It wasn’t that long ago in the U.S.A. where the whole country was up and arms and terrified behind the vague Satanic notions ladled into one band’s lyricism. It wasn’t much longer before that where an even more famous metal band was run through the wringer in an actual, no-fooling court case just at the thought of a possible connection (and for possibly having the oh-so malevolent lyric of “Do it” in one song). Yes, decades may have passed since Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest were the hot-button of controversy in a nation where nearly 70% of all citizens identify as worshippers of some form of Christianity, but that’s really not a long time in the grand scheme of things. The ascendancy of Ghost, another in a long line of terrific Swedish heavy metal bands, is a puzzling thing to be sure. Not inasmuch that their artistry doesn’t deserve acclaim—they do in every way, shape and form—but in that their very existence isn’t met with nonstop protests and outrage. Whether a caricature designed at creating fun characters, or since faithful devotion, the fact remains that Ghost’s music is more-or-less a love letter to Satan.
All photos by Boston Lynn Schulz
Yes, numerous songs either speak directly to the admiration of the dark lord, or if nothing else, the benefits of supporting the faith that backs him. Yet, unlike the halcyon days of the ‘90s where Marilyn Manson found himself contesting possible bans for little more than ripping up bibles, nobody was protesting this show we attended at the The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
Much to the contrary, the venue was packed with adoring fans. Most sported Ghost-branded t-shirts bought before this night in question. Riding high on the strength of last year’s brilliant, breakthrough album Meliora, the group recently dropped a small mostly covers EP humorously titled Popestar. The six-piece group took the stage ominously opening with the only new song from that EP, “Square Hammer.” The song drips with psychedelic influence more akin to proto metal than the greats that mined the occult connection in metal. Fittingly, the song’s chorus features the line, “Are you on the square? / Are you on the level? / Are you ready to swear right here right now / before the devil?” The only “named” character in the band Papa Emeritus III takes the stage by way of a hidden elevator right as the opening number’s first verse kicks in. Through pretty much the entire song the crowd is cheering with glee.
They follow appropriately with one of the most immaculate confections from Meliora “From the Pinnacle to the Pit.” The song’s simple finger tapping guitar licks in the bridge leading the melody into its conclusion makes for an excellent finale. A trio of older songs follows, and somehow surprisingly seem to hamper the flow of the evening. It’s hard to think for a second this diehard crowd isn’t familiar or fond of the older material, but Infestissumam cut “Secular Haze” and from debut album Opus Eponymous “Stand By Him” and “Con Clavi Con Dio” all seem to lose the energy captured so brilliantly in the opening two songs of the set. For those keeping score, “Con Clavi Con Dio” joyfully opens with the lines “Lucifer / we are here / for your praise / evil one.”
The pace picks back up from there though with a good singalong on “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” and the lighter tones on “Body and Blood.” After that, they dole out their strongest material liberally. The sinister organ notes of brief instrumental song “Devil Church” give way to the steady ‘70’s riff rocker “Cirice.” From here on, the crowd is singing nearly every line in unison. Here for example is the call of, “Can you hear the rumble? / Can you hear the rumble that’s calling?” Next, the unmistakable triggered choral of “Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer” signaling the start of one of the band’s most infamous songs “Year Zero” immediately prompts an ecstatic cheer from the crowd. There’s no two ways about it. Hearing a massive crowd happily sing, “Hail Satan / Welcome year zero,” is still kind of amazing and befuddling in our state of society.
The group’s two guitarists shine throughout the set, but particularly on quasi-ballad “He Is” and “Absolution.” It’s hard to say who exactly does what since the five musicians are only ever named as “Nameless Ghouls” and various alchemical symbols, but regardless, whoever they are, they play a mean guitar solo. Headlines recently pegged that the band had a new bassist and that it is the first woman musician in the band (which turns out to be true). She does a great job holding down the bottom end, but sadly, one of the band’s best songs where she could truly shine is not in the set: “Majesty.” The group ends the set proper with three of their best songs, “Mummy Dust,” “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” and “Ritual.” “Mummy Dust” in particular is the epic payoff of all that Ghost is capable of sonically. The opening keyboard melody becomes a gargantuan motif paid off in the song’s final crescendo. As the choral resurgence of the melody hits giant confetti cannons blow particles in every direction. For “Zombie Queen,” it’s really the journey of the song’s various branching pieces. The composition is really that strong that it’s just fun to hear it all come together. Set closer “Ritual” is just a fitting straightforward rock song. No frills, just one solid idea.
The shame in the ending here is that for the encore return singer Papa Emeritus III takes nearly 10 minutes giving a meandering speech about celebrating the merits of the female orgasm. A good thing to celebrate for certain, but beyond the obvious connection to standard set closer “Monstrance Clock” pretty much every person in the room would have rather had one or two more songs before the closer. Either “Majesty” or their beloved Roky Erickson cover “If You Have Ghosts” would have gone over really well with the crowd on hand. But, those are small complaints overall when faced with a stellar show. No protest. No riots. No angry Christians. In fact, just a vibe where the fans were thrilled to enjoy the semi accessible metal that Ghost do so very well.
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Stand by Him
Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera ad Inferi
Body and Blood
All photos by Boston Lynn Schulz