUTH.NET has received from the four "Nameless Ghouls" who have filed the lawsuit against GHOST frontman Tobias Forge .**

Former members of GHOST have spoken out publicly on the lawsuit they have filed against the band's frontman and founder Tobias Forge , who performs as Papa Emeritus . The quartet of former Nameless Ghouls have accused Forge of cheating them out of their rightful share of the profits from the group's album releases and world tours.

In a statement to BLABBERMOUTH.NET , the four musicians said: "As of yesterday, we, four signatories from the band GHOST , have filed a lawsuit with the Linköping District Court. We are suing Tobias Forge ( 'Papa Emeritus' ) – the band's lead singer who has also been responsible for the finances of the band since its founding.

"As of the filing of this lawsuit we are requesting that the court, under penalty, oblige Tobias Forge to declare the incomes as well as expenses of the band concerning the years between 2011 and 2016.

"Throughout all the years we have been on tour with GHOST (between 2011- 2016 some of us have performed something like 500 shows with the band) and throughout the band's album recordings, we have neither been allowed to share in the profits of the band, nor have we seen any of the incomes accounted for. The only thing we have received have been minimal advance payments to allow the band to keep going. This despite the fact that we had an agreement that any profits should be shared fairly between the members of the band.

"When we have attempted to raise the issue of the band's finances with Tobias Forge his sole response has been that there are so far no profits to be share, but that everyone will be generously compensated once the band turns a profit.

"The reason that this lawsuit is now being filed is a contract dispute that has escalated during the previous year (2016). Over the last year we have received multiple proposed contracts from Tobias Forge in which he seeks to redefine his role in the band.

"Since the conception of GHOST , our common understanding and agreement has been that we are a band on equal terms, but that Tobias will act as band leader and manage the band's finances through his own companies.

"Through contracts received from Tobias and his lawyers during 2016, Tobias has attempted to make us sign an agreement that implies we are merely consultants working for his company, an agreement also stating that we would receive less that a minimal wage for our contributions to the band. According to this proposal, furthermore we would renounce any and all rights to music royalties. All above despite the fact that some of us have been members of the band since its foundation, investing all of our time in the band during the past five years, with as much right to the recordings and trademark of the band GHOST as that of Tobias Forge .

"Our vocalist and former friend is now attempting to, in an underhanded and shameless way, transform GHOST from a band into a solo project with hired musicians. Naturally, this is not something we can accept.

"When, in connection with the 2016 United States tour, approached a lawyer in order to sort out the situation of the contracts, we were informed that Tobias Forge no longer wanted us to participate in upcoming tours. Thus, Tobias Forge is now going ahead with the tour, which started March 24 2017 and is set to end in the U.K. on August 12, on his own together with rented musicians who have replaced all other band members. Tobias Forge has chosen this path of action without any permission from us to carry out the tour on his own. This under the name GHOST , which we regard as our commonly owned trademark.

"The actions of Tobias Forge amount to nothing less than 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.

"We are terribly sorry that this afflicts the fans of the band as well, and that they too should suffer because of this betrayal and greed.

"We who are suing Tobias Forge are:

Simon Söderberg (Alpha) - member of GHOST since 2010 Mauro Rubino (Air) - member of GHOST since 2011 Henrik Palm (Eather) - member of GHOST since 2015 Martin Hjertstedt (Earth) - member of GHOST since 2014

"The Nameless Ghouls"

Swedish guitarist Martin Persner , who revealed recently that he had played in GHOST and quit in July of last year, is not one of the musicians who filed the lawsuit.

Asked for his reaction to the lawsuit by Swedish outlet Corren , Forge said, "I can't comment on it because it is a legal process. The lawsuit will be answered fairly soon by my legal counsel."

Since the musicians wear masks and are only identified as Nameless Ghouls, personnel changes in the group over its seven-year existence have gone unannounced.

Forge does most of the group's interviews disguised as a Nameless Ghoul.

The new lineup of GHOST is rumored to include musicians who have previously played with THE SISTERS OF MERCY , KORN , PENDRAGON and BLOODBATH .

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Ghost Prequelle 2019 Press shot 2 1000 CREDIT Mikael Eriksson

Image goes hand in hand with music, whether it’s the skinny black jeans and white hi-tops of thrash metal in the 80s, the flannel and combats of grunge in the 90s, or the comic-book space demons of KISS . Few bands today, however, push the envelope to the point where their theatrics are as important as their music. Ghost is a rare exception. Their very existence comes with a concept, backstory, and elaborate visuals, with these embellishments being as inherent to the band’s performances as guitars or drums. Here, then, are ten facts that uncover the mystery behind the Swedish heavy metal band Ghost.

Listen to the best of Ghost on Apple Music and Spotify .

The Satanic cult

Religious imagery and satanism have forever been intertwined with heavy metal music ; genre pioneers Black Sabbath were masters of marrying the two. But Ghost takes the construct to the next level. Their stage set during live concerts is dressed as a church. The idea is to present music as salvation, with the live show playing the role of a religious service. Then are the musicians: fronted by a satanic priest-like figure in papal regalia who possesses a voice with an unexpectedly enticing charm and vulnerability, backed by a group of cardinals known as the “Nameless Ghouls.”

