GHOST’s Black Mass Boils Over at the Murat Theatre, and We Loved Them for It
If nothing else, you have to give metal credit for its cathartic qualities. After all, there are few places left in the world besides the internet where people can impotently rage at the universe. Still, there’s quite a few bands than have moved beyond that. It’s not that they’ve stumbled into True Art, or anything. Rather, it’s because they’ve discovered a certain playfulness to go with the rage. GHOST is one of these bands, and a good one irrespective of genre alignment. I know this because they proved it to me at the Murat Theatre on the 30th.
Like many bands plying the death metal circuit, GHOST hails from Sweden. Of course, since Sweden is the genre’s homeland, this is hardly surprising. Of course, where GHOST is concerned, this mention is only to note the stylistic origins of their sound. And origins are all they are, because while GHOST stays quite firmly in the metal arena, they aren’t averse to a little experimentation.
One of the first things that really made an impact was GHOST’s set dressing. While many bands, especially metal bands, go for elaborate stage shows GHOST was a little subtler. Now, it’s not as if they went for a minimalist look, not exactly anyway, but they did keep the set simple. The focus was a gigantic white riser, similar in design to the stairs leading up to the sacristy in a Catholic church. The entire thing was stark white, and usually lit by stage lights projecting that exact same color. Really, the most elaborate part of the set were the mock stained-glass windows, depicting various apocalyptic scenes, that comprised the backdrop.
Like any good set, all this served to underscore and enhance their music. And what music! Even in its basic form, GHOST’s music isn’t content to be straight death metal. The usual makers of the genre are in place, sure, snapping distorted riffs with the bass all the way up and occasional growling vocal. However, there was more to it than all that.
Most prominently, there was a soaring, anthemic quality that recalled the progressive rock of the seventies. Yet, I’d be hesitant in labeling GHOST progressive metal. Likewise, they certainly know their way around a catchy hook and they know the value of a melodic interlude. In fact, there’s a strong pop base to their sound overall, but I certainly wouldn’t call them pop. Classification aside, the elements they use combine into sound that, while not the most distinctive, is nonetheless a pleasure to listen to.
Now, one of the things that strikes one immediately about GHOST is their subversive sense of humor. For example, their satanic lyrics and black mass imagery is totally in jest. And it makes up the majority of their act. Likewise, lead singer Tobias Forge makes a point of joking with the audience. Where this comes into the act is in the mini-skits the band puts on. In this particular show, for instance, two of the guitar players, in their bright silver devil masks and formfitting dove-tailed tuxes, had an impromptu riff-off. Each played showier more complex riffs in an attempt to outdo their other, only for one of them to break out in Black Sabbath’s distinctive “Iron Man” riff. Of course, he promptly left the stage in shame after ripping off a great classic.
Something like this offers the audience a break from the intensity of music and paces the show. Plus, at the risk of stating the obvious, humor is an excellent way to connect with one’s audience. Something that a few performers would do well to remember.
One of the most memorable parts of the performance was the last set before the encore. Not that the showmanship hadn’t been impressive up to that point, reaching a pre-climax high in fact when GHOST showered the audience with confetti, but this gesture seemed directed at the music nerds in the audience. With an announcement form Forge, the band broke into Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts”, which while not exactly obscure, isn’t that kind of song that just anybody would recognize. Speaking personally, they earned my respect with that gesture.
While no one can say that GHOST breaks new ground, they put on one hell of a show (no pun intended). There really is much to love here and even more to be excited about. If they happen to play your hometown, go and see them. The show is well worth the price of admission.
Keep listening, everybody.