GHOST - Ham at a BBQ? Roasting & Well Done!

May 21, 2018, a year ago

Mark Gromen

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So Papa Emeritus is dead? The ultimate FU to the Papacy replaced by the lower hanging fruit of Cardinal Copia, now leading the band of Nameless Ghouls. Unlike the rest of their tour, the unholy Swedes were not headlining, but rather part of long running Philly FM rock affiliate WMMR's annual, day-long outdoor party/concert. Thus there were a lot of Ghost virgins in the crowd. Getting close to double digits now, but the first time BraveWords saw the band was in Helsinki, as part of the Finnish Metal Expo, in Feb. 2011. Since then, been many changes, and not just at lead Pontiff. The Nameless Ghouls (backing band) have gone from simple, cloth masks, to elaborate metal sculpted heads (even moreso, on the current tour). Seen them open for Iron Maiden, outdoors, in Germany, as well as playing in all-white (looking like Star Wars stormtroopers), as part of Metallica's ill-fated Orion Festival. What a long strange trip it's been, getting to the MMR*B*Q , sandwiched between ‘90s stalwarts Stone Temple Pilots and the headlining Alice In Chains, although Ghost greatly had to curtail their show, allotted just 50 minutes.

Ghost has not always been well received, especially in non-metal circles. Mainstream audiences don't seem to understand, which is why the switch of frontman characters is a head scratcher. There's some naughty charm in the shtick being delivered by the big mahoff. It loses some of the impact, when it's just a Vatican underling, a persona that does afford Tobias Forge more mobility around the stage. However, that was of no consequence here, as apart from the staging, there were no inclinations of religion. Forge remained in black tux jacket (with tails), a Ghost emblem on the left breast pocket. His comical stage raps were kept in check and there were no costume changes. The cassock, asymmetrical biretta cap and thurible, the swinging, chain suspended incense burner, were all left in the road cases for the night. Only the backdrop, resembling the marble facade of an old church, complete with triple panes of stained glass, hinted at loftier goals. The band is now an octet, with two backing singers (one of whom occasionally augments the guitars to a threesome). Drummer and keyboardist are on separate, elevated brick risers. A staircase, descending to the stage floor, runs between them: a popular playground for Forge and bass playing Nameless Ghoul. 

Is it just me, or does Forge's new mask/make-up look like Odo, the shape shifter from Star Trek Deep Space Nine, played by René Auberjonois? As on the forthcoming Prequelle disc, a short, blue tinted "Ashes" intro kicks things off, leading right into punchy, guitar driven "Rats". Witness the power of the internet, as it's only available as an online video, yet the fans sang along, as if it were an old favorite. Speaking of oldies, as with their recent headlining gigs, "Absolution" comes next. With the time restriction, they had to juggle the setlist, but that still meant some unfortunate casualties. Typically left till much later in the set, "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" was up early. "Faith" leads into a red lit "Year Zero", the two guitarists together as plumes of smoke erupt across the stage. Throughout the evening, the guitarists periodically jump atop shadowboxes, at the front of the stage, attempting to earn some recognition, well, as much as is possible from behind a faceless mask.

The stage goes black, with piped in music, before the band returns under blue and white lights for "He Is", most in the crowd unaware of the simple, subversive lyrics. It's three across the front of the stage as organ plays and white spotlights from on high intersect at Cardinal Copia. A Slayerish evilness introduces the crimson lit "Cirice", as the Cardinal descends the stairs. The heavy plod of "Ritual", with its ominous voiceover, is accented by spotlights slicing through the pink hued stage. Newbie, but Net darling "Danse Macabre" is sung along like a big hit, the stained glass backdrop flashes, pulsating to the beat. The two guitarists strike a classic pose, leaning on each other, back-to-back. Final song of the night was "Square Hammer", complete with plenty of flashing lights and strobes. 

Second time in recent years that they've come to the Philly area and nixed the religious accouterments. As enjoyable as the show was, the (missing) visual element takes it to another (higher?) level.

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