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Ghost has so far appointed four frontmen. First was Papa Emeritus, who took on vocal duties for their debut album, Opus Eponymous , and its consequent tour. He was replaced in 2012 by Papa Emeritus II, for the Infestissumam cycle; in 2015, his younger brother, Papa Emeritus III, took over for the Meliora run. In September 2017, Papa Emeritus III was publicly ousted while performing in Gothenburg, Sweden, to be replaced by the significantly older Papa Emeritus 0 – later named Papa Nihil, an ancestor to all other Papas. However, Ghost’s new leader was named, in April 2018, as Cardinal Copia, an “apprentice” priest yet to earn his full Ghost regalia.

Ghost - Chapter Two: The Cardinal

Since the band’s inception, in 2006, Ghost has maintained a strictly anonymous existence. The various frontmen never gave interviews, instead press duties were handled by the Nameless Ghouls. These are likely to be Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge, who also portrayed each of the Papa characters and is currently serving as Cardinal Copia. Forge was forced to give up his identity in 2017 when former bandmates sued him over royalties. His backing band retain their anonymity and maintain their mystery at record store signings by stamping their ascribed alchemical symbols for fire, water, air, earth, and ether.

Ghost formed around one song

Prior to forming Ghost, Tobias Forge was in the death metal band Repugnant, and sleaze metal band Crashdïet. In 2006 he came up with a riff that he described as “probably the heaviest metal riff that has ever existed.” To accompany it, he penned a chorus that “haunted my dreams.” The song developed into “Stand By Him” from Ghost’s debut album, Opus Eponymous , but Forge knew that he couldn’t carry off such a dark sound with his clean-cut looks. Instead, he created the concept and characters of Ghost as a vehicle for his new musical project.

Forge’s brother died the day Ghost came alive

Further to “Stand By Him,” Forge penned the tracks “Prime Mover” and “Death Knell,” and in 2008 entered a recording studio with former Repugnant bandmate Gustaf Lindström to lay them down. Those songs were later posted onto MySpace on March 12, 2010 and would attract immediate attention from record labels and managers wanting to sign the group. Little did Forge know that, as he uploaded the songs, his brother, Sebastian, would succumb to heart disease later that day. Forge looked up to his brother, who was 13 years older, and introduced him to many of the artists that would later influence Ghost.

Wide-ranging influences

What you see is not necessarily what you get, musically speaking. Though Forge’s main influence was the black metal of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, you might be surprised to hear a far more prominent pop and AOR influence in Ghost’s music. Though genres as diverse as doom metal, hard rock, prog rock, arena rock, and psychedelic rock have been used to describe Ghost, their sound is rooted in black metal, with Forge adding that they are influenced by “everything ranging from classic rock to the extreme underground metal bands of the 80s to film scores to the grandeur of emotional harmonic music.”

The live band is not the same as the studio one

When the identity of Ghost’s various frontmen was revealed by way of the 2017 royalties dispute, Forge went on the record to describe exactly how he saw the band. He described Ghost as a solo project that utilized hired musicians to translate his work in the live arena. Forge often records all the instruments himself in the studio, calling in his favorite musicians where he feels they will be of good use. And since all touring members of Ghost have other bands anyway, Forge prefers to give them time off between tours so that they can tend to their other projects and come back fresh.

Dave Grohl was once a Nameless Ghoul

Though the identities of the Nameless Ghouls remain a mystery, members are very approachable to fans who hang around the backstage door after the show. However, those die-hards remain respectful to Ghost’s anonymity and any shameless selfies are kept away from social media, so speculation abounds as to who the other members might be. But it was confirmed in an interview with Jack Osbourne, for Fuse News , in August 2013, that Foo Fighters frontman and one-time Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl once donned the Nameless Ghouls costume to play with them live. He had also produced Ghost’s 2013 EP, If You Have Ghost .

Ghost - If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson Cover)

Banned in the USA

Ghost’s controversial image, lyrical themes, and artwork haven’t always worked in their favor. When they required a choir for the Infestissumam album, they were unable to find one in Nashville – where they were holed up in the studio – willing to commit the band’s lyrics to tape. Then, when it came to pressing the album, no US manufacturer was willing to take on the project due to the graphic nature of the artwork. In Ghost’s earlier days, too, no chain stores, TV shows or commercial radio stations would touch their music. Mainstream America seems to have warmed to them over the years: Ghost appeared on a Halloween-themed Late Show with Stephen Colbert in October 2015.

Ghost have won multiple awards

Further to their acceptance into mainstream culture, Ghost has won multiple awards in their Swedish homeland. The Grammis are the Swedish equivalent to the American Recording Academy’s Grammys, and Ghost won the award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Album in three consecutive years, for 2014’s Infestissumam , the following year’s Meliora , and the 2016 EP Popestar . They also won a coveted Grammy for Best Metal Performance, for the Meliora track “Cirice,” in 2016, and earned further nominations for Prequelle as Best Rock Album and “Rats’ as Best Rock Song in 2019.

