Swedish band Ghost have been performing their unique blend of underground Swedish heavy metal and on-stage theatrics all around the world since they formed in 2008. Lead by frontman, the mysterious Papa Emeritus, the band is made up of unknown individuals who are simply referred to as Nameless Ghouls. The release of their debut album in late 2010 saw the group nominated for the Swedish equivalent of the Grammy Awards in the Hard Rock category and they quickly became one of Sweden’s most in-demand metal acts. It wasn’t long before the band broke out into the rest of Europe and by early 2011 they were performing in America on a short tour. Releasing their sophomore album Infestissumam in April 2013 to strong reviews, though the controversial artwork for the album cover did raise some eyebrows particularly in parts of the USA. This second album marked their move to a major record label as the American release was under Republic Records label, a company owned by Universal Music. In late 2013 Ghost released an EP produced by Foo Fighters front-man Dave Grohl, named If You Have Ghost. The release featured one live track from a previous album as well as four covers of pop songs including an ABBA track. In recent years, they have toured extensively working with genre stalwarts Slayer and Iron Maiden in South America and Mexico, performing two years in a row at the Download Festival in the UK playing with Trivium and In Flames on dates across Europe and heading on a world tour in 2013 that ended with a number of festivals and headline performances in the USA to publicise their second album. The real names of the band members have remained a well-kept secret and the stage act that comes with every musical performance is as intricate to their success as the music itself. They take great pride in the mystery and theatrics of the band, just as the presence of bizarre front-man Papa Emeritus with his Catholic Priest’s robes and his hooded Nameless Ghouls might imply. Thankfully the satanic lyrics and unholy costumes are all firmly tongue-in-cheek and the band happily admits that entertainment is the name of the game. That’s not to say the music takes second place though. With endorsements from people such as Phil Anselmo and collaborations with talent such as Dave Grohl its clear in the general consensus that Ghost are more than just a spooky show.
The band had in recent years had achieved lots of media hype but they had left me pretty nonplussed and less than impressed with their music. Would my debut sighting of the Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls leave me shivering or excited? Well the pre-tour hype pointed to internal disputes and mass firing among the ranks. Papa had replaced most of the band and that had generally contributed to a pretty mixed bag of reviews from the tours first few dates. So, it was that I traveled to Manchester Apollo to worship sacrilegiously at the dark alter of Ghost. Would it be an evening of theatre combined with music or all visual with no solid musical talent to back it up.
My viewing point tonight would be a unique one based in the upper-circle of the Apollo, but in a central position it would prove a quite different angle on the stage compared with my usual downstairs spot. Opening band were the unique musical duo from America titled – and in keeping with the evenings horror theme – Zombi. Quite an eclectic and unique sound landscape hard to define in terms of musical style and genre. Different certainly and left the majority of fans in the packed venue either applauding enthusiastically or suitably bemused. Myself I found some parts of their quite extensive support slot enjoyable and others very over self-indulgent.
Quick changeover for the Ghost spiritual church, with incense burning, ornate stain glass windows forming the stage backdrop, and mosaic flooring laid on the stage. Typical neoclassical introduction played over the PA, as smoke began to circle around the stage. Nameless Ghouls quickly appearing among the smoke rattling into the introduction from “Square Hammer” with Papa himself appearing eerily swathed in clouds of smoke from an elevated platform between the drums and keyboards. The band then quickly moved into “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Secular Haze” which had made a return to their setlist following a long absence. These two tracks seemed to be extremely popular with the packed enthusiastic Manchester audience. The dramatic line-up changes didn’t appear to have impacted negatively on either the musical talents or credibility of Ghost as a band. The band members interacted well with the audience and appeared to have settled quickly into their new roles. Theatrics also played a part with excessive smoke, ticker tape, and the novel holy communion part of the service, with it being delivered by the nuns during a part of the show. Singer Papa Emeritus played his elaborate performance as a mixture of dramatics and a sense of humour. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this first indoor Ghostly performance. It was visually entertaining and while I felt that the band as yet don’t have a solid arsenal of strong songs in their set, it was definitely a mix of melody, heavier songs and fun. Ending the set with “Ritual” and an extended version of “Monstrance Clock” it was clear that Papa at least had appeared to enjoy the show. What the Nameless Ghouls felt however, we were left to speculate as their masks remained expressionless.