“Merry f*cking Christmas!” yelled a booming Mancunian accent from the back of a muggy and musty venue. The festive greeting was unsurprisingly not returned. From a distance Ghost look like a death metal band with their Satan worshipping aesthetic, but musically they take their cue from classic rock, metal, thrash and even a touch of prog. It’s this blend of old school rock sounds, along with great riffs, solid songwriting and plenty of hooks which has seen their appeal to grow among metal and non-metal fans alike since their debut release in 2010. This past Saturday the Swedish six-piece brought their Back to the Future tour in support of their third album Meliora to The Ritz in Manchester.
Support for the evening was provided by fellow Swede’s Dead Soul, a duo made up of delta blues artist Anders Landelius (also known as Slidin’ Slim), and electronic musician Niels Nielsen. Performing live as a three-piece, vocalist Landelius was flanked either side by Nielsen and another guitarist/keyboardist, with a drum machine providing percussion. Their brand of dark, gloomy and bluesy industrial rock with Landelius’ Nick Cave-like vocals surrounded by a noisy guitars went down extremely well with the jam-packed Ritz as they performed a seven-track set of material taken from their two full-length studio albums.
Jostling for the front rows in anticipation of Ghost began before Dead Soul had even left the stage. The atmosphere in anticipation of the arrival of Ghost was set with the gradual dimming of lights and smoke from burning incense which slowly filled the room, while a 17th century choral piece titled “Miserere mei, Deus” by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri played. This was followed by “Masked Ball” by Jocelyn Pook which some will know from Stanley Kubrick‘s final movie Eyes Wide Shut. The lights dimmed even further right before five identical, demon-masked “Nameless Ghouls” entered the stage and began playing the opening section of “Spirit”, with Ghost’s anti-Pope vocalist Papa Emeritus III emerging right on cue.
Being a tour in support of Meliora, their third album featured quite heavily with seven tracks in total including single “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” with its dirty bass opening, and the ballad-like “He Is” with its acoustic opening being great examples of Ghost’s diversity. Material from their debut Opus Eponymous saw a limited run-out with two early performances including a stoner metal-like offering in the form of “Con Clavi Con Dio”. Their sophomore effort Infestissumam featured more heavily and despite its flaws as an album, the five-tracks that featuring sounded great with “Year Zero” a particular highlight. There was also room for a cover of Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts” from their Dave Grohl produced covers EP, If You Have Ghost.
One of the non-musical highlights of the evening was an attempted one-man stage invasion with a failed effort to plant a kiss on the cheek of Papa Emeritus III, followed by a dive into the front row with the grace of a sack of spuds falling down some stairs. After which Papa Emeritus III made the audience promise “never to try any shit like that again“. About halfway through the set, the anti-Pope’s mitre and gown would disappointingly be retired for the evening in exchange for a look that resembled the legendary wrestler Sting during his mid-90’s change to a darker costume. Ghost’s vocalist may have looked less impressive from “Circie” onwards, the video from which the superb Metropolis-themed stage-backdrop was taken, but it didn’t alter the quality of their performance one bit.
Despite of their whole appearance, it never takes away from their great songwriting and superbly tight overall sound. They play their songs pretty much as you hear them on record, with no extended moments or surprises thrown in there. The theatrics and the worshipping of Satan gimmick comes across as very tongue-in-cheek but it all works brilliantly as whole. With their Back to the Future tour reaching its end, Ghost will likely be back playing again at many of Europe’s big rock and metal festivals during the summer of 2016. Festival organisers and fans-alike would be foolish to miss out on the opportunity.
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera ad Inferi
Body and Blood
Devil Church (Instrumental)
If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson Cover)