GHOST (Live)

at the O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., December 16, 2015

GHOST (Live at the O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., December 16, 2015)
Photo: Mick Burgess

The fusion of Rock and theatre is nothing new. KISS, Alice Cooper, The Tubes and Marilyn Manson have all brought theatrical elements to their shows over the years to create a visual extravaganza that took their performance into an altogether different zone than the average, run of the mill concert.

Likewise, Rock has flirted with the occult going right back to Bluesman Robert Johnson’s deal with the devil in the 1930s to the pioneering shock Rock of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in the mid 1950s to the tolling of the bell and the thunderstorm on the on the opening track of Black Sabbath’s debut album and onto the controversy of the Black Metal scene that grew from Newcastle’s very own Venom.

Sweden’s Ghost have taken the theatrical element one step further and blended it with imagery from the darkside, and that’s no timely reference to Star Wars either. Their profile went stratospheric when their debut album Opus Eponymous, was touted by the likes of Dave Grohl and Metallica’s James Hetfield as the next big thing and with their third album Meliora crashing into the US Top 10, Ghost have well and truly arrived.

One thing’s for sure, The O2 Academy has never quite seen anything like this. With incense candles burning to the sound of ghostly choirs, spooky lighting and a huge stained glass window backdrop behind a stage set at multiple levels this was more akin to watching the Omen than a Rock ‘n’ Roll show. Frontman Papa Emeritus III complete with skull-like face paint and bishop’s robes cut a striking figure alongside the band, the nameless ghouls, decked in black with matching silver demon masks.

With such a demonic image you’d be forgiven for thinking that musically Ghost would spew out a rather grotesque take on Black Metal with Cookie Monster growls, guttural screeches all backed by a cacophony of unholy noise. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Papa Emeritus III’s clean, smooth and understated vocals wouldn’t be out of place on a Moody Blues record and the layers of smooth harmonies drifting over He Is, could well have come straight from the pen of the Mamas and The Papas.

Musically Ghost have much in common with American legends Blue Oyster Cult from the haunting melodies with a slightly sinister undertow to the soaring guitar harmonies and dynamics. At times the progressive side of Boston and Kansas surface on the likes of Absolution where the guitar orchestration soars to a different plane and when combined with those huge Swedish Pop hooks makes for one impressive song. Just one listen to that chorus will stay with you for months. Could Ghost have a hit single on their hands?

The thunderous riff to Ritual and From The Pinnacle To The Pit showed that Ghost can stand shoulder to shoulder with the real heavyweights without ever forgoing their melodic roots while the dramatic Year Zero complete with grandiose choral backing and the stage bathed in blood red lighting sees Ghost at their most Gothic.

Papa Emeritus III abandoned his robes half way through the set to bring a more rakish Zombie Victorian gentleman slant to the performance and he hammed it up magnificently. With tongue planted firmly in cheek his banter with the crowd lightened the mood somewhat.

As Monstrance Clock rounded off the show with the most eerie singalong you’ll ever hear, plumes of white smoke blew across the stage making you half expect Nosferatu to emerge from the shadows.

While the whole hype surrounding the band may put some off, strip away the costumes and imagery and Ghost just happen to possess an excellent collection of superbly crafted songs that may surprise many and they may arguably be one of the most exciting bands to emerge over the last few years.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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