On a balmy April evening, Ghost brought a chill to the air with a terrific performance straight from the underworld. Brighton Dome will have seen some strange sights over its long history, but never before has it seen anything like the wildly enjoyable, yet totally insane, show on display this night. Despite weather that had packed the parks and beaches of Brighton, black was the dress code inside the Dome, while some had chosen to wear the distinctive ‘Ghoul’ mask that the band are famous for. I came to the show keen to discover whether the music on display could match the terrific hype and stunning visuals that this band have become famous for, and I was pleasantly blown away.
First on stage were the Pittsburgh duo Zombi, both largely hidden behind their synths and drums. Clearly influenced by classic 80s horror director/composer John Carpenter, their sound was a little lost in the venue and it was a strange choice, in some ways, to open with them. There was nothing engaging or theatrical about their set, completely opposite to the main act to come. Each track was totally instrumental, with pounding drums driving it on, but it didn’t capture the full attention of the crowd, most of whom politely nodded and clapped at each piece’s conclusion.
Following their set, the theatricalities began a full 15 minutes before Ghost appeared, as joss sticks were lit and even the soundcheck was performed in character by men in robes, bowing solemnly before the crowd and stage. Religious (or anti-religious) themes were strong throughout, with a track of Gregorian-style chants bringing goosebumps while echoing around the venue, as the anticipation mounted. The very best metal acts, and of course the genre itself, has often been over the top but this took it to a delicious next level. As the chanting stopped and the lights fully dimmed, it became genuinely quite unsettling to be at the front of the crowd as the ‘Nameless Ghouls’ sprinted onto the stage. Masked with demonic faces, they could only be glimpsed through the thick dry ice as they dashed around the stage. The band operate under pseudonyms in total anonymity, and rumours persist that even the singer changes from album to album.
As they began with ‘Square Hammer’ from last year’s EP Popestar, frontman Papa Emeritus III emerged out of a particularly thick cloud of smoke and the spectacle truly began. Whilst the Ghouls ran at high speed around the stage, he glided serenely amongst them, dressed in his ‘anti-Pope’ outfit of flowing robes and papal hat with his face painted as a skull. Visually, they are incredible and fascinating to watch and, thrillingly, they have the songs to match as they are also phenomenal musicians.
This was their first gig in Brighton and, while a decent number of the crowd had seen them before, an overwhelming majority were having their first live Ghost experience. Each song was welcomed with delight and this warmth was returned in kind by the band. It was great to see such genuine mutual appreciation between the group and their fans. As they played highlights from their back catalogue, there were very special moments throughout, especially with the two guitarists effectively mirroring each other on either side of the stage. While in reality they have a slightly softer edge than many of their metal counterparts, the likes of ‘Cirice’ had a thrilling hard edge to it with riffs that reminded me of Metallica at their very best. ‘Year Zero’ followed and again ramped up the darkness with its Gothic chorus.
A lot of focus understandably rests on their image but, regardless of what outfits they wear, Ghost are still a very, very good hard rock band. ‘Zombie Queen’ in particular was magnificent, ending with Papa Emeritus singing from the top of one speaker while the three guitarists rocked out side-by-side. As their fame continues to grow and their production budgets increase, seeing a Ghost show will surely be at the top of the list for most rock fans, as the mind boggles at what kind of show they could put on in a venue like The O2. For those of us who caught this last night of the UK leg of a global tour, it will be one that sticks in the mind long afterwards. These particular Ghosts are what dreams, not nightmares, are made of.