It was a long wait for the new Ghost album. Well, actually it was only eight months between the end of the Meliora touring cycle and the release of the new album Prequelle, and there was even the live album Ceremony & Devotion in between, but if you’re addicted to a band, eight months are a VERY a long time. The weeks from one little teaser video to the next seemed to drag on endlessly, and my friends and I spent way too much time trying to figure out when the first show might be – the debut of Cardinal Copia, the newly appointed singer -, when to take days off in advance just in case, how we might arrange travels to Sweden at very short notice if such a show should happen, how much money one might need for that…
But nothing happened, at least not in Sweden or anywhere else on this continent. Ghost focused completely on the United States, and the first shows happened less than a week after I returned home from my US vacation – even though I had tried my best to time the trip right for a potential Ghost tour, but the announcement simply came too late. I’m not gonna lie, there was a period when I got really frustrated with Ghost… not even so much because missing out on everything was so disappointing (I tried my best not to be too selfish, it’s their choice where they want to play, and someone’s always going to miss out…) but mostly because everything they did had this stale aftertaste of commercialism. Yes, the days when Ghost was an obscure underground band are clearly gone, and the speed at which those days have vanished is actually scary… Welcome to rock’n’roll fame, and business. At some point all I could do was to shut the internet off for a while and to stay away from any Ghost news, to do nothing but listen to the music instead – especially the new single Rats -, to remind me why I had fallen so deeply in love with this band… In the end, it’s all about the music, and the downside of the theatrical side of Ghost and the ‘cult’ that surrounds the band is that it sometimes makes you forget this very simple fact.
It all changed though when the tour started for real, and the first pictures and videos of the shows surfaced. So much to discover, so many new members! An ‘allround ghoul’ in the background, quickly dubbed ‘Multighoul’ by the fandom. Oh hey, not one but two female keyboardists and backing vocalists who got quite the moves – welcome Ghoulettes! Look, ex-Water is on lead guitar now, and damn those solos sound good! Ah, Aether is Aether as before, but is he even still called Aether – what do we call the Ghouls now, now that the element symbols are gone? And how do you like the Cardinal’s suit? And the other suit? And the other…? It didn’t take long and my excitement was back to the max. Then Prequelle came out, and even though I was prepared for the worst, I loved it from the very first listen….
Just while I listened to Prequelle for the very first time together with my friends on the night before the official release (*cough* leak *cough*) and dissolved into a puddle of emotions, an announcement appeared on the band’s facebook page. Acoustic set in Berlin, plus signing session, in one week’s time. Getting the day off at such short notice was tricky, but I did everything I could, and a week later, I found myself queuing outside the Prince Charles club in the summer sun of Berlin along with my friend. If we hadn’t been excited before, now we certainly were!
But of course the best things never turn out as you expect them to. A few minutes before doors were supposed to open, a guy came out of the venue and put a sign up. Message from the clergy… Acoustic set cancelled… Q&A with Tobias Forge instead. What? Some people in the queue got incredibly angry… I was mostly sad, because being able to hear the acoustic set would have been incredible, but I was also nervously excited for what we were about to witness.
On entering the venue, we had to hand in our phones and cameras, no footage of the event was supposed to leak out. And after some more endless waiting, Tobias finally came on stage with a host. Having met him out of costume several times, it still felt unreal to see him sitting and talking in the spotlights of a stage. He was asked questions by the host and then by the audience, covering pretty much every topic from which guitar amps are used in the studio to whether Papa Nihil might have fathered a secret bastard son… A lot of what was said you will probably have heard or read before if you keep up on Ghost interviews, but there were many nice bits and details in there too. My favourite part was Tobias’ explanation on how to write a Ghost song: Just write an Abba song and then add some syncopes by moving the individual parts back and forth! All in all a very insightful hour with Tobias, and then of course as a cherry on top his signing session. I would still have preferred the acoustic set over the Q&A (remember? It’s all about the music…), and meeting Cardi C in costume would have been cool! But this was nobody’s fault, and I appreciate that they tried to make the most out of this unfortunate situation. It was really an amazing experience!
Two weeks later, we finally (finally!) got our chance to see the band on stage since Ghost did a run of festivals over the summer. Along with my friends, I was able to attend four of them. From smaller, more intimate festivals (Dynamo Metal Fest and Copenhell) to the biggest stages of the European metal scene (Graspop Metal Meeting and Wacken Open Air), set times ranging from 60 to 90 minutes, Ghost playing in the brightest sunshine or in the middle of the night – four festivals, four countries, four completely different experiences. The process is always the same though: get your ass out of bed as early as possible, drive to the festival, fight for a barrier spot, and once you have it, don’t leave it ever again, even if that means burning in the sun and getting killed by crowdsurfers all day long. I’m very lucky that I have great friends who are as mental about this as me, because doing it as a team makes it so much easier and more bearable!
