Not three days ago we brought you details of an early evening set from Ghost at the annual Beach Goth festival in Santa Ana. Naturally, we couldn’t resist going one more round with the new champions of modern heavy metal. Tonight brought them to the revered Downtown L.A. venue The Mayan. The venue adorned in architecture apropos of its name, an eager and enthusiastic crowd awaited the arrival of iconic band and the spectacle that is just seeing them play. As we previously described this weekend, the band intentionally suppress their identities, going only by Papa Emeritus III (the singer) and Names Ghouls (everyone else). Known as Ghost B.C. here in the U.S.A., the band wear black outfits decorated only by their magical/alchemical/satanic symbols and silver demonic masks, while Papa Emeritus III has corpse face paint and is decked out in a mock cardinal outfit.
All photos for mxdwn by Mauricio Alvarado
The show starts with a sermon of sorts spoken by an older woman, its words rooted in the mysticism and poetry of their religion. “If you are unsure, cast off your doubts now. There is no turning back,” she cackles with sardonic glee. She stops short of outwardly saying let us praise the devil in all his might, but hints greatly at the unity of the force in those here to witness the show and the band about to be unveiled. She signals that the group’s leader is about to arrive, but not before offering one final aphorism, “We must let the music do the summoning.” The band arrives triumphantly leading with the first two songs from their new album Meliora, “Spirit” and “From the Pinnacle to the Pit.” Before any member of the crowd even has a chance to find their feet with the performance, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” is a knockout blow, it’s alternating pentatonic scales and hammer pulse drums creating a finale worthy of the greats of 70’s rock. They then shift to their first album Opus Eponymous for “Ritual” and “Con Clavi Con Dio,” the latter another example of the excellent bass work from the group’s bassist.
When not singing, Papa Emeritus III traipses around the stage somewhat like a nonchalant romantic era vampire. On tracks such as “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” he stands near the instrumentalist taking center stage during instrumental breaks and delicately waves his hands in undulating fashion of approval. No, there’s no head banging, stage diving or other conventional moves here. New track “Majesty” takes things even higher. Somehow the five performers find the sweet spot melding all sounds into something more than a conventional “rock” song, all along the chorus of “Old One / Master / All beauty lies within.” For a song that’s essentially an ode to Lucifer, it’s kind of incredibly transcendent as a musical moment. “Cirice” opts for a more ominous intro, baroque keyboards and Seasons in the Abyss-style twang-y melodies. The lyric “I can feel the thunder that’s breaking in your heart / I can see through the scars inside you,” rings out with a warm delivery before the Nameless Ghoul guitarist stage left shreds out a ridiculous solo (one of many for whomever it is on the night).
The satanic themes of Ghost’s music take on one of their most overt deployments on Infestissumam track “Year Zero,” where Papa Emeritus III incites the crowd to chant along with him on, “Hail Satan / Welcome year zero.” At the beginning and in between verses a triggered sample calls out the names (depending on which history/fictions/beliefts you follow) of either the pseudonyms of the devil or various chiefs in charge of each progressive layer of hell. It truly is 2015, as it’s incredibly hard to imagine something like this even existing twenty years ago, never mind without a public outcry for a total nationwide ban from right wing pundits. It was only in the mid 90’s that Marilyn Manson was engaged in a very public freedom of speech fight for merely criticizing Catholicism/Christianity, never mind fully, openly trumpeting Satanism. The real test will be as the band’s inevitable, obvious ascent to mega stardom reaches its zenith. It’s one thing to be playing some good club shows, but hopefully the backlash will not be invasive when they reach arena status.
All digressions aside, “He Is” delightfully takes on an almost serene tone sans distortion and “Absolution” allowed the Nameless Ghoul keyboardist to show off his skills. The conclusion of “Mummy Dust” once again pulls a page from the best hard rock moments of the late 70’s and achieves an amazing finale. Three of the Nameless Ghouls take center stage in chairs with acoustic instruments and the band does a fully unplugged rendition of “Jigolo Har Megiddo.” The set proper ends with a powerful one-two punch. First, the multi-part anthem “Ghuleh / Zombie Queen” which somehow bizarrely, effectively combines a creepy love song, bright and airy keyboards and a stop-on-a-dime thrash metal shift. The song is a huge hit, the crowd singing along through its anthemic refrains in the latter half. Second, what has already become a staple of the band’s fame as well as a slogan for them as a whole, the band does its longing take on Roky Erickson and the Aliens’ “If You Have Ghosts.” The crowd is nearly anxious for it, and it, and the lines “If you have ghosts / you have everything,” become a joyous nod to the band as an entity, doubling up on the werewolf-esque imagery of the lyrics as a whole. Lastly, they finish with “Monstrance Clock” urging the audience to sing what Papa Emeritus III calls the “sensual” notion, “Come together / together as a one / Come together / for Lucifer’s son.” The band leaves the stage and a trigged choir repeats the lines out into the atmosphere. If you’re at all uncertain, yes, they mean the antichrist.
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera Ad Inferi
Body and Blood
Jigolo Har Megiddo
If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson cover)
– Encore –
All photos for mxdwn by Mauricio Alvarado