Living in a world where knowledge and information is at the tip of our fingers is a tantalizing prospect. Those seeing the Bohemian Rhapsody about the band Queen, can dial-up Wikipedia and YouTube and be an expert on the band within a few hours. Between streaming, an endless assortment of online video and on-demand culture, we thrive for something real, tangible and mysterious which is why the Swedish metal band Ghost is not just entertaining but equaling enthralling.
There is no other band in the world quite like Ghost. Over the last decade and four albums, they've maintained an aura of mystery behind them. While their live shows and albums conjure religious imagery, make-up and masks to hide their appearances, the band functions essentially as a logo with some of the most intrinsic metal music of the century. Shortly before the release of their fourth album, a lawsuit provided some insight into Ghost and the mysterious men behind the make-up and masks. It turns out that Papa Emeritus and currently Cardinal Copiais (Tobias Forge) has used a rotating group of musicians to make Ghost what they are today. One of their first stops in Chicago was at Lollapalooza in 2012 and their presence in front of 20,000 people was spellbinding, they riveted the audience as they channeled the best of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal where their image stuck with you while the melodies thrived. Papa Emeritus never wasted time in seizing the audience's imagination and at the end of their Lollapalooza set, no one wanted to let them go.
Taking to the Aragon Ballroom stage the day after Halloween, Ghost took command of the Chicago crowd. This wasn't your average metal show, but a tour de force exercise of blunt force. The band was wound tight and with a flash of fury, they flexed their power of tour de force live performers playing even longer than Metallica did two weeks earlier in Milwaukee. For 150-minutes, Ghost captured the audience's imagination and invigorated their bodies. The band was draped in silver masks, proving if Stanley Kubrick were still alive, he would make them the house band in his Eyes Wide Shut sequel. From the dry ice opening the members taking the stage one-by-one in their disguises, but despite all that is written about the band and their image, what truly pull people in are the melodic thrusts that keep the crowd engaged. The guitars are ample and monstrous to the extent that even if you don't know their music, they slowly draw you in. While they're not the first band to play metal music in costumes, they've filtered it to their strengths. They seize your imagination with heightened sense of drama, but the music is poised and powerful with an image that winds up wrapping itself around your ears.
The entire set focused on all four albums. The first set was crushing, haunted and hallowed, notably on "Absolution", "Ritual" and "Per Aspera Ad Inferi" which the congregation of fans willingly gave themselves over to the music. They stood in rapt attention taking in every lyric, riff, smashed cymbal, bass roll and strobe light, and in return, they let go of themselves. The backdrop of the stage featured pillars and stained glass of a church, but it was the performances that lit up the night. "Con Clavi Con Dio" and its chugging bass intro performed under blood red lights with incense, while the crowd followed the band raising their arms to the air. The organ intro of "Devil Church" segued into "Cirice" where the guitarists and bassist stood shoulder-to-shoulder with doom laden riffs steeped in the blues.
Touring in support of Prequelle,their fourth album is a leap forward for Ghost, in a genre often criticized for its derivative nature, Ghost and Forge have continued to push boundaries, work at their craft and create some of the most vigorous metal music of the century. "Miasma" had a saxophone while "Pro Memoria" raised spirits from below for an arm-waving anthem. Ghost has found a way to evoke Kubrickian images ala A Clockwork Orange while the music plays into our deepest and darkest insecurities, but the arrangements simultaneously creating a silver lining in the sky. While much of their music is about wrangling with and trying to defeat dark forces, there is redemption in their performances.
During the second set, the empowering "Spirit" found its match with the rumbling rhythm section who also provided foundational trembles on "From the Pinnacle to the Pit". On "Year Zero", the drums and bass rumbled and cracked the sky open with their thundering precision as dry ice escape from below the stage. In a day and age where the end of times feel closer and closer, Ghost provide a soundtrack for the wicked, repressed and unspoken. The band is tight and workmanlike, and despite the masks and outfits, the musicians are lean and abandon flashiness. The masks almost serve a purpose as it puts all of them on equal footing as one band tackling and ruling the concert stage. During the crowd pleasing "He Is", it became evident that Ghost's strength is in their more melodic material, which they have a penchant for crafting. The band has a genuine hit on their hands with "Dance Macabe" that flirts with pop. Other acts would reject the more tuneful aspects of this gift especially when they're in a metal band, however, Ghost embrace the easy-on-the-ears sensibilities and this makes them a stronger band. The reaction of the crowd was more zealous and fanatical the more melodic the song. Heavy metal music hangs around the fringes and it is refreshing to see a band spill over into the mainstream willing to take on the masses.
Ghost excels at redefining metal under their own rules. The imagery, the music and the show, all take the genre further than most of their modern contemporaries. These songs speak to the anger, loneliness and fragility of life. Cardinal Copiais conducted the band like a symphony who took the crowd through a maze of mystery, who will not only remember it, but will desperately want to experience it again.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
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