Ghost - Rats (Official Music Video)

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A performance of Lady Marmalade, one of the best music videos of the 00s

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Skulls, Satan and Dave Grohl: Inside Mysterious Occult-Rock Band Ghost

By Richard Bienstock

Richard Bienstock

“You know, we thought we were going to be completely outed and everything was going to be over basically one week after the first record came out,” says one of the six anonymous members of Swedish occult-rock troupe Ghost . “We’re as baffled as anyone that it hasn’t happened yet. I have no idea how we’ve done it.”

In fact, it has been five years since the shrouded six-piece issued its debut, Opus Eponymous , an unholy amalgam of metal riffing (reference points: Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Pentagram, Mercyful Fate), Satanic musings (first lyrics uttered on the first record: “Lucifer/We are here for your praise”) horror-church atmospherics and, perhaps most subversively, sticky-sweet hooks and melodies.

Since then, Ghost have hardly come to an end. Rather, the band has, among other things, signed with a major label (for a rumored, if never substantiated, hefty sum of money); issued a second, and considerably more trippy, record, Infestissumam (the release of which was reportedly delayed after several CD manufacturers refused to print the 16th-century orgy scene depicted in the deluxe version’s artwork) and performed on the main stage at Coachella. Along the way, the group has garnered accolades from high-profile fans like Metallica (who put them on the bill at their Orion Music + More festival), Phil Anselmo (who had a few Ghost members join Down onstage at the U.K.’s Download Festival), and Dave Grohl (who produced and played on their 2013 EP, If You Have Ghost ). Generally speaking, the band has done more to bring blasphemous, religion-skewering devil rock to the mainstream masses than perhaps any act since Marilyn Manson rose from the swamps of Florida to declare himself the Antichrist Superstar.

What’s more, Ghost has done it while somehow keeping its members’ identities under wraps (though, as with most things in this day and age, if you look hard enough online there are clues to be found). In the 1970s, Kiss at least provided us with (mostly fake) surnames to go along with their superhero alter egos; with Ghost, we are presented only with five cloaked and cowled Nameless Ghouls and their frontman, an “anti-pope” adorned in skeletal face paint, a papal mitre and plenty of inverted crosses while answering to the designation Papa Emeritus.

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“The reason for us doing this band the way we chose to do it was so that there would not be any focus on us as individuals,” explains Nameless Ghoul, speaking to Rolling Stone late one evening from his home in Linköping, Sweden. (For identification purposes, he helpfully offers up that he is the band’s lead guitarist). “But as we have grown, we understand that there is, anyway.”

Skulls, Satan and Dave Grohl: Inside Mysterious Occult-Rock Band Ghost , Page 1 of 3

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A Lot Of People Don't Know About Ghost, The Satanic Swedish Metal Band

Ghost performing in Rio de Janeiro in 2013

Ghost is definitely a band that people either "get" or not. The Swedish, Catholic-vestment wearing metal quartet isn't the first act in rock history to don costumes (thank you, KISS ), nor the first by far to satirize or excoriate religion. In fact, it may be a misnomer to refer to them as "satanic" at all, given contemporaries such as Deicide, Rotting Christ, or Behemoth. Much of Ghost's music is quite mellow, even tame, not too heavy, fairly melodic, contains absolutely zero growls, and often comes with some proper Sunday-morning pipe organ instrumentals ("Devil Church," we're looking at you). It's practically chill enough to listen to on the beach with a beer.

Ghost has been around for a decade, since their 2010 debut  Opus Eponymous , has a discography of four albums, one live album, and twelve singles. Since their debut, they've gained quite a cult (hah) following, complete with wikis  and entire, fictional narratives for the band's origins and its members, each of whom play characters with names such as Papa Emeritus (versions I – III), Cardinal Copia, and behind-the-scenes figure Sister Imperator, as outlined in Loudwire . They've gained attention in recent years, especially since 2016's superb, Grammy-winning  Meliora , which contained critical successes "Square Hammer," "Cirice," and "From the Pinnacle to the Pit." 

From the Pit to the Pinnacle

More than anything, Ghost owes a lot of its recent traction to the clever cultivation of its image, which is a good idea for such an image-focused band. Shticky makeup and miter hats will invariably alienate certain people from getting on board, but they also ensure that Ghost's fans are true believers. Ghost has also proven savvy with its music video production, as evidenced by the Metropolis -inspired, old-timey, silent-movie visuals of the video for "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," a story inspired by the tale of Lucifer's fall.

Ghost has managed to gain popularity even among internal drama and trouble within the band, including a lawsuit filed over royalties in 2017 by 4 former band members, as reported by Metal Injection . In fact, Ghost has gone through 10 band members in as many years, while the nucleus and mastermind of the group: Tobias Forge, has remained. According to Forge, Ghost was always intended to be a group of revolving members, some of whom play live, and some of whom play instrumentals on studio versions of tracks. Forge himself states that he can record and play every instrument, but has favorite musicians who come on board for certain periods of time, or play in live shows (the mask-wearing Nameless Ghouls). In this way, Ghost is more of a psuedo-solo project on par with Josh Homme-led Queens of the Stone Age . It makes sense, though, that these goings on have hindered Ghost's rise to fame in some way.

That being said, it's clear that Ghost has yet to hit their pinnacle. 2018's  Prequelle  sees the band embracing its identity as a playful fusion of glam and licks, and reveling in it all the while. 

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Tobias Forge on GHOST in 2023: "There's going to be a change. Good change."

