Swedish retro-metal/rock/pop group Ghost made their debut US appearances last week, first playing Maryland DeathFest in Baltimore on Sunday and then visiting the Webster Studio on Wednesday. Much hyped when their debut release, Opus Eponymous, came out last year, the band has continued to build upon their initial momentum as their catchy, Satan-laced music has been embraced by circles beyond the typically insular metal community. Perhaps for good reason—their brand of commercially viable metal is accompanied by a stage show that is as theatrical as the music is infectious. The shows at MDF, probably the premier US metal festival, and Webster Studio seemed to have the underlying agenda of testing the US market, and Ghost scored well: they will be the lead support for Enslaved this Fall on a US tour that also features Alcest(!!) as second support.
The crowd at Webster, where the show was sold out days in advance, bristled in anticipation of Ghost taking the stage. The band, which is backed by monks’ robe-wearing musicians and is fronted by a corpse-painted, masked, anti-pope that goes by Papa Emeritus (the band has drawn ire from certain die-hard breeds of metal heads who deride them for imitating the appearance of Australian extreme metal act Portal), is undeniably entertaining on stage; Satan-obsessed Papa Emeritus (his real identity is a mystery, as is that of the rest of the band—I’ve seen speculation that the band is a bunch of older, more blackmetal-oriented types afraid of losing credibility to a bunch of roadies) is quite a character, at times crossing himself ominously in the Catholic fashion and at other times clapping rhythmically to the side of his head, and sounded good live as he belted out his playfully disturbing lyrics. The rest o f the band sounded good as well, though much of the melody seemed to be carried by the keys, and though I had read the band stood motionless as they played, that was not the case at Webster where the monk lookalikes rocked out like any metal band. I’ve seen some reviews saying this combined with Papa Emeritus’ antics had a rather scary effect, but I couldn’t help to be amused. Any band fronted by someone with the moniker Papa Emeritus has to have a tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Ghost, with only one short album to their name, played all the songs on Opus Eponymous in a jumbled order. Crowd favorites “Stand by Him,” “Elizabeth,” and “Satan Prayer,” were well received and sounded very strong in a live setting. Though the surprise was spoiled on me after having read a review of Ghost’s Baltimore show, the band reappeared for an encore that included a clearly ironic rendition of “Here Comes the Sun,” before ending the evening with their anthem “Ritual.”
The show was undeniably fun and I’m sure they will be as entertaining as they were at Webster when they play in support of Enslaved. The question for Ghost will be weather they will be able to maintain their hype. They seem poised to do so in the short run, but the real test will be when their second album rolls around. Opus Eponymous was a rollicking, refreshing dose of retro metal replete with memorable hooks and an overall evil, but in a fun sort of Halloween way, feel. Until that time comes, I will keep enjoying Opus Eponymous and look forward to seeing them in September.
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