Ghost: Can They Save the Musical Instrument Industry?
Squiggy is the host of Loudwire's Gear Factor -- he is also the founder/CEO of The Music Experience, a traveling musical instrument store that sets up at America's top rock festivals. "We focus on inspiring new players through storytelling and providing an immersive experience," he explains. In this op-ed, he discusses the effect that the Swedish band Ghost have had on the musical instrument industry.
Ghost have injected rock music -- and particularly hard rock -- with a shot of excitement that it hasn't seen in years, The new album, Prequelle, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200, selling 66,000 units in its first week. 61,000 of those were "traditional" sales, meaning physical copies of a CD or LP. That's more than a 120% increase from the first week sales of their last album, Meloria. It also had better first-week sales numbers than albums released earlier this year by A-listers including A Perfect Circle, Shinedown, Judas Priest and Godsmack.
Stats and data aside, the band is truly unique. They have actually made keyboards cool again. Not too long ago, if you saw a modern metal band with a keyboard player, you sort of deducted points. From the '90s on, keyboards were seen, at best, as an instrument that was no longer relevant, part of a bygone prog-rock era. At worst, keyboards were viewed as an essential component of pop-metal power ballads: think of the KISS song "Reason to Live," or Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." When keyboards came back with industrial bands in the '90s, they were often loaded with abrasive samples. But Ghost were fearless in their approach on the new record: they put melodic piano and synth sounds front and center.
RELATED: Read our review of Ghost's Prequelle
Tobias Forge, the man behind Ghost, recently told Loudwire that he's a huge fan of progressive rock; whether or not prog is "in" is of no consequence to him. "Every record that I've made, so far, started with a song that had prog rock elements. I love that stuff! I love a lot of music like that. I'm a huge Uriah Heep fan."
But Ghost's songs aren't as complex as most prog jams; you don't need to be Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson to play them. This accessibility will hopefully encourage and enable young fans to learn to play the new Ghost songs on keyboards and piano.
On stage, Ghost feature two female keyboard player/vocalists, and that's yet another welcome paradigm change in metal. It is absolutely genius. It's a breath of fresh air, and people are welcoming it.
There are two instrumentals on the new record, one of which has a saxophone solo. To say that that's a brave move is an understatement. With a band that is so persona-based, one instrumental would be surprising; two seems crazy. But they're among the highlights of the album, and it shows that the band's musical chops are as good (or better) than more traditional rock bands.
Since the guitarists are anonymous -- Anonymous Ghouls, to be precise -- Ghost allow the instrument manufacturers to get more of the spotlight. They use easily identifiable signature guitars, and even here, they are unique. When most people think of metal bands, they think of active pickups in a pointy guitar (and by the way, I love that). Ghost use Hagstrom Guitars -- which are not generally associated with metal -- and are changing the current paradigms in the instrument business.
Every store I know of that had the Hagstrom Fantomen guitars is currently sold out. I spoke to Craig Smith, the company's general manager, and he told me that they are months behind on orders on the white model -- that's the color that Ghost use. In other words, Ghost is impacting the purchase of the instruments, and that's something the instrument industry has been lacking for some time. Just because a band’s logo is recognizable or the guitar player is famous, doesn’t mean the band or player will impact instrument sales. But Ghost appear to be doing just that.
Smith told me, "The biggest struggle that we experience today is that we cannot build enough of these models according to the demand of the players wanting to purchase these instruments. As Hagstrom is not a 'shake and bake' operation, it still takes time and extreme attention to detail to produce a high quality and professional instrument at such modest cost."
Eventually, everyone who ordered those guitars will get them, although it might take until the fall. A select few of those who ordered the instruments may grow up to be Ghost's Nameless Ghouls of the future. And hopefully, many of them will turn out to be tomorrow's guitar heroes.
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