Understanding Ghost’s “Dance Macabre”

“If I could turn back the time, I’d make all right.”

Dance Macabre 


My journey down the Ghost rabbit-hole began during a late-night drive, in the passenger’s seat of my friend’s car. He played Mary on a Cross

Immediately, I was hooked by the classic feel of the song, which reminded me of the likes of The Cars and Queen. But I also remember feeling deceived, in a good way. Judging from their ghostly image (yes, pun intended), I expected them to be a very rigid brand of heavy metal. 

But that night, I remember thinking: this band could do anything. 

They get a lot of flak from heavy metal purists saying that they aren’t “metal” — and I agree. Ghost is much more than that. Ghost is Ghost. 

As Ghost’s singer and songwriter Tobias Forge put it himself, “With Ghost you can do pretty much anything. I’m a little rock opera with my music.”

From that night forward, I would drop my friend excited texts almost every few days, as I went deeper into my Ghost discovery spree. He would have to bear with me as I would say similar things along the lines of “this song is genius”, about every Ghost song that I brought up. 

Though, their disco ballad, Dance Macabre, for me, was a late-bloomer — despite it being one of their most popular songs. From my first few listens, I found it underwhelming, as I felt that the song wasn’t doing anything special or different, as compared to the music that we already have out there. 

On the outset, it seemed like a straightforward farewell love song, with its simple, and even corny lyrics. “Just wanna be,” as the song seemingly goes, “Wanna be with you in the moonlight.”

But of course, as I would later learn, I was only seeing the very tip of the song’s iceberg. 

The brilliance in Dance Macabre is in how it plays on your expectations. 

Dance Macabre isn’t just a farewell love song. As a casual listener, you probably wouldn’t notice that the song, as well as the Prequelle album, are centered around their theme of the Black Death, one of the worst pandemics to have ever occurred in history, killing at least 75 million people across Europe and North Africa. 

As death lurked in every corner, some held on to their religious faiths. Meanwhile, it is said that others found their spirituality in partying, as they wanted to live their last moments on Earth in fun. 

As Tobias Forge remarked, “Europe was in this turmoil in the late 1340s. The plague is extremely fast. It starts off as the worst flu you’ve ever had and then it just goes worse and then you’re dead after three days. So people were lying in the streets — corpses and all the surroundings were just falling apart. All the brothels and pubs were thriving because people started partying literally like there was no tomorrow because they were gonna die. They were just going for it.”

Laughingly, he said, “Dance Macabre is capturing that joyous nocturnal sort of life in a disco song.”

Also, just as I did, you might hear the chorus as “Just wanna be with you in the moonlight.” In another stroke of genius, the actual lyrics are “Just wanna bewitch you in the moonlight.”

In tandem with the mood of the song, to “bewitch” could imply that the narrator intends to amaze or enchant their lover in their final moments. And on a more superficial perspective, using this word also fits well with Ghost’s horror imagery.

This deliberate word choice already adds a higher degree of sophistication to the song, while it baits and deceives you with its apparent simplicity. And this experience of being mind-blown out of your own expectations and presumptions, I feel — is at the very crux of Ghost.

I realized too, that the disco aspect of this song is ingenious in itself. As you might agree, disco is often brushed off as a genre that is dated, and not to be taken seriously.

Most people couldn’t see past the satin suits and huge hairdos to appreciate the reality that composing disco music requires an astute intuition for enticing beats, hooks and grooves. Because disco music is meant to get you off your seat — to get you moving and dancing. 

And of course, the greatest disco artists have taken a step further in their music by inserting social commentaries in their music. For example, Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees in fact, touches on the social struggles for survival in New York City.

In Dance Macabre, Ghost achieves a similar feat by having the song revolve around a weighty theme, that is, life during the Black Death.

Again I say, it’s truly the little things that make me appreciate how well-crafted Ghost’s songs are.

And guess what happened after I had my mind blown by Dance Macabre — I annoyed my friend again with a text. 

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