GHOST | LIVE REVIEW
Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Sat 25 Mar
Incense smoulders, Gregorian chants drone and black clad figures solemnly bow to one another as they dress the stage ahead of Ghost’s sold out return to south Wales, bringing their Satanic shock and awe back for the first time since a support slot to Alice In Chains in 2013.
Such theatrics are all part of the immense fun of a Ghost show and are merely the tip of the mitre. The crowd certainly play their part; amidst the beer-marinated metalheads, a scantily clad nun breezes past a man in full papal garb, who poses for photos with a pair of decidedly home-made looking spectres, giggling beneath their bedsheets. More fun is to be had at the merch desk, where it becomes clear that it is not just the facepaint and dramatics that Ghost have borrowed from KISS (clearly their ability to brand and flog almost anything has proven an influential concept): Ghost’s congregation can shell out for anything from replica Nameless Ghoul masks to Ghost-branded prophylactics.
All of which is merely window-dressing, if the music isn’t up to scratch, but this is most definitely not a problem in Ghost’s case. Their 90-minute set is packed full of quality, from boldly chosen opener Square Hammer, their biggest hit to date, right through to closer Monstrance (an ode to fornication, dedicated gleefully to the female orgasm, this might be the only song they play tonight which is not expressly written about Satan). Those unfamiliar with Ghost might expect their sound to be the very embodiment of crushing metal, but, although there are riffs aplenty, they rarely tip into anything traditionally ‘heavy’. Devilishly catchy hooks are preferred to bruising breakdowns and the addition of organs and choral backing vocals keeps the sound ‘on-brand’.
The calibre of the songwriting is matched by a fantastically choreographed and spectacularly delivered stage show. Dry ice shrouds the group throughout and confetti rains down during numbers like Mummy Dust. The five Nameless Ghouls who make up the band rock out on marble-effect podiums, robed in matching black garb with horned, metallic masks, while their diabolic leader, Papa Emeritus III pontificates from a platform at the back of the stage. As a frontman, he is charisma incarnate and, somehow, without breaking character, manages to convey both a rock-star aura to die for and the sense that he is struggling to get the words out, since his tongue is so firmly wedged in his cheek. All these elements combine to create the sense that for pure theatrical escapism nobody does it better than Ghost.
words and photos HUGH RUSSELL