Ghost 2022 1600x900 Hubbard, Jimmy Hubbard

2022 was a massive year for Ghost — so massive, in fact, that we named the Swedish occult-rock troupe Revolver' s Band of the Year and crowned their latest LP, Impera , the Album of the Year . Which only sets the stage for a very big 2023.

In a new interview with Metal Hammer , Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge teased the band's plans for the year ahead and hinted an unspecified "change" that's about to take place with the group.

First, he laid out a big-picture view of Ghost's touring plans. "We're doing a lot of touring again," Forge said. "On previous album cycles we've done four legs in America and two or three in Europe and repeated. 

"We're going to go into every territory next year, but there's going to be one European tour, one American tour. We are going to do a little bit of everywhere. There'll be a little bit of something up in upper Asia, on the far end there — a very well-established country with a lot of pop cultural fascination, and the home of videogames. And there's going to be something in the Oceania world, and there might be something south of Panama, and there might be something slightly north of Panama. It feels pretty solid."

Exciting stuff, but then Forge dropped the most tantalizing breadcrumb. "We're going to come out with a little bit of change before that — good change," he said, cryptically. "We're not going to go silent. Some things are public, other things not in public view, but there are a lot of things brewing."

Asked of Ghost's next album, he offered, "Everything I'm doing now is for the next record. I have a vague idea what that will be like and a vague idea of the title and the color scheme."

When Revolver spoke to Forge late last year, he confirmed that he was already beginning to map out the follow-up to Impera . "I've already started planning, or at least outlined a few things that I want to do differently," he revealed. "That can also be from a completely practical point of view. It doesn't necessarily mean that, "Oh, I hate this record — now I'm going to write a grindcore record." It's just that there's always something that you want to improve..."

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Tobias Forge of Ghost performing at Manchester Arena.

Ghost review – rock’n’roll pyro pantomime is hellishly good fun

AO Arena, Manchester Tobias Forge’s band of ghouls just reached No 2 in the UK charts, and their symphonic metal – complete with bat wings, confetti and flamethrowers – has universal appeal

I t’s some feat bringing corpse paint to the mainstream, but Ghost have done it: the Swedes arrive for the opening night of their first UK tour in three years having seen their new album Impera reach No 2 in the charts last month.

The band’s identities were once totally secret, and although the rest remain anonymous – referred to as Nameless Ghouls, and wearing headgear that’s part steampunk, part Tom Hardy’s Bane – Ghost are a less mysterious proposition now that the theatrical Tobias Forge is known as their frontman. Not that this has had any impact on their symphonic, pop-savvy metal. What started as a doomy occult band has morphed into a blockbusting arena act, like a spooky Def Leppard without the flowing locks.

We’re two songs in and the prescient Rats already has a packed arena in raptures. Released pre-pandemic, Forge sings: “In times of turmoil, in times like these / Beliefs contagious, spreading disease.” Remove the driving guitar chugs from Spillways and in another lifetime it could be an Abba staple, such is its outrageously catchy chorus – that plinking piano opening surely a tribute to Mamma Mia from their fellow Swedes.

“Do you like a lot of oomph?” Forge enquires, before the band launch into Mummy Dust. Its zany keytar solo isn’t fooling anyone: with hulking, Metallica-esque riffs, this is Ghost’s heaviest song. On the moody Cirice, Forge slinks across the stage wearing bat wings, before funereal stomper Square Hammer inspires the most frenzied singalong of the night.

There are confetti cannon, costume changes, flamethrowers and other forms of pyro, but the band is self-aware, preventing proceedings from ever getting too cartoonish. As one of the three guitarists relishes a solo spot on From the Pinnacle to the Pit a little much for his liking, Forge playfully reprimands them with a wagging finger; this is pantomime as much as rock’n’roll.

Ghost have often delved into history for thematic fare – 2018’s Prequelle drew on the Black Death, Impera from Victorian empires – but they’ve always seemed one step ahead during their sensational, transatlantic rise. Forge has said that he’s already decided the title of Ghost’s next album; one only hopes that he’s not forgetting to take all of this in, because his band have something magnificent to offer in the present.

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International Edition

Ghost: the definitive guide to every member of their crazy universe

From Papa Emeritus I to IV to Papa Nihil, Sister Imperator and beyond, here's everything you need to know about Ghost's colourful cast of characters

Various members of the Ghost clergy

Ghost have long been shrouded in mysterious shenanigans. As well as the largely anonymous Nameless Ghouls that make up the bulk of the band, with each passing album, Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge has introduced a ghastly lead character to front the fold, starting back in 2010 with Papa Emeritus I for debut album Opus Eponymous . After Papas II and III followed for Infestissumam and Meliora respectively, for 2018's Prequelle , there was no numbered Papa to be found – just a Cardinal and another, newly introduced ancient figure known as Papa Nihil. 

The plot has only thickened since then, with Cardinal Copia being upgraded to a Papa all of his own for the Impera era and even more strange and spooky characters being introduced into the Ghost canon. Here's our definitive guide to all of them so far. 

Papa Emeritus I

AKA: The first one. Years Of Service: 2010-2012. Notes: Papa Emeritus I was the OG Ghost frontman and could usually be found stalking back and forth on stages wielding his trusty thurible (that’s that big, swinging incense burner thingy he used to have). The original, certainly, but arguably not the best.

