December 2, 2016 Ghost Hold Mass In Brooklyn, NY 11-12-16 w/ Marissa Nadler
Shrouded in controversy from the onset, Sweden’s Ghost burst onto the international scene with their 2010’s Opus Eponymous LP. With their satanic-centric lyrics and not revealing the names of the band’s members, Ghost was an enigma from the start. Fronted by Papa Emeritus (a man whose identity remains a secret), and backed by a band, who are all known as Nameless Ghouls, Ghost set the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal world ablaze with their over the top stage shows and melodic music.
Gaining more and more of a following internationally, Ghost’s 2015 album, Meliora, was supported with extensive touring that found the band in the USA this past spring for the Black To The Future Tour. Now, with the release of their latest EP, Popestar, a five song collection consisting of one new track and four covers, Ghost return to The States for the Popestar Tour. Often a bold move to tour a region twice in the same year, Ghost prove their popularity with Rock fans warranting the Popestar Tour with many of the dates selling out. Visiting different cities along the way this time, on Saturday, November 12th, Ghost brought their outrageous act to Brooklyn, New York’s Kings Theatre.
Opening for Ghost was talented musician/fine artist Marissa Nadler. Hailing from the New England area, Nadler’s repertoire of Folk-like Americana and murder balladry have been managing to haunt audiences since her 2004 debut, Ballads of Living and Dying. Following up her exceptionally deep 2014 album, July, Nadler returned earlier this year with the release of an equally effective collection of songs, Strangers. Almost fitting to be opening for Ghost, excitement was high among the audience as they prepared for her set.
Playing an eclectic mix of music, Nadler dazzled the crowd with intricate and tight arrangements. Starting her set was the haunting “Dead City Emily;” swirling effects, chilling vocals, and gentle acoustic strumming made for a great introduction. On a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Solitude,” Nadler nailed the brooding feeling with expertly delivered vocals, and dread to spare. This was before she went into “Was It a Dream” with an ethereal tone, continuing to put forth the feeling of hopelessness punctuated with a tinge of hope. Although, her voice was nothing less than angelic as she drifted on into songs such as “All the Colours of the Dark” and “Hungry Is The Ghost” before set closer “Fifty-Five Falls.” Channeling the sounds of early ’70s singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, gentle acoustic guitar along with Nadler’s powerful singing blended together perfectly, making for a beautiful tribute to a time gone by. With the North American run now completed, Nadler brings her inviting sound over to Europe through the end of 2016.
Following a brief change over by stage hands, the crowd roared in anticipation before Ghost took to the dimly lit platform. Almost like a dream, amidst swirling fog and flashing white lights, they launched into “Square Hammer” with a frenetic lead on guitar as well as pulsating drums before Papa Emeritus quickly engaged with the crowd. Looking like a southern Baptist minister, dressed in black robes, a pope hat, and a skull mask, his presented an opposing shadow over the crowd as everyone was primed to witness Ghost’s fifteen song set. Moving forward, a plodding bass line opened “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” as the band mirrored early ’70s Proto-Metal with the song putting out a sinister sound, changing lyrics, and a ripping guitar solo that reeked of the best of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
With the crowd completely enthralled, they fist-pumped in time and banged their heads violently as Ghost segued into“Secular Haze.” Drawing on Pop sensibilities, a catchy melody was tempered by raucous guitar work and vocals that dripped with terror; the song would meander between the sounds of a radio friendly Pop number along with dark Heavy Metal, making for a wild combination. Then came “Con Clavi Con Dio” which found Ghost turning to all out Thrash Metal as a blistering riff, interjected with intricate flourishes, led the charge on a frenetic rocker.
Continuing on at a steady pace, they offered “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” a cut that would fit perfectly on early Iron Maiden and Judas Priest records. Dressed in green spotlights, it was simply pure Heavy Metal as a feedback drenched riff chugged along with Papa Emeritus topping it off with foreboding vocals. Emitting a sense of dread coupled with a sense of triumph, fans on the floor moved their arms in unison to the rhythm. Showing why they are so appealing to a wide swath of fans, “Body and Blood” kicked off with the sound of early ’70s Pop before quickly spilling into Ghost’s signature sound of bruising guitars teamed up with soaring lyrics. Managing to incorporate several styles for an incredibly well-crafted number, they created an atmosphere that engulfed the room.
Keeping that atmosphere thick, “Devil Church” opened with an extended intro that sounded like something out of a classic Horror movie. Indecipherable chanting, creepy effects, and swirling keys never let up from the beginning as Ghost took a brilliant stab at Krautrock. On an evening heavy with screaming guitars, banshee wail vocals, and a pounding rhythm section, this song showed the band has been influenced by many styles, and that they can play any style. Moving on, “Circle” continued the muted, down-tuned sound with a sinewy riff on guitar shrouded in piercing effects moving along at a steady, purpose driven pace.
Proud of their diversity, “Year Zero” found Ghost taking on yet another genre as the bouncy keys brought to mind top notch ’80s Synth Pop. Sounding like Depeche Mode on steroids, the downright danceable keys were sprinkled with timely, fuzzy guitar riffs, and would then circle back to straight up Pop-addled sing-along fodder. In contrast, “He Is” was driven along by a bass heavy drum lick, with light guitars laid over it. That in mind, the star of the live rendition was the almost a capella lyrics and harmonies that were delivered over the simple, yet effective music.
Wasting little time in between songs, “Absolution” was a straight ahead Heavy Metal rocker where Ghost laid down there heaviest riff of the night and paired it up with a frightening delivery of the lyrics, and an overall menacing sound. Turning up the heat, keeping that hard, heavy sound coming, “Mummy Dust” followed with a touch of the Space-Rock sound. Taking the song to another level, the powerful music, sounding like classic Hawkwind, incorporated yet another genre as Papa Emeritus delivered the lyrics in an uncompromising, guttural, evil Death Metal manner.
Turning to complete darkness, the lights soon went back on as the notes of a piano rang as a Nameless Ghoul stood behind the keys to open “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen.” An interesting turn of events, the first half of the song was brought forth in penultimate power ballad style. A gentle vocal laid over the bouncy drums and piano would eventually take off into a rocking number with countless guitar solos and ear-shattering drums. As Papa Emeritus stood atop a stage monitor blowing kisses audience, through the song, thereafter the set concluded with “Ritual.” A perfect summation of Ghost’s many talents, the song featured A plus guitar playing, a heavy, rhythmic riff, tons of solos, and larger than life vocals. Everything fans have come to love about Ghost was squeezed into five minutes.
After a brief exit, and a sea of cheers, Ghost returned for a one song encore of “Monstrance Clock.” One of the heavier offerings of the night, the song dripped with Satanic imagery, and had a tone reminiscent of the classic ’50s and ’60s Horror movies. The guitars did not let up from start to finish, and the keys provided a real sense of dread, as if one was running through the woods with a madman hot on their tail. Feeling like a ritual was taking place in a house of ill repute, during the outro, chants of “Come together as one” echoed over a heavy, winding organ. It sounded like church music, but not what one would hear in their average church, thus making it the perfect ending to the night.
Being the final stop on the Popestar North American Tour, Ghost showed no signs of exhaustion, in fact, they were lively all set long. Each member of the band serves a purpose, and it is wonderful to see them perform live and move about the stage. While their identities remain a mystery, this obscurity can allow listeners to indulge in the one thing which is of the utmost importance, the music. For a night of world class theatrics, catchy melodies and hooks, a wide array of styles, no one band on the road right now brings what Ghost does.Photo credit: Ken Buglione Photography