Ever been in a situation where all your friends are a fan of something and you feel left out? That’s kind of how I felt about Ghost — everyone’s favorite masked, satan-worshipping pseudo-metal band.
Look, I’m a huge fan of art-metal and horror rock bands like GWAR and The Misfits, but it took me a while to warm up to Ghost, largely because their albums don’t rock in the traditional sense. Ghost play melodic metal over ritualistic soundscapes, and their albums feature a blend of Greek Orthodox choir chanting, operatic vocals and non-traditional hard rock guitar work. In other words — power metal lite.
To try and assimilate, I bought their last two records and enjoyed a handful of the songs. I love the fact that they are a trying to be a “serious” satanic band, unlike the tongue-and-cheek variety of the late ‘90s and I appreciate that their music is unclassifiable. My challenge was to figure out why my friends, most of whom are true music snobs, were head over heels for these guys — not just fair-weather fans. I mean, Ghost won a fraking Grammy over Iron Maiden (who wasn’t even nominated). That should be sacrilegious in our circle.
My guess was that Ghost, like GWAR, was a band that I needed to experience live to truly enjoy. Hence, I made the trip up the street to the historic Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ and catch the band on their “Back to the Future” tour.
Live from the Wellmont Theater
A few words about the Wellmont Theater. I remember the Wellmont as a run down old movie theater catty cornered to the building that housed my two favorite stores in the world — Middle Earth Comics and Let it Rock. Back when I was in high school, the Wellmont was where you went to watch second-runs of cult movies, like “Kids” or “Pulp Fiction” and smoke pot and cigarettes. There was usually a creepy guy in the front row masturbating and most of Montclair’s homeless would congregate in the lobby. It was the ‘90s.
Today, the Wellmont has been restored to its former glory and serves as an upscale rock venue for major touring bands. It looks like a mini Hammerstein Ballroom and manages to feel both massive and intimate at the same time due to it’s huge stage and short setback. In other words, it was a great place to see a band on the cusp of becoming the next big thing.
The Shrine kicked off the show in front of a decent crowd of goths, hipsters, punks and norms. The Venice Beach trio tore threw a dozen or so doom rock-style tunes for about 45 minutes and kept the oddball crowd entertained, even though their sound was the polar opposite of what was to come. Someone told me The Shrine sound like a cross between Black Sabbath and Black Flag, but I would put them more in the vein of Pentagram with a little Black Rebel Motorcycle Club thrown in. They ware solid and kept everyone happy until the main event.
Ghouls night out
Ghost took the stage well before the witching hour and after two extended intro tracks of chanting. Oddly enough, what most of the crowd would call “creepy ambient music,” I would call “Sunday liturgy at St. George in Clifton,” but that’s neither here nor there. The nameless ghouls took their places in black demon masks while singer Papa Emeritus stood center stage in his demonic Pope outfit. Incense filled the room, along with smoke and red and green-colored washes of light and they kicked into “Spirit” and “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” the latter of which is probably my second favorite song by the band.
The lighting, the sound and the aura of the show were remarkable, as were Papa’s vocals and the technical proficiency of the ghouls. I love that the band contrasts uber-sacrilegious lyrics with a melody that most non-metal fans can appreciate. The showmanship of Papa is also second only to Mechanical Animals-era Marilyn Manson or any era of Rammstein. Watching the keyboardist seamlessly switch from a traditional upright to a keytar was just awesome and the group shredded on “Year Zero” and “Zombie Queen.” Even more impressive was “He Is,” a symphonic masterpiece that highlights Papa Emeritus’ vocal prowess and the ability for the band to mask evil amidst hauntingly beautiful music.
Pulling back the curtain
That said, there were a handful of things that I didn’t enjoy. First and foremost, the audience was awful. No one moved. Thousands of fans just stood there with their cameras in the air trying to videotape the whole show. To be fair, the crowd was a mixed bag, including a ton of non-typical metal fans. While I enjoyed not getting kicked in the head, the lack of excitement hurt the overall production. Second, when I listen to Ghost’s albums I pictured all the nameless ghouls uniting to sing the rich harmonies that pepper the records. Sadly, all the harmonies were piped in through the sound board, which led me to wonder what else was not real.
Finally, the whole production is so stunningly evil and sinister, but it all turns into b-rated camp when Papa Emeritus opens his mouth and starts talking — with his suave Swedish accent — about how lovely Montclair is and how much he enjoys female orgasms. Ghost is about suspension of disbelief and that goes to crap when the supreme evil overlord breaks character.
All in all, I fully enjoyed the show and Ghost’s live performance definitely fueled my appetite to revisit their albums. I loved the showmanship and all the members of the band rocked way harder live. Would I go see them again? I want to say I wouldn’t, but I can’t lie, I’m terrible under peer pressure.