Papa Emeritus II

AKA: The scary one. Years Of Service: 2013-2015. Notes: With a far ghastlier looking visage than his predecessor, Papa Emeritus II was also the first Papa to ditch the makeup when he fronted a special, three-song Ghost set for an Australian website in 2014. Though we’re still not convinced that was his real face, either.

Papa Emeritus III

AKA: The dandy. Years Of Service: 2015-2017. Notes: Allegedly the younger brother of Papa Emeritus II, Papa Emeritus III brought a new energy to Ghost, shrugging off his Papal robes mid-set for a snazzy suited-and-booted look that came with a host of sexually-charged stage moves. Oooh, the cad. It set a a new precedent for the dynamics of how Ghost shows would usually operate (let's just say the costume change count has only gone up since then). Papa III was eventually and unceremoniously killed off, along with his two predecessors, his decapitated head appearing on the cover of Metal Hammer in 2018. Oh dear.

AKA: The old one. Years Of Service: 1969-2020 alive, 2020-2022 as a spooky spirit Notes: Making his live debut seconds after Papa III was dragged off stage in Sweden in late 2017, Papa 0 looked older than time itself (er, no offense). His role was seemingly to mentor younger Papas and Papas-in-waiting, not least a newly arrived Cardinal who seemed to have more than just professional connections to the old-timer. Papa 0 could also, it would appear, bust out a mean saxophone solo, but that sadly wasn't enough to save him when he was rudely offed live onstage in Mexico in 2020. Then resurrected in 2022 to play sax again. This band's health insurance renewal rates must be through the roof, quite frankly.

Cardinal Copia

AKA: The one that wasn't a Papa (but is now). Years Of Service: 2018-2020. Notes: Providing a combo breaker by eschewing the corpsepaint and having a decidedly less pope-y fashion sense, Cardinal Copia was the lovably daft Papa-in-waiting that brought an extra flash of sass to the Ghost camp. Tobias Forge once suggested to us that, unlike previous Ghost frontmen, Cardi C might actually stick around for a few records - and he was half-right. In March 2020, on stage in Mexico, The Cardinal was surrounded by The Clergy and transformed into Papa Emeritus IV. A new dawn beckoned...

Papa Emeritus IV

AKA: The grandest Papa yet Years Of Service: 2020-present Notes: The upgraded Cardinal is currently serving as the fourth Papa Emeritus, and if Ghost's latest live show is anything to go by, he may be the most extravagant one yet. Packing dazzling robes, a fancy new hat (or three) and a fine array of new stage costumes, he's perfectly set to lead what looks to be Ghost's most over the top and bombastic era ever. But what happens when The Clergy grow tired of him and decide it's time for a freshen-up? Could Ghost's current hero buck the trend and leave the fold with his head and body intact? Could a serving Papa IV become Papa V? Or is he doomed to join his predecessors in death? Only time will tell.

The Nameless Ghouls

AKA: The band. Years Of Service: 2010-Present. Notes: Less individuals and more a mass of souls represented onstage by mysterious, anonymous figures. They seem to grow in number with each passing album cycle, and get their own revamp to go alongside each newly introduced (or upgraded) frontman. Currently, The Nameless Ghouls are rocking a badass steampunk look. We approve.

Sister Imperator

AKA: The matriarch. Years Of Service: 1969-Present (at least) Notes: A figurehead behind the scenes, the mysterious Sister Imperator has appeared in a number of videos put out by Ghost in recent years, and she seems to have a particular (motherly) affinity for The Cardinal/Papa IV. We got to see both Sister Imperator and Papa Nihil in their younger incarnations during Ghost's Kiss The Go-Goat era.

Mr. Saltarian

First introduced in Chapter 10 of Ghost's ongoing video series, Mr. Saltarian is yet another mysterious religious figure with definite but somewhat murky connections to The Clergy. With poor Papa IV's future seemingly up in the air as of Ghost's most recent Chapters, it seems that Mr. Saltarian may have a part to play in the increasingly paranoid frontman's ultimate fate.

AKA: The main event. Years Of Service: 2010-Present. Notes: The mysterious cult from which these strange beings all stepped forth, The Clergy is the centre point for everything that Ghost is, was and shall be. They remain anonymous, omnipotent and powerful. Which is metal as fuck, to be fair.

Father Jim Defroque

AKA: The Bad Boy Priest Years Of Service: [unknown]-Present Notes: Introduced in a half-hour special on YouTube entitled "Jesus Talk With Father Jim Defroque" released on Easter Sunday 2023, at first it appeared the Pastor was the antithesis of our favourite Satanic Swedes and a true man of the cloth as he disapprovingly dissected lyrics from bands including Ministry, Soundgarden and Green Day (all Jesus themed, naturally). 

It wasn't long before Father Defroque's true colours came out, however: suspicious sniffs throughout his YouTube special turned into a full bender during the Jesus He Knows Me video featuring copious amounts of blow, guns and erm, a questionable haircare regimen. How does he fit in with the wider Ghost lore? Well, we guess we'll find out pretty soon... 

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Merlin Alderslade

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He is also probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site. 

