If you’re not familiar with Ghost, it is quite difficult to explain what they bring to the table. Even their musical style is questioned. Some call them a metal band, others scoff at the mention of such an idea and call them a rock band.
The right answer is somewhere in the middle of those two opinions.
Ghost are very much a rock band that dips their fingers in all sorts of pies. Metal, pop, and classical elements are wrapped around a solid hard rock foundation that is both unique and compelling. And that’s before you even get onto the theatrics and the fictional back story that follows the band around the globe. In all honesty, I’m still not too sure what it’s all about.
I first saw Ghost live back in June, supporting Metallica on their Worldwired World Tour. So I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. However, bands can rarely stretch their creative legs when supporting other headline acts.
So I was curious to go see Ghost in all of their vibrant glory on their own tour.
The gig was held at Wembley Arena. A 12,500-seater multi-purpose entertainment venue that lives right next door to Wembley Stadium in North London. It’s a large venue, one that Ghost nowadays find themselves at home in.
Before we were blessed with Ghost‘s presence, we had a couple of support bands to get through. Tribulation kicked off the night, with a powerful and somewhat creepy performance. Also a band from Sweden, their style combines Psychedelic Rock with Heavy Metal, accompanied by a Black Metal aesthetic. It’s of little surprise why Ghost are a fan of them.
Their set was fun and engaging, the crowd seemed to take to them pretty well. They received a hearty ovation at the end, which is always a good start if the opening bands can get people in the mood.
The next band up, All Them Witches, didn’t quite capture the hearts and minds in the same way Tribulation were able to. This band gave off a very ‘open mic night at the local pub’ kind of vibe. They didn’t act like rockstars or looked like them either. Which is normally fine. But when you stand them up against bands such as Tribulation and Ghost, they stick out like a sore thumb.
The band could clearly play and a couple of great solos and crunchy indie rock riffs showcased their ability. But their lack of charisma failed to create a spark between the band and the crowd.
After All Them Witches‘ fairly low-key performance, the main event was starting to take shape. Huge black curtains were draped around the stage, preempting a grand entrance from a band that does nothing by halves.
We were not made to wait long for their arrival. But finally, Ghost brought the night back to life with Rats. One of their catchy singles off of their latest album Prequelle. The unveiling was exactly what you’d expect from a man as eccentric as Tobias Forge, the mastermind behind Ghost‘s existence. Perfectly executed and dramatic.
The showmanship of this band isn’t just limited to the guy at the front, though. The Nameless Ghouls, who are the anonymous musicians in this band, bring great energy and vigor to the band’s live performances.
At this point, I should try to explain a little bit the fictional back story behind the band and how it applies to their music.
Ghost‘s albums are effectively chapters in a story. Forge adopts different characters and develops them to tie in with the overall story of ‘Ghost‘. This is why Tobias Forge often nipped backstage to change costumes during the night. The Nameless Ghouls are just members of the Ghost ‘ministry’, and they don’t have to deal with all that nonsense.
In one of those changeovers, the Nameless Ghouls are allowed a segment where the guitarists ‘duel’ each other. And this descends into something quite silly.
On this occasion, the Ghouls eventually showcase their rendition of the Eastenders theme tune (if you don’t know, Eastenders is a soap opera set in London). But at the end of the day, it’s just a bit of light-hearted fun. For the crowd to enjoy whilst Forge squeezes himself into yet another costume.
The setlist for this gig was pretty varied, including classics such as Cirice and Year Zero but also their very recent singles Kiss The Go-Goat and Mary On A Cross. So whatever era of Ghost you prefer, you are sure to see enough of your personal favorites to be fully satisfied.
As alluded to earlier, Ghost don’t do things by halves. Nothing is beyond their imagination.
An epic stage set, fireworks (that made me jump every flippin’ time), smoke machines, and Forge riding a tricycle. Those are just some of the weird and wonderful extras the band will bless you with when you come out to see them.
A Ghost gig is quite frankly ridiculous and pompous, but that’s what draws me to this band. There’s an element of mystery about them that is hard to find in a world that is obsessed with known quantities. Even now, fans are speculating about or trying to uncover who the Nameless Ghouls are. But knowing their identities would take away the enigma which enriches this band’s appeal. We all need a bit of mystery in our lives.
Being gimmicky and using their theatrics to cover up average-sounding music is a criticism that’s leveled at Ghost in some quarters. However, I would encourage those who say so to attend one of their shows. Not only are they great entertainers, but you’ll also see they are a tremendous group of musicians. One that can deliver such epic performances with consummate ease.
Ed’s note: The author used to write for Abrasive Noise! Also, check Sylosis at the Islington Assembly Hall.