I can’t go into detail on each festival, but here’s a summary of my impressions:
Copenhell was the only festival that got 90 minutes, and the only one that felt like a full, coherent, well-paced show. There was time to breathe, time for the band to slow things down and take a break on If you have ghosts… The opposite was Graspop with a very rushed 60 minute set. The other two were okay with 75 minutes, but of course you want more! More Ghost! More songs from the new album is what I would have wanted (personally, I would choose Pro Memoria over He Is any time…), but of course many of the old favourites were dearly missed as well. But that’s what festivals are like, and I think Ghost found a good compromise. Despite the different directions of the albums, all the songs old and new fit very well together in the live set, and who would have thought that the weird instrumental Miasma would turn out to be one of the highlights of the set, with Papa Nihil coming out to perform the saxophone solo? Still, I can’t wait to see the ‘real thing’, the full show very soon!
The Ghouls (and Ghoulettes!)
Cardinal Copia has a team of seven musicians on stage with him now, to be able to use less backing tracks and play and sing more live instead. Some of them have been with the band before, some are new blood, but all of them do a lot more than just play their parts. Some prefer jumping to the sky (rhythm guitar Ghoul), some prefer headbanging and stomping holes into the stage (lead guitar Ghoul), some shake their hips just as much as their tambourines (Multighoul and the Ghoulettes). There are the more obvious games, like the guitarists doing their little guitar solo battle before Cirice (poor rhythm Ghoul loses every single time…), or the more hidden things like the Ghouls adjusting each other’s ties in the background while the Cardinal does a speech. Or Multighoul standing in his corner of the stage being living proof for the common phrase that a guitar is the extension of a man’s penis. 😉 Wherever you look, there is always something going on, and you will probably miss most of it, because it’s impossible to give all these Ghouls and Ghoulettes the attention they deserve. No need even to talk about how flawless they sound, these people always deliver a great show, and I have to say that getting used to yet another new Ghost line-up couldn’t have been easier!
On contrary to the musicians, I have to admit that the new front figure had a much harder job to win my favour. Where his predcessor, Papa Emeritus III, was a magnificent and charismatic appearance in his elaborate outfits and the dazzling black and white face paint, ‘Cardi C’ looks very plain in his simple black suit (no outfit changes at the festivals!) and the almost paint-free mask. Only the spotlights can help in putting a focus on him (at a daylight show like Graspop not even that though), but apart from that he has to rely solely on his performance to get the attention of the audience. And with seven Ghoul(ette)s around him, filled to the brim with sass and energy, that is truly no easy task! But, as I found, that’s exactly what defines this Cardinal: He isn’t the effervescent LOOK-AT-ME! kind of frontman, he is rather the one who will slowly, time after time, creep into your focus (riding in the shadows behind you, pale white horse or not…), and from there into your heart. Over the course of these four rituals, he finally found his way into my heart at least, and I guess he’s here to stay…
Whoever is responsible for the visual design of Ghost’s shows clearly deserves a medal or five. The band are black figures in front of the snow-white stage setup which looks absolutely stunning in a very tasteful combination of colourful lights and white smoke, with pyro effects staying the exception (instead of overusing it like some other bands do) and therefore creating special accents as highlights in the show. The lights (or the sunlight…) are reflected by the chrome masks, so the Ghouls look simply incredible! The overall image will leave you standing there staring at the stage with an open mouth and admiring all the beauty of this show.
You get the idea: There’s so much to see! So many Ghouls to watch, so many lights to admire, so much Cardinal to pay attention to. The visual aspect of these shows is so strong that I caught myself more than once not even really listening to the music anymore, because it’s all too much to take in. In these moments, you need a proper heavy riff or a phenomenal guitar solo blasted right into your face, to wake you up and to remind you that – I’ve said it before – it’s all about the music… Fortunately, Ghost’s songs have plenty of these moments!
But, you know what, of course it’s not all about the music. Ghost is about everything. About the songs, yes, and about the great sound they had at least at three of these four festivals (the fourth was Wacken, and that’s where every band sounded shit. Except for Gojira. But that’s a different story… 😉 ). But of course also about the show, the performance, the ritual, the cult, the costumes and that weirdo Cardi dude who talks slightly too much about orgasms. If you have Ghost, you have truly everything, and that’s why their shows are so much more than just some gigs. More than any other band I’ve seen, they soak you into a different world, a world of Nameless Ghouls and their leader, a world of riffs and melodies and lights and smoke and fire and glittering masks. Ghost’s rituals, even if they’re only short festival sets, will put you in a state of euphoria on which you will either keep floating for days and weeks, or from where you will crash very hard to the floor when everyday life has you back the day after.
As much fun (and stress) as we had, I’m very happy though that the festival times are over now, because this means that fall is approaching, and that’s when Ghost will bring the full set and the full show (and ALL of Cardi’s suits! 😉 ) back on the road for A Pale Tour Named Death. Next stop: Royal Albert Hall!