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Ghost (Lore)

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Ghost is the eponymous devil-worshipping ministry that is the center of the band 's story and image. It is an exact inverse of the real-life Catholic Church , acting as both a parody and criticism of the organization.

The Grucifix .

  • 1 Leadership / Organizational Structure
  • 3 Symbology
  • 4 In relation to the band
  • 6 References

Leadership / Organizational Structure [ ]

It is generally understood that The Clergy controls the ministry of Ghost, with Sister Imperator as the current leader. The band, Ghost , serves as the public missionary arm of the ministry, conducting rituals at venues around the world in order to spread their message.

The band is typically led by a "demonic anti-pope" figure who may adopt the title "Papa" (Latin/Italian for "Pope") when properly elected by the Clergy. On at least one occasion, a Cardinal ( Copia ) was chosen to lead the band without first having been promoted to "Papa". He was later elevated and assumed the title "Papa Emeritus IV".

Ghost is also known to conduct private business behind the scenes, possibly by a group of Cardinals or other employed staff - when Cardinal Copia was first introduced publicly, it was stated he had the "second-most employee of the month awards" indicating he had been employed by Ghost for some time prior to being chosen to lead the band.

Symbology [ ]

The Grucifix is the inverted cross symbol used as the primary symbol of Ghost. It is distinguishable from a "normal" cross by the conspicuous stylized "G" at its core.

Ghost has issued several official rosaries bearing different variants of the Grucifix.

In relation to the band [ ]

The Ministry of Ghost is a satanic church located in "the deepest crypts of Linköping , Sweden" [1] . According to the lore, The Ministry of Ghost created the band as they believed the medium of rock music was the perfect way to spread their unholy message to the world, a motive that is referential of rock music related satanic panic that was prevalent in America during the 80's.

  • The filming location for the Headquarters is Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena, California.

References [ ]

  • ↑ We are Ghost: Papa Emeritus II and the Nameless Ghouls. AMA. - Reddit
  • 1 Nameless Ghouls
  • 2 Nameless Ghoul (Sodo)
  • 3 Papa Emeritus IV
  • Share full article

Craig Blackwell and David Post, each holding a guitar.

Their Songs Were Stolen by Phantom Artists. They Couldn’t Get Them Back.

Bad Dog, a group from D.C., was forced to take a crash course in streaming fraud, a shadowy realm that costs musicians $2 billion a year.

Craig Blackwell, left, and David Post of the band Bad Dog. Credit... Greg Kahn for The New York Times

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By David Segal

  • Published Jan. 13, 2024 Updated Jan. 15, 2024

The guys in Bad Dog, a folkie duo from Washington, D.C., weren’t hoping to get rich off the album they recorded this summer. David Post and Craig Blackwell have been devoted amateurs for decades, and they’re long past dreams of tours and limos. Mostly they wanted a CD to give away at a house party in December.

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But not long after “The Jukebox of Regret” was finished in July and posted on SoundCloud, nearly every song on it somehow turned up on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and at least a dozen other streaming platforms. This might have counted as a pleasant surprise, except for a bizarre twist: Each song had a new title, attached to the name of a different artist.

This mysterious switcheroo might have gone unnoticed. But by happenstance, it was discovered when the guy who produced the album posted one of the songs on his studio’s Instagram account. To his astonishment, Instagram automatically tagged the song “Preston” by Bad Dog as a song called “Drunk the Wine” by Vinay Jonge — a “musician” with no previous songs and zero profile on the internet. He didn’t seem to exist.

The full extent of this heist soon became clear. “Pop Song” by Bad Dog had become “With Me Tonight” by someone named Kyro Schellen. “The Misfit” had become “Outlier” by Arend Grootveld. “Verona” had become “I Told You” by Ferdinand Eising. And so on. Same music, different track names and credited to different artists, none of whom had any other songs or any profile on the web.

It got weirder. Disc Makers, the CD production company hired by the band, was about to start pressing copies of the album and, as part of its routine due diligence, ran the metadata of the songs — their digital fingerprints, essentially — through a program designed to determine if they were originals. They were not, the program reported. Whoever had pirated the tracks had commandeered their digital fingerprints, too.

For all intents and purposes, Bad Dog’s music now belonged to someone else. Disc Makers wouldn’t press the discs until the band proved it owned the songs on “Jukebox.” Which meant the duo couldn’t even get a CD to hand out as a freebie.

“It felt like someone had broken into my house and stole my prize possessions,” said Mr. Blackwell. “And it’s not like I’m looking to make $10 from Spotify. It’s about attribution.”

Few in the business have ever heard of this kind of musical hijacking. That includes Bad Dog, which would spend weeks trying to reclaim its music, with little success. The fight was maddening even though it occurred on turf that both band members know well. Mr. Blackwell, 58, is a practicing lawyer who spends time on intellectual property rights. Mr. Post, 72, is a retired law professor who specialized in internet copyright.

Despite their backgrounds, both men were stymied by the vast and arcane world of music streaming fraud, a realm where anonymous pirates are constantly devising new ways to steal from the $17 billion a year pool of royalty money intended for artists.

