Hype is a strange beast. It conjures memories of the times when the next big thing has fizzled into little more than a puff of smoke. But striding through the fog in Cardiff, Jon Stickler finds Ghost – a band who won’t be destroyed by any sort of expectation laid on their shoulders…
Ghost have long resembled one of Tim Burton’s wet dreams since emerging in 2010, but the commercial success of last year’s ‘Meliora’, paired with notable performances on the North American leg of the Popestar tour, has led to the mysterious cult act being praised one of the best bands of metal’s modern era.
Following a short set spanning several looping, multi-layered compositions from Zombi’s recent album ‘Shape Shift’, the Pennsylvanian, John Carpenter-influenced synthwave duo leave the stage with the lights reduced to two red glows from the side of a stage shrouded in thick smoke from incense burners.
The haunting choral strains of Miserere mei, Deus by Gregorio Allegri echo throughout the room, signalling the beginning of Ghost’s unholy mass. The Masked Ball from Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut plays over the PA while the ghouls: Fire, Water, Wind, Earth and Aether take their positions on stage. The music fades and the roar goes up for the punchy start of Square Hammer from their current ‘Popestar’ EP as Papa emerges from the darkness in a flash of light, clad in full blasphemous robes and complete with Mitre and skull painted face.
The bassline to Pinnacle To The Pit is something straight from the deepest circles of hell, while other big moments include Secular Haze, complete with swinging Thurible, Con Clavi Con Dio, the thumping Grammy-winning Cirice, and Body And Blood, with the latter introducing us to the sisters of sin, two questionable nuns tasked with sharing Communion with the front row.
Around the halfway point the beguiling Papa swaps his papal regalia for spats and a tailcoat before taking us through Mummy Dust, making it rain confetti and Papa-branded dollar notes. The singalongs to He Is and the overtly satanic Year Zero are ear-shattering but it’s Absolution that steals the real ‘holy fuck’ moment of the night.
When Papa asks the clergy who has seen the band before there is a deafening cheer, while the newly converted are equally as loud when he asks who hasn’t. The crowds sing back the riff and lyrics of Ritual before the band close the show with the refrain of “come together, together as one, come together, for Lucifer’s son” from Monstrous Clock. We’re plunged into total darkness as The Host of Seraphim, from the 2007 film The Mist, plays out on the PA for one final spine-chilling moment.
If you look past the mystique, the Danny Elfman overtones, the elegance of the Nameless Ghouls, the devilish charisma from Papa and the tongue-in-cheek themes of a coming Antichrist, Ghost are a band fully invested in what they do. They know their shit. Any rubbish about gimmicks should make way for talk of not if but when this band will start headlining major festivals. Hail Ghost!