Since the success of debut LP Opus Eponymous in 2010, much ink has been spilled discussing Swedish spectral oddities Ghost. Music journalists and angry internet metal nerds alike seem confounded when attempting to accurately describe a band whose members perform in elaborate costumes, and whose sound is a mélange of early metal riffs and gothic pop-inflected melody. Is this brilliant performance art, or cheap gimmickry? Is this real metal, or an impostor invoking Lucifer in order to curry favor from the TRVE KVLT flock? In a single word, Ghost are polarizing. No fan of heavy music holds an apathetic view; either Ghost are a unique breath of fresh air within a scene obsessed with strict adherence to orthodoxy, or they are goofy, image-obsessed charlatans unworthy of the metal moniker. For transparency’s sake, I fall firmly in the first camp; I’ve been a Ghost fan since the release of 2013’s Infestissumam, and had been looking forward to taking in a live Ghost experience, so I was pretty pumped when Bucketlist sent me to catch their show at Le Metropolis in Montreal.
Arriving early, I was shocked to see the colossal mob surrounding the Ghost merch table. The commercial frenzy looked like someone had released a biological weapon and the Ghost merch guy was the sole source of an antidote. After braving the masses and securing some dope swag, my crew absconded to the balcony in order to snag prime seats and take in opener Purson, a psychedelic rock band from London, England.
While numerous doom/stoner acts dip their toes into the psychedelic well, Purson are a full-on immersion in a bathtub of brown acid, far more informed by Jefferson Airplane and Cream than by Black Sabbath. The music is both groovy and ethereal, while retaining a driving rock backbone. Front-woman Rosalie Cunningham’s voice is bewitching, and the lead guitar work, shared by Cunningham and second guitarist George Hudson, is suitably dynamic and intricate. However, the true source of Purson’s energy is the rhythm section. Drummer Raphael Mura and bassist Justin Smith look like they could have fun at the DMV, and on stage they are as unflaggingly spirited as they are talented. Similar to Ghost, Purson pay attention to visual aesthetic; the entire band was dressed in such a way that you believed they’d been plucked off the main stage at Woodstock. Showing complete commitment to their 60s psych aura, keyboardist Samuel Robinson appeared completely disconnected with our particular plane of existence. It is amazing that someone can play the keys so competently while simultaneously communing with Earth Mother Gaia (who has presently taken the form of a miniature giant space hamster wearing a tuxedo). Kudos! Despite some feedback issues during the last tune, the band’s set was amply enjoyable.
As we waiting for Ghost to take the stage, we noticed the air in the venue had taken on the unmistakable scent of incense. Okay, nice touch dudes. As sound techs scurried to make final preparations for Papa Emeritus III and his Nameless Ghouls, the crowd had swelled to nearly capacity. Finally, the lights dimmed, the backdrop illuminated to reveal a giant stained-glass window, and choir music played over the house speakers. The Ghouls then took the stage to thunderous applause. After playing the first few bars of “Spirit,” the first song from Ghost’s newest record Meliora, Papa got on stage, wearing his now-famous anti-pope vestments. The crowd erupted as the band ripped through a number of tunes from the new record, including groovy headbanger “From the Pinnacle to the Pit.” The group was razor sharp, and Papa proved more than capable of reproducing in a live setting the vocal range and power displayed on Ghost’s recorded material.
While solid musicianship and cool imagery can make for a decent show, what pushes Ghost’s performance into the upper echelon is the attention to detail. Every move Papa made was deliberate, his gait and gesticulation constantly evoking the notion that he is a revered, unholy patriarch in the midst of giving mass. However, that is not to say the band takes themselves too seriously. Papa regularly addressed the crowd, cracking a few tongue-in-cheek jokes before launching into more tunes. After finishing “Body and Blood,” Papa introduced his “nuns,” two habit-wearing women who proceeded to give “communion” (read: shots) to the front row. “No touchy touchy!” proclaimed Papa before his nuns went to work. After a major costume change, Ghost played a mix of hits from both Meliora and Infestissumam including “Circe,” “Year Zero,” and “Absolution.” After a brief pause, the band returned to play an incredible acoustic version of “Jigalo Har Megiddo.” Ghost finished their set with a series of crowd pleasers, including personal favorite “Guleh/Zombie Queen,” a cover of Rocky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts,” and finally the penile-focused “Monstrance Clock.”
I hold a healthy suspicion toward the anti-intellectual group-think and false morality of organized religion, but there is something both powerful and indescribable within the all-encompassing collective sensory experience that is a Ghost concert that feels almost spiritual. Well, at least my church serves beer.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Isa Hoyos Ishca Photography
*edited by Kate Erickson