That’s a giant, tempting pot of gold for scammers around the world. Beatdapp, a Vancouver company that detects fraud for industry clients, estimates that a little more than 10 percent of that pot, about $2 billion, is swiped annually.

“Bad actors are getting creative,” said Andreea Gleeson of the Music Fights Fraud Alliance, a collection of labels, distributors and streaming platforms. “It’s a constantly moving target.”

Spotify and its rivals were supposed to end the era of music piracy. In the late 1990s and early aughts, millions of fans routinely downloaded songs from online peer-to-peer file services without paying a penny, a fiasco that cost the industry a fortune. When monthly subscription services (like Spotify) and pay-per-song offerings (the early version of Apple Music) came along, musicians and labels finally had a lucrative way to harness the convenience of online music.

But the streaming ecosystem, say critics, is easily gamed. For $20, artists can buy an annual subscription to a music distributor, a company that can instantly post songs to dozens of streaming platforms. Unfortunately, bad actors have the same opportunity.

Some marketers have been caught trying to juice the profile of legitimate artists, usually with “bot farms” programmed to play songs on repeat. More often, though, scammers simply create white noise tracks or A.I.-generated tunes on their computers.

In the streaming world, 40 seconds of noise is as much a song as “Hey Jude.” To garner listens for these tracks, fraudsters buy log-ins to legitimate accounts on Spotify and other services cheaply and in bulk on the dark web. Bots then play those tracks on repeat without account holders realizing they have been hacked.

“If you’ve ever gotten a recommendation for a song and thought, ‘That’s weird, I don’t listen to that,’ now you know why,” said Andrew Batey of Beatdapp.

Andrew Batey sits at a table facing the camera, an open laptop in front of him.

Mr. Batey has seen other streaming shenanigans that are hard to explain. Like an account on one platform that generated 694,000 listens in a week. Or an account that showed up in a dozen countries on 40 different devices in the same span of time.

Digital streaming platforms have tried to impose new rules that make it harder to monetize noise. One unintended consequence is that human-made songs have become more valuable to fraudsters — especially music by artists who aren’t interested in earning money from pay-to-play streaming platforms.

This might have made Bad Dog an inviting target.

The duo met in the early ’90s, when both men were associates at a large law firm, Wilmer Cutler & Pickering (now called WilmerHale). Mr. Post played the banjo, Mr. Blackwell played the guitar and the pair jammed on the roof of the firm’s offices, wearing coats and ties.

“People came up there and listened to us,” Mr. Blackwell recalled.

The crowds were thin, which might have been for the best.

“At that point,” Mr. Post said, “we weren’t any damn good.”

The band released a six-song cassette in 1995, praised in the Washington City Paper for music that “twists the genre in interesting, albeit gentle ways.” The pair played together, on and off over the decades, but they always regarded music as a passionate hobby. Most of their energy went into their legal careers.

Mr. Post left Wilmer to clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court. In 1994, he joined Georgetown Law School and burrowed into the then-new world of cyber law. At the time, copyright owners were predicting that the internet meant Armageddon for musicians, authors and other creators of intellectual property. Heedless web surfers were going to post everything online, where it would be downloaded for free, wrecking the value of creative endeavors. So content owners pushed for the most robust possible copyrights. Mr. Post pushed back.

“Copyright owners were taking this circle-the-wagons approach, that the internet will kill us, it’s ruinous and we should sue the platforms,” he said. “I wasn’t on the side of the infringers. I just thought that copyright is too rigid, it lasts too long, it tamps down creativity.” When copyrights are too expansive, he elaborated, others can’t borrow, quote and get inspired in ways that lead to more art.

Mr. Post stuck with this philosophy for decades, but it was tested after the theft of “The Jukebox of Regret.” The galling part was that Bad Dog’s connection to the songs had been completely erased.

“Initially, I had in my head a picture of someone saying, ‘I found these guys in Washington who put out this album, it’s really good,’” Mr. Post said. “Even if they’d made money off it, that would have been fine with me.”

To retrieve their songs, Mr. Post and Mr. Blackwell sent out what are called takedown notices, or formal requests to remove pirated music, to a bunch of different sites. The band members used their SoundCloud page to demonstrate that their recordings predated all the uploads on the streaming platforms.

Two sites responded fairly quickly. Amazon Music removed the songs in about a week. YouTube soon followed.

Other platforms offered little more than canned emails. (“Your claim will be processed by our team,” Spotify replied.) Apple Music sent a form letter, too, though it included a tantalizing clue: the name of the company that had uploaded the songs.

It was Warner Music, one of the big three labels.

On Dec. 5, this reporter emailed the public relations department at Warner. A spokeswoman there looked into the matter and soon after said the songs had been uploaded via a subsidiary called Level, a music distributor catering to independent artists. (“Your release, streamlined,” the company says on its website.) For a $20 annual fee, Level uploads audio to a long list of digital streaming platforms. It asks only for customers to tick a box and agree to terms of service, which include a promise not to post any audio owned or created by someone else.

Warner moved quickly. On Dec. 6, the company removed all the pirated versions of Bad Dog’s songs from all of the sites. (The company would not discuss how.) Soon after, anyone typing “Vinay Jonge” into Deezer, the French online music platform, got an error page that read, “Oops … It did it again.”

