October 29, 2019 – It being Halloween season, it’s not unusual to see people dressed up as ghosts, goblins, witches and the like. Just about anything with a dark, evil or scary theme is the norm this time of year. A band that features ghosts, popes, ghouls and devils as its norm should fit right in, shouldn’t it? It’s a sweet recipe – take a Rock band, throw in some heavy guitars, add a macabre theme or two with some ghastly characters, stir into a witches brew and voila’ – instant ear candy. It’s a scary thought though: to take a chance on seeing a rock band you’ve never seen before and be afraid you’ll have gotten the musical version of Charlie Brown’s rock in your Halloween bag. Fear not, for in this world of sonic trickery, Ghost is a Halloween treat.
Ghost is one of the relatively new bands in Rock. They are currently on their ominously named “The Ultimate Tour Named Death” trek of the U.S. and Europe. I have them as one of The 5 Best New Rock Bands that are breathing new life into the genre’. Whether Rock just survives or flourishes depends on whether these new bands strike a chord (pun intended) with audiences, especially younger ones. Bands like Ghost, Greta Van Fleet and Rival Sons have opened the floodgates for other up-and-coming acts like Badflower and Dirty Honey. Ghost may be the most popular of the newer acts worldwide. With a stream of hits such as “Rats”, “Dance Macabre”, “Square Hammer” and the Grammy-winning “Cirice” getting a lot of airplay, they are quickly establishing themselves as one of the top new artists. They made a stop at the Cure Insurance Arena in New Jersey this past week. For me, this was a gauge of how popular this band has become. I was curious as to if they would sell out a medium-sized arena that seats up to 10,000.
Arriving about an hour before the gates were due to open, I found the parking lot to be lightly populated. It made me wonder just how much this band would draw. I ventured in to the arena about 7 PM – a half hour before the show was due to start. After a forty-five minute set by the group “Nothing More” I was a little scared; the turnout appeared to be light during their set. There were a lot of empty seats and the standing room crowd on the floor didn’t appear to be very large. Thirty minutes later the crowd filled out as the lights dimmed and the large black curtain at the front of the stage fell to reveal Ghost as they appeared on the set. The stage set featured a center staircase that fanned out towards the sides. It was anchored by two castle-like towers, one on each side. In the background of the stage were three large “stained glass” windows, with images of a faux-pope in the center window and medieval figures in each of the other two. The band was led by vocalist Tobias Forge in guise as “Cardinal Copia.” He was dressed in of course – all black with a black coattail vest and pancake makeup mask as if he was a sinister ghoul or vampire. They opened with some crunchy Metal numbers – “Rats”, with its chunky two-string chords and the Metallica-esque “Absolution.” The two nameless ghoul guitarists (which it turns out do have names – “Aether” and “Fire”) laid the guitar ground work for the songs. Reminiscent of Buckethead; they (as well of the rest of the band) both wear masks. “Aether” primarily supplies the rhythm guitar and “Fire” both rhythm and lead. Both guitarists play Hagstrom “Fantomen” guitars, which are very reminiscent of Gibson RD Artist guitars. “Aether” plays a black one and “Fire” – white. Twin guitars are a particular favorite of mine, especially when they play in two-part harmony as they frequently did during the concert. “Faith” was next, with its neo-classical guitars opening the song followed by chunky rhythms. “Mary on a Cross” and “Devil Church” followed as did the Grammy winner “Cirice.” The enigmatic“Miasma” was next. It featured “Fire” trading neo-classical licks (using two-handed tapping) with the keyboard player before a character dressed in white as a Pope came out and played a solo on saxophone towards the end.
About mid-way through the show, “Aether” and “Fire” play a five-minute “guitar riff battle.” The two guitarists appear to match each other as they trade licks before it becomes hilariously apparent that “Aether” has been shredding (at least in part) using a pre-recorded track. I found myself laughing hysterically at this. I assumed that this was a tongue-in-cheek parody of bands that use pre-recorded tracks in their live shows. Ghost uses none except for an opening prequel at the beginning of the show, as a lot of bands do these days. “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” with its “Miserlou” beat came next followed by “Helvetesfonster” (instrumental.) The band cruised through the numbers “Spirit”, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, “Ritual’, “Satan Prayer” and “Year Zero”, all the while with Forge working the crowd between songs and being the master of ceremonies. Twin guitar harmonies highlight the solo in “He Is” which followed. “Mummy Dust” was next, with its guitar-heavy bottom end driving the song with a very “Halloween”-esqe movie thread running through it. The retro sounding “Kiss the Go-goat” followed up “Mummy Dust” before the hit “Dance Macabre.” They ended the show with an excellent rendition of their hit “Square Hammer”, its heavy opening guitar riff driving what had become a near sellout crowd into frenzy.
I found the show to be quite entertaining. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Having seen some of the newer bands, I felt there were some that needed to work on their live show. Ghost did a great job with song choices, presentation, visual effects and interaction with the crowd. Their stage set was excellent; it reminded me a little bit of Avenged Sevenfold’s stage set that had a group of ghouls trapped behind bars at the back of their stage. There were lots of pyrotechnics, fog and lighting effects. The highlight for me though, was the excellent guitar playing. The sound was very good, particularly the sound of the guitars. While the guitar is distorted for sure, the solos are clean sounding and fat, with a touch of delay – clear and articulate. It is not known whether Forge plays guitar in the studio but I believe the guitarists follow his vision of their sound, which complements the music very well.
Ghost has their own, unique sound. Their songs are very melodic. Very much written with a Baroque feel, they are part Bach or Beethoven, part Alice Cooper. In fact, it seems singer/bandleader Tobias Forge and has modeled Ghost very much in the mold of Cooper. You get that same macabre sense and style without actually copying him. Besides being the musical engine behind the band (the rest of the band are rumored to be hired guns) he is an excellent showman; very good at working the crowd. He’s also fashioned the band with a sense of humor. While they aren’t exactly Heavy Metal, I would liken the Ghost sound more to what Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot described as “light alloy.” With Forge being European, you can hear the influences of classical music in just about all of their songs. Forty years ago, this type of Rock could have been considered somewhat dark, maybe even shocking but in today’s world it is more tongue-in-cheek. I like the fact that they have their own sound. Sounding unique in a genre where a lot of bands sound the same is a welcome change. You hear slight references to older bands (I hear tinges of Blue Oyster Cult) but it appears to be more coincidence than imitation.
Would I recommend seeing them? Absolutely! It was ghoulishly fun. Treat yourself!
What’s your favorite Ghost song?