Swedish occult metal sextet Ghost and their fans refer to the band’s live performances as “Rituals” and as I observed the line waiting to get into The Ritz this past Sunday, I was reminded of a ritual of my youth, namely midnight sing-along screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show — but in a good way. As with TRHPS, there’s a similar shared sense of community, of being in on something secret and forbidden, where the misfits can let their freak flags fly without fear if they so choose. Certainly, there were ranging degrees of fandom on display in Ybor City on this night, from Average Joes (and lots of Janes, with a much more even male-female ratio than you see at a typical metal show) in their Megadeth/King Diamond/Slayer concert tee-shirts, to folks that were clearly waaaay down with Old Scratch, including a Rasputin lookalike. Point being, Ghost is a band you can enjoy on a number of levels, be ye a full-fledged practicing Satanist or just somebody, like me, who enjoys a tight rockin’ band with a predilection for classic guitar tones and a penchant for great tunes featuring big hooks. [Text by Mark, photos by Tracy.]
The haunting strains of “Miserere mei, Deus,” a 17th century choral piece, filled the air, segueing into Jocelyn Pook’s supremely creepy “Masked Ball,” familiar to most from the soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut. Both selections feature re-purposed liturgical text, appropriate considering the rest of the evening’s entertainment.
The house lights dimmed. A roar erupted from the sizeable crowd that quickly grew to cataclysmic proportions as Ghost took the stage in the latest iterations of their stage costumes.
Throughout the show, both Ghouls and Papa were in near-constant motion back and forth across the stage, engaging with the audience and each other. Early on in the show, the lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, and bassist gathered together downstage in an inward-facing circle, and bathed in saturated light from the exceptionally well-designed LED lightshow, the three resembled nothing less than a trio of demons conjured from the depth of Hades. Looming behind the band was a towering backlit backdrop of faux stained glass with appropriate imagery rendered in Art Deco style, echoing the Metropolis-inspired theme of the band’s latest offering, Meliora.
From The Pinnacle To The Pit,” the latter featuring a menacing distorted bassline that shook The Ritz from foundation to rafters. “Ritual,” from Ghost’s debut Opus Eponymous, followed in short order and with its spoken mid-song incantation (“Our Father who art in Hell, hallowed be thy name…”) the band’s hellbent lyrical intent becomes clear to even the most clueless. But just as there are no doubt athiests who enjoy gospel music, so, too, can Ghost’s hymns to the unholy be savored without need for a blood offering to any cloven-hoofed manbeasts. The first of several show highlights was “Majesty,” Meliora’s ostensible centerpiece, featuring some decidedly prog rock-like twists and turns not unlike what you might find on a vintage Kansas or classic Genesis LP. In stylistic contrast, “He Is” (also from Meliora) is for all intents and purposes Ghost’s slow-dance power ballad. For the full throwback experience, many in the crowd hoisted lighters — actual lighters, not a Smartphone app — in tribute. “Mummy Dust,” already a scorcher on Meliora, took on a new urgency and thunderous power in a live setting, and it was in the midst of this blitzkrieg that Ghost unleashed their most malevolent sulfur-shrouded blasphemy: a keytar, upon which A Nameless Ghoul spun a spectral spell via vintage-style Moog sounds.
As the show drew to a close, Papa took a few moments to give a shout-out to Tampa, both for its humidity (no doubt a struggle for a bunch of Swedes in facemasks) and for its contributions to heavy metal. After all, this is the city that gave birth to true giants in the genre — Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Six Feet Under, Obituary, Genitorturers, Iced Earth, Savatage and the like. As Papa himself noted, it’s a list that could go on for some time: “If it wasn’t for these bands, we would not be here tonight.” With that homage, Ghost launched into their now-classic cover of Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts,” inspiring a rapturous sing-along from the audience. A brief exit from the stage and the band returned with an encore of “Monstance Clock” off Infestissumam. The song concludes with a repeated refrain of “Come together, together as a one/Come together for Lucifer’s son…” which again spurred the crowd to lift their voices like the worshipful congregation they were.
And with that, the house lights came up and the spell was broken. The faithful headed out into the night, the Ritual concluded.
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera ad Inferi
Body and Blood
Devil Church (instrumental)
If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson cover)