By then, Bad Dog’s songs had collectively been played more than 60,000 times on Spotify. The number suggests that the fraudster found a way to generate listens for the song, but not at numbers that would arouse suspicion. At Spotify’s rates, all those listens would translate into just over $250.

It seems a pittance, though additional sums were earned through other platforms, so it’s impossible to know how much the Bad Dog robbery actually netted. And it seems likely that other artists were hacked in the same way. This is a scalable scam, said Mr. Batey of Beatdapp. SoundCloud boasts more than 320 million songs, many of them the work of weekend noodlers. These people may never realize that their work has been grabbed and renamed and is siphoning money from the royalty pool.

“This won’t be the last time someone will think, ‘Hey, there’s a gap here — we might be able to exploit this gap with tens of thousands of artists,’” Mr. Batey said.

The saga raises many questions. Like, who was behind this particular fraud? Did Level perform a digital fingerprint search and miss that all of the music was previously uploaded to SoundCloud? Or does it skip such searches entirely?

Unfortunately, much of the music industry is about as chatty as a Swiss bank. SoundCloud would not comment. A representative for Warner Music, who fielded questions for Level, would not say who had uploaded the band’s songs to Level, citing company policy.

“We take matters of fraud and theft very seriously and cooperate with authorities in any investigations,” the Warner spokeswoman wrote in an email.

A spokeswoman from Spotify said filtering out stolen songs was the job of music distributors.

“Ultimately we rely on representations from our content providers that the content they deliver is not infringing,” said Laura Batey of Spotify (no relation to Mr. Batey). After getting a takedown notice from Bad Dog, she added, Spotify flagged the issue to Warner Music.

The members of Bad Dog are still trying to make sense of what happened. Mr. Blackwell is the more irritated of the two. He’s especially angry at Warner Music, though he doesn’t plan to take legal action (the damages are emotional, not financial).

“I couldn’t get a deal with Warner to save my life,” he said. “But they made money from my music, and that money was from straight-up infringement.”

For Mr. Post, the past few months have been illuminating. He still supports the broad protections provided for online platforms. But some flaws are now glaringly obvious. Current law seems ill-suited for a world where infringement can occur on an industrial scale.

“In 1997, I don’t think people were thinking about this automated operation that just sucks up unprotected material, rejiggers it to make it unfindable and uploads to platforms where they can start monetizing it,” he said. “That wasn’t on anybody’s radar.”

Also, the notice-and-take-down system, at least in this case, didn’t work. Notices went in and, in the case of Spotify and others, little happened.

Communicating with the old-school part of the music industry proved far easier. Bad Dog convinced Disc Makers that it really did write all the songs on “Jukebox” — the SoundCloud link helped — and the company printed 100 CDs. They were ready in time for the release party, on Dec. 2, a bring-your-own-beer event at the Palisades Hub in D.C. Giving away the disc might have been the biggest challenge of the evening; not a lot of people own CD players these days. The live show, by contrast, was a mellow, breezy cinch, and it included a cookie break at the end of the first set. (Toffee diamonds, jam thumbprints and pistachio meringues, all baked by a Bad Dog fan.)

Today, evidence of the pirate’s handiwork lives on, stubbornly, in at least one place. Open Shazam, the song identification app owned by Apple, and let it listen to “Preston.” A few seconds later, the app will offer up a familiar title: “Drunk the Wine” by Vinay Jonge.

Audio produced by Tally Abecassis .

David Segal is a Business section reporter based in New York City. More about David Segal


Ohio Turnpike announces travel bans due to impending weather

Ohio Turnpike

BEREA, Ohio (WOIO) - The Ohio Turnpike on Friday announced a travel ban for this weekend due to pending weather concerns.

A spokesperson for the turnpike said the restrictions were enforced ahead of high winds and heavy snowfall.

In response, the Ohio Turnpike has issued a ban from 12 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 13.

A statement from turnpike officials said the ban will be implemented for the following types of vehicles, including high-profile vehicles defined as height exceeding 7 feet, 6 inches tall:

  • All high-profile tow-behind trailers, campers, boats, and enclosed trailers. (Fifth wheel trailers are excluded.)
  • Commercial trucks towing an empty single 53-foot trailer
  • All mobile homes, office trailers and livestock trailers
  • All long combination vehicles (LCV) that include long double-trailer combinations exceeding 90 feet in length. (Enclosed trailers only, including Conestoga type trailers)
  • All LCV triple-trailer combinations

Turnpike officials said the ban will not impact the following types of vehicles:

  • Self-propelled motor homes
  • Low-profile trailers
  • Fold-down camper trailers
  • Pickup trucks with slide-on camper units
  • Vehicles towing fifth-wheel type trailers or any other type of trailers towed by passenger vehicles or pickup trucks
  • Commercial trucks towing single flatbed or box-type trailers
  • Commercial trucks towing a single 53-foot trailer with cargo/loaded
  • Commercial trucks towing a car hauler trailer
  • Commercial towing flatbed double-trailer combinations more than 90 feet
  • Commercial towing any double-trailer combinations less than 90 feet
  • Two-axle buses less than 40 feet
  • Buses with three or more axles less than 45 feet

This is a developing story. Return to 19 News for updates.

Copyright 2023 WOIO. All rights reserved.

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