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Does a Band Rock Harder With Makeup, Or Without?

Posted: 08/16/2013 5:21 pm

The first time I heard Eddie Van Halen I finally relented and gave in to the notion that you didn't need to wear make-up, fancy clothes or assume some otherworldly alter ego to be taken seriously as a band. In total opposition to every music critic who repudiated flamboyant bands like Kiss, as a pre-pubescent know-it-all, I held them up as the standard for all other bands to meet. In my child brain, I seriously thought that without make-up you weren't worth your salt as a band, regardless of songs, chops or stage presence. But as my musical tastes shifted with the years, I found myself conceding and championing bands that I quietly deemed as "plain-looking."

Slowly the idea of incorporating glitz, glamour and make-up into Rock N' Roll grew tiresome for everyone including me, especially when the music accompanying it started to seem weak and insincere compared to what supposed lesser "plain-looking" bands were churning out underground. In the end, the playing field was levelled by punk rock, thrash metal and eventually Nirvana. Much to my surprise, I found myself on the opposite side of the music I grew up with as a kid. I felt like a turncoat but music being critically trumpeted was undeniably worth backing.

As the years passed, most bands, including Kiss, ceded to the idea of dressing down to give more credence to the music over spectacle and let it do the talking. Since music is subjective and relative to one's surroundings, it can be difficult to conclude if this approach was better for the music but one thing's for certain, dressing up was critically looked down upon and indelibly relegated to novelty (i.e. Gwar, Green Jelly, Lordi, Insane Clown Posse).

Of course, absence makes the heart grow fonder and as much as music today has splintered into dozens of different genres and factions, there is still a longing from a huge section of the music audience for pageantry and glamour. Kiss putting the make-up back on in '96 was a litmus test that proved the collective hankering to be true but despite releasing three successful albums since their make-up "revival," the band exists mainly in the category of nostalgia, albeit at the top of their field.

However, I wasn't alone in unconsciously yearning for a time when bands of pomp and ceremony would ascend in popularity again. Sure there were the masked maniacs in Slipknot but their rise coincided with the popularity of Nu-Metal, a style of heavy metal that I wasn't very fond of and it took me years to realize that they were anything but. Also, despite my enjoying the music, Slipknot were a band meant for another generation and I couldn't relate to the overall image. I needed a band that spoke to me not just musically but conceptually.

Cue Linköping, Sweden's Ghost.

I had heard Ghost's debut album on Rise Above Records back in early 2011 called Opus Eponymous and it had impressed the hell out of me. NWOBHM mixed with Mercyful Fate, Cirith Ungol and Blue Oyster Cult meant it was a band tailor-made for my ears. Repeated listens left me unprepared for the first time I saw a photo of the band -- a live shot of singer, Papa Emeritus in full white regalia complete with an upside down cross emblazoned on his mitre. I felt a marked gush run through me, something I hadn't felt since I was a kid staring at Kiss pictures thinking they were the greatest thing since sugar-coated breakfast cereals. And here was Ghost, a highly pronounced Satanic mélange of all the elements that made me fall in love with Rock in the first place -- loud abrasive guitars, daring costumes affixed with alter egos, tons of make-up and...Satan.

Just like butter on toast and ketchup on fries, Rock music is dull and boring without Lucifer. With the beat, rhythm and moods it stirs up originating from down below, he has every right to lay claim on it. Church people have been trying to tell us this for years and even though I outwardly laughed at their efforts to warn us, I knew too. The only difference was that I welcomed it!

We live in a post-Cold War, post Y2K, Supersized, End Of Days, over-populated world, where human life is deleted as effortlessly as unwanted files on a laptop computer and concern is as feigned as a dubbed-in laugh track on a television sitcom. Extreme times like these call for extreme amusement. Matinee wrestling has been replaced by mixed martial arts. Gene Simmons wearing a monster costume from 1976 now has limited cachet amidst bands who stopped flirting with evil and jumped in bed with it, head first.

I need Satanism in my music and I need a lot of it, only I don't want it presented to me in that cold and tired repellent way anymore. I want disco balls and neon lights. I want sumptuosity and razzle-dazzle. I want a circus and the prom, a laser show and the Superbowl all rolled into one, the moment the first guitar chord is struck. I want to be scared with sparkles and terrified with tremulous shimmers. And this happens the moment you put on Ghost's follow-up album, this year's Infestissuman.

Parental units like to thwart what they deem as diabolical activities forgetting we were all weaned on ghost stories, Halloween and the monsters of Sesame Street. They fostered these inclinations and it's too late and I'm too old to repress my attraction to the dark side. Only now my tastes runa little finer. Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls meet these dark sophisticated cravings flawlessly.

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