There’s really something about Ghost that is infectious and devilish. From the first time I heard their music in 2010/2011 when I was researching the bands opening for Alcest. I was way into faerie metal and the French post black metal outfit had my enamour, and reading about this Satanic pop band that was opening for them, I was even more interested in the show.
I purchased their first album Opus Eponymous and for the first time I kinda felt like someone had really gotten into my mind. I’ve always loved metal, spooky things, and of course the devil, but more than anything else I’ve always had this admiration for comedy and laughter and I felt like Ghost combined all of those things into this gloriously beautiful sound. They had a Satanic sensibility that blended a touch of theatrical metal with pop music, and these almost hilariously bad costumes. The incongruous nature of the costumes against the crooning music was so outlandish that I immediately fell in love.
Unfortunately, Ghost was unable to secure visas for their tour with Alcest, so I was insanely disappointed when I wasn’t able to see them on that first tour, but my love of their music stuck and only a year later, Ghost opened for Mastodon and Opeth and I got to see them for the first time. They played a stripped down 25 minute set, and only about a dozen people looked up from their beers and their crossed arms to enjoy the ritual. I remember this concert because even Mastodon and Opeth just seemed adorable after watching Ghost play.
A year after this, Ghost got a little bigger and headlined their own tour, and by proxy introduced me to Ides of Gemini, their opener, and cemented a friendship with J. Bennett and Sara from Ides that goes on to this day. I attended that show dressed in a terrible nun costume and it got me the attention of Papa. Not to sound like a total hipster, but this was before it was so commonplace to dress in costumes and corpse paint and attend Ghost’s live shows.
I remember the deafening roar of “Monstrance Clock” closing out the night, and I remember yearning so badly to see Ghost again. In 2016 I shot photographs for their show in Vancouver, and I wrote in the article there, the same history that I am writing now. In 2016 I wrote that watching Ghost in a sold out venue was a glow up from the rinky dink homemade costumes and twenty minute sets. The 2016 show filled me with this immense amount of pride, this admiration of having watching this Swedish act grow from something small into something huge.
Now here in 2019, three years later, I write again about Ghost, and I feel like I may not have the words to express the feeling in my throat and in my belly that washed over me the moment Tobias Forge took the stage dressed as the Cardinal on September 21, 2019 in Penticton, BC. There was this easy, practiced nature, this prideful stride that he had, and it made my throat feel tight with pride, and with that admiration that has followed my love of Ghost.
In an early interview, Tobias stated he wanted Ghost to be this big Satanic arena rock band that everyone had somehow missed, and September 21, 2019 saw that statement realized.
The Ultimate Tour Named Death is a huge arena show. The cathedral set, the stairs, the stained glass, the incense, the inumerable costume changes, a saxophone solo, and a mini tricycle are just a few of the features. Gone are the homemade costumes that looked someone’s mother ran them up based on a Butterick pattern replaced with beautifully tailored outfits. Gone is the 20 minute set, replaced with a near two hour run time.
But what isn’t absent is that energy, and of course that ridiculously catchy music that has seen Ghost get commercial rock radio play for singles like “Square Hammer”, “Rats”, and “Danse Macabre”.
The gothic sounding singer songwriter openers like Marissa Nadler and Ides of Gemini are now replaced with theatrical and chaotic acts like Nothing More. I was unfamiliar with this act, with their unhinged live show, but like the meeting with Ides of Gemini, I desire to know more about Nothing More.
As someone who has lost a lover to drug overdose, their song “Jenny” had me emotional, my throat raw with impotent sadness and grief.
This tour stop felt like a victory lap. It felt like a homecoming. It felt fucking amazing. On this week’s podcast episode, we talk more at length about this, but I have to say that beyond anything else – this tour isn’t one to miss.
If you’re a long time fan, if you’re new to the band, there’s going to be something in this show for you to take away. The setlist is long, going from the wicked nursery rhyme “Ashes” to the explosive “Rats” and “Absolution”, spanning through Ghost’s career. Songs like “Satan Prayer”, “Devil Church”, “Ritual” and “Year Zero” conjure that dark Satanic imagery and make it manifest. I’ve seen it said many times in the online metal blogosphere that Ghost aren’t really Satanic or really a metal band and my question is this – isn’t it the most Satanic thing to get drunk wine moms out to an arena show screaming every word to “Satan Prayer”, than ministering only to the black leather clad brethern that makes up much of the online metal discourse?
Isn’t that the ultimate normalization of Satanism? The true ideal that Anton LaVey sought with his blonde Satanic witches? I don’t know that Ghost ever truly wanted to be a metal band – Tobias himself has stated many times that his musical influences have included many decidedly not metal performers – Tori Amos, King Crimson, etc. But I think the question of whether they are a metal band or not isn’t an important one.
The answer, for many, I think can be found by simply attending one of their shows. I’ve talked many times before on this site and on our podcast about how tight Ghost’s performances are, how perfectly choreographed, and how beautiful. While dollars may have bought a bigger set, pyrotechnics, glitter cannons and expensive outfits, what has not changed with Ghost is this sense of camraderie, this ethereal bond that connects the concert goers – the old fans, the new fans, the long hairs in smelly patched up vests, the wine moms, Cindy from accounting, the Satanists, and of course us – we share something at the Ghost show, and I think I figured out what it is – a sense of brokenness and a sense of faith restored. Many of the lyrics of Ghost songs contain references to being an outcast, someone loved and accepted by the devil, revelling in darkness. These are songs for the island of Satanic Misfit toys, but rather than dwelling in the sadness of being an outcast, Ghost offers up a sense of pride in the label, an acceptance, and that is what connects people. The show is silly, it’s lighthearted, and yet, even through it all, I found myself so fucking grateful to have been able to experience it, once again.
To be granted the honor to take photographs for this band that has been a part of my life for almost ten years now, has been the highest privilege. Thank you to Tobias, the ghouls, Ola, Carla, and everyone else who helps us to have these experiences.
And all I can leave you with is the highest recommendation – if you have the chance to see this tour, see it. Even if you may not be a fan. It just might change your mind.
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