Ghost is a 6-piece heavy metal band formed in Sweden in 2008. Their 2010 debut album Opus Eponymous was widely praised and since then, the band has swiftly gained popularity throughout Europe and North America. Their most recent albums, Infestissumam (2013) and Meliora (2015) reached number one in Sweden and 'Cirice', the lead single off Meliora, earned them an award for Best Metal Performance at this year's Grammys. Earlier this fall, they released a 5-song EP Popestar, meant to serve as an extension to Meliora. The EP features mostly covers of bands including Echo and the Bunnymen and Eurythmics, along with one original, the lead single 'Square Hammer'. They are currently finishing up the North American leg of the Popestar Tour, before heading back to Europe where they will begin recording a new album early next year. We were lucky enough to catch their sold out show in Toronto this week at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
The show started at around 8pm with opening act Marissa Nadler. The gothic folk musician from Boston has joined Ghost on tour since October. While she has a very different style from the headliner, her performance complemented it nicely. Accompanied by another guitarist, Marissa stood in the center of the dimly lit stage, surrounded by smoke and delivered her quiet, ethereal songs with only an electric guitar and her hauntingly beautiful voice. The music was closer to dream pop than hard rock or heavy metal, but she showed off her talent for finger-picking and played searing guitar solos with a tone reminiscent of Slash's Les Paul. About half of the audience were still hanging out in the bar and lobby during her performance, which is unfortunate because she played a great set that included stripped-down, dreamy covers of metal pioneers Black Sabbath and Danzig.
After a brief intermission, the theater started to fill up with a sea of black band t-shirts and leather jackets. Diehard fans wore skull face paint to emulate their hero, lead singer Papa Emeritus III, and one even had the full papal miter and robe. The anticipation was building and the atmosphere felt more like a grandiose cathedral as the sounds of Allegri's 'Miserere Mei, Deus' and Jocelyn Pook's 'Masked Ball' poured over the loudspeaker. Screams of ecstasy rang out and metal horns shot into the air as the lights went down, signaling that the ritual was about to begin. Everyone jumped to their feet as the Nameless Ghouls appeared, all dressed in matching black suits emblazoned with the elemental symbols they are known by and silver horned masks. Papa was in full costume and kicked off the theatrical performance with 'Square Hammer' and the epic headbanger 'From the Pinnacle to the Pit'.
The whole room was in the palm of his hand as he incited cheers and screams with just a motion of his fingers. Striding back and forth the stage, making wide, sweeping hand gestures, Papa is a showman of the first degree and kept the audience engaged like a preacher at a tent revival show. After a few songs, he introduced two nuns, the night's "sisters of sin" and condemned them to the pits and aisles to interact with the crowd. He left the stage briefly for a quick costume change and returned wearing a more casual gothic-style tuxedo. The show continued on as the band played songs spanning their three albums and there wasn't a dull moment in the entire set. Unlike most metal shows, there were no hair windmills, screams or headbanging; the Ghouls wandered around the stage, occasionally stepping up onto the monitors and making their soaring guitar licks look effortless. They are all excellent musicians and a very tight band and Dave Grohl is even rumoured to have dressed up and secretly drummed with them. Papa took a few breaks between songs to make stage banter and made a point of expressing his distaste for the results of the American Election the night before.
They finished the set with the song 'Ritual' from their debut album and the Ghouls stood out front of the stage taking a bow like actors in a play. An audience member handed Papa Emeritus a bouquet of roses and before he even made it off the stage the crowd was chanting for one more song. He took a sip of water and said "You think we are done? You think we would leave you with a shit ending like that?" The band doesn't take themselves too seriously. He then launched into a sermon about the wonders of the female orgasm, comparing the show to a long night of love-making and had a heart to heart with a fan in the front row who was having their "first time". The Ghouls returned for the encore, the inn-chocked 'Monstrous Clock' off their second album, which they always use to finish the show. The crowd were certainly leaving satisfied that night. Their North American tour ends in Brooklyn tomorrow night, but if you get the chance to see them in the future, definitely take it! Even if you aren't a metal fan, their music is pretty accessible and light for the genre, maybe even closer to hard rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Either way, the theatrical aspect of the performance and energy of the crowd alone is enough to make it worthwhile.