The Reno Event Center houselights were incrementally turning off, but the eerie Latin choir music persisted last Saturday night. The crowd was getting happily anxious and the security staff repeatedly mentioned how “secretive Ghost have been.”
The Swedish band’s epic 21-song concert started exactly like its new album, “Prequelle.” A small child’s voice weakly chanted a medieval version of “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” before an eruption of guitars, keyboards and drums. The curtain fell and revealed seven Nameless Ghouls and Ghoulettes preparing for the arrival of their leader, Cardinal Copia.
Copia is the current character played by frontman Tobias Forge (formerly Papa Emeritus). Ghost is a supercharged amalgamation of parts of his former groups (death metal band Repugnant and Subvision, a rock group with fluid genre).
Even though Forge’s first album was Kiss’ “Love Gun,” Ghost is so much more than “a band that dresses up.” Musically, it is an original hybrid of metal, pop, prog and arena rock. And socially, the players truly push boundaries of acceptance and free speech.
The band’s ethos possibly derived as backlash against Forge’s stern religious upbringing. Despite the lyrics being drenched in Luciferian vernacular, these people aren’t satanists. That would be too easy. Their pursuit is to be positive and uplifting while supporting whatever you want, even if it’s the devil. I love Ghost because there’s something beautiful about singing about Satan in Latin, but they take it a step further with the inclusion of positivity pop.
They kept with the chronology of their bubonic-themed concept album and played the leading single “Rats.” The song’s lyrical compares the plague to the world’s current political turmoil. He compares certain beliefs to disease with the elegance of Kansas and the evil of Black Sabbath.
A common theme of the music is to present biblical verbiage through the mouth of Satan or the Grim Reaper. “Prequelle” turned the music in an arena rock direction and it worked. I never thought I would speak those words.
The most sensational part is watching Ghost take those new wings and fly from arena to arenas around the globe, from a cult black-metal following to opening for Iron Maiden to putting on two-hour extravaganzas with the audience left still wanting more.
Ghost’s frontman simply has a way with the audience. Between songs, Forge builds a casual rapport that allows him to reveal a silly side that balances the satanic metal perfectly. The thicker his accent is or the more terse or nerdy he acts, the more comical the bit. To introduce the self-deemed heaviest song “Mummy Dust,” he asks if “they’re ready to have their taints tickled?”
Ghost played both songs off its 2019 release “Seven Inches of Satanic Panic.” I was thrilled they played “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a dark ballad that somehow masterfully drops into a surf-vibe. It was sandwiched between both instrumental tracks off the newest release. Both “Helvetesfönster” and “Miasma” are intricate and powerful, but the latter cycles through genres of music like Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder” and ends in an epic saxophone solo performed onstage by Papa Nihil, another character in Ghost’s universe.
In addition to exposed, powerful music, Ghost also excels in the art of the cover. From “I Am A Marionette” By ABBA to Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche,” from Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” to Depeche Mode’s “Waiting For The Night,” Ghost has a way of highlighting the evil in songs that appear saccharine at first listen, while also putting the brakes on their own driving metal, giving Forge, the mastermind, a wider palate to titillate his listeners.
Ghost found a way to live in campiness with just enough virtuosity, drama and compelling content to back it up.
Ghost serves as Forge’s cryptic journal, a playground for him to maneuver through his favorite musical genres, and a confessional to the devil — a lord like any other, one you can twist to be positive or negative. The pursuit to be good is for the believer, not the worshiped.
— Tony Contini