Heard the one about the Episcopalian who went to a Satanic metal show?
He wasn’t excommunicated, his head didn’t rotate 360 degrees and he wasn’t even turned into a newt.
Instead, he was taken back to the theatrical rock of his youth–Alice Cooper immediately sprang to mind–and rejoiced at the fact that the tradition continues on.
I would say, “Can I get an AMEN!” but maybe that’s not the appropriate response given that I was witnessing a Ghost show.
Ghost, for the uninitiated, consists of a group of musicians that are simply referred to as Nameless Ghouls. Throughout the entire show, they wear masks that have horns and no mouths.Joining them on stage is a singer who goes by the name of Papa Emeritus III. Papa wears skull makeup, dresses like the Antipope and sings about Lucifer and Beelzebub and all sorts of quasi-serious sacrilegious mumbo jumbo.
He is a charismatic frontman, even without the garb. Papa moves gracefully, almost like a dancer, making small, fluid gestures that go against the metal grain, totally unlike the cock-rock posturing of a Dave Lee Roth or the bombastic presence of a Bruce Dickinson. Likewise, his voice is understated–no Dio or Halford banshee wailing here–but clear and precise, full of melody and riding just above the music. And his deadpan monologues during the shows are more than worth the price of admission.
Truly, it’s all in great fun, like watching an old black-and-white horror movie with a heavy metal soundtrack. In fact, the only thing really Satanic about this show was the price of the beer at the bar.
Naturally, the evening’s ritual began ominously, with the backward chanting of Jocelyn Pook’s “Masked Ball” (lifted, appropriately, from Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 movie Eyes Wide Shut) giving way to the new single, “Square Hammer,” played a little harder than the studio version, and the devilishly dynamic “From the Pinnacle to the Pit.”
From there, the evening went all over the sonic spectrum. Sure, there were the expected tritone-heavy Sabbath riffs of “Per Aspera ad Inferi” and the magnificent four-on-the-floor mid-tempo “Cirice.” But there was also the pop metal of “Absolution,” with its coda straight out of late 70s FM radio; the trippy, proggy singalong, “Monstrance Clock,” to end the night; and the anthemic ballad “He Is,” which wore down the audience’s smartphone batteries faster than the Devil being kicked out of heaven.
Sadly, the show fell short of transcendent. I don’t know whether it was the fact that they were blowing the cobwebs off on the first night of the tour, but things were just a little off–the set list, the pacing, a blown mic cue here, a flubbed lighting plot there. And maybe it was the venue itself. Even at its best, The Armory is a cavernous beast devoid of soul, and the fact that it was a third to half full made it hard even for Papa to build the energy that such a show demands.
But even an off night with Papa and the Ghouls is a great guilty pleasure and more fun than we mere humans here on earth should be allowed to have.