“Lu-ci-feeeeeer!” The ceremony started at 10:30pm on a bone chilling night at Denver’s Marquis Theater. The 8th of 13 ‘dates of doom’ for Sweden’s enigmatic retro-metallers brought with it all the elements that are now expected from this young, hyped group of nameless ghouls. Fronted by Papa Emeritus, a skeletal figure in red and black bishop’s robes, Ghost rely on costumes and good old-fashion heavy metal music (think Black Sabbath meets Mercyful Fate meets the power ballad) to spread the gospel of the fallen one. But don’t let the theatrics and lyrics scare you away, this is not black metal. Although they possess the support of Darkthrone’s Fenriz and Watain’s Erik Danielson, they do not share a stage with any type of bodily fluids or animal parts. In fact, if you were to close your eyes and ignore the lyrical content, you would quickly realize these Swedes are making some of the most infectious, catchy, rock music this side of the century. Give “Elizabeth” a spin and tell me I’m wrong!
There are three aspects to a Ghost show that need to be considered in any review: the crowd, the stage presence and the music.
So let’s start with the crowd. The Marquis Theater was pretty packed when we arrived at 8:45pm and only got more crowded through Ancient VVisdom and Blood Ceremony’s set. By the time the ghouls made their way onto the small stage, we were shoulder to shoulder in the main area. A quick glace around would reveal the usual suspects at a Mile High metal show, but there were quite a few unexpected faces. There was an excessive amount of color in the sea of black, and the female population was considerably larger than that of metal shows past. Once the band started, the metalheads were at a loss as to how to act. This isn’t music to mosh to. It is not the type of thing to incite a circle pit. So certain members of the crowd just started randomly shoving. While I appreciate these songs make you want to move, I think the crowd was over compensating for a lack of aggression in Ghost’s compositions. Overall, the randomness of the pushing and shoving made it quite uncomfortable up front, but the need to be close to what was happening on stage outweighed any desire to remove myself from the chaos.
What was happening on stage? I have seen quite a few ‘satanic’ bands in my time, but Ghost are something different. First off, I don’t believe they are Satanists. The guy in the crowd shredding a bible over our heads might disagree, but I believe it’s all part of the show. Just like GWAR arn’t really aliens and the dude from Dimmu isn’t really from Stars Wars, the costume and lyrical content remind me of a traveling art troupe. Erik Danielson covers himself in animal blood because he truly believes each show is a type of black mass, Ghost have Hollywood quality costumes and make-up because it’s a show. There is a big difference there. If you read interviews with Papa Emeritus, you realize there is a script. The idea is to spread the word of Satan through attractive means — spread it through entertainment. Their album cover is a rip-off of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and their message is around humankind’s obsession with the dark side of things — serial killers, war, black magic, etc. They are playing on those themes and creating an image that can appeal to the masses. But none of this would work if they didn’t have the musical skills to back it up…
Opus Eponymous includes 9 tracks and has a runtime of 34 minutes. It is the sum of Ghost’s musical output thus far. It is an album that you can’t help but love. I challenge anyone to listen to it four times and tell me you arn’t hooked. If the lyrical content disturbs you, just think of it as a horror movie and move on. I doubt most of the people in the crowd last night worship (or even believe in) Satan, but that didn’t stop them from singing along at the top of their lungs “smells of dead human sacrifices from the altar!” because you just can’t help yourself with that catchy riff and that churning bass line. I just can’t explain how much fun this (evil) music really is. Papa Emeritus and his ghouls tore through the whole album, and almost as if to prove it’s all in good fun, they covered The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” before closing out the set with “Ritual”. 50 minutes of music and no encore, but I doubt anyone left disappointed. Ghost are the full package — great songs, high energy, amazing costumes and an air of mystery. Even if you are not into metal, I recommend giving this band a chance.
* on a side note, I did see a tall, clean cut guy with a short, bleach-blonde girl wearing heavy black eyeliner during the opening set. They stood out in the crowd and I did not recognize them from any other show. Could he have been Papa Emeritus? I look forward to someday finding out who the men behind the robes, masks and make-up are.