When it comes to metal, whether it be heavy, progressive, or the blackest of the black, you find those members of your family who are truly frightened by your love of the band and genre. We've all been called "Satan worshiper" at some point in our lives I am sure. We all shrug it off, put our headphones back in, and continue with our day. Metal has always made people uneasy, from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to Metallica, and even bands like Twisted Sister. It's just how it is, and everyone laughs it off.
Then, there's Ghost. A band that hails from Sweden, comprised of 5 nameless Ghouls, identified only by their symbols representing the elements: fire, water, wind, earth and ether, and their horrific leader, Papa Emeritus II. A band without human identity. The first band probably since KISS that has had people dying to know what lies under the masks and robes. The band that embodies literally everything those family members warned you about. Hell, this is the band you were warned about. You'll see why...
The day began breezy and sunny as we drove to the meet and greet that the band was doing at Zia Records. As we stood in line and the hour approached, the wind picked up, bringing in clouds, almost like an omen of what we'd be experiencing that night. As the wind continued momentum, the limo pulled into the parking lot. First came the Nameless Ghouls, and then Papa, dressed as Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. The crowd did not cheer, but took in a collective breath as the dream of meeting the band came to be a reality.
I approached the first Ghoul, the lead guitarist who's symbol was Fire, as the climax of "Infestissumam" played in the store. Having brought nothing for him to sign as far as memorabilia goes, I handed him my ticket. We locked eyes with a very pleasant "hello", and in them I could see the smile and excitement he had for the day. "How are you?" I asked, and the smile in his eyes grew, "Oh, I am always good. Thank you." It was a quick moment in time before having to move through the line onto the second Ghoul, their keyboardist, who's symbol was air. Again, I asked how he was. "I am just fine!" he responded with the same smile in his eyes and voice. "Are you excited for the show?" I asked. His eyes softened a bit with a nod and reply of, "Most of the time, yes. I am excited though. It is going to be nice. It is a great place. Thank you so much for coming." Then came the third Ghoul, the drummer, who's symbol stood for Earth. Before even acknowledging the ticket, he took my hand and asked my name. I smiled and spoke, wanting to ask the same, but knowing no response would be given. Before I could ask him of his day, he said, "It's so nice to meet you. How are you?", and I laughed. "I'm fine. You?" He laughed as well. "I'm fine. Are you from here?" I replied with a yes, and he laughed again. The fourth Ghoul was just as friendly as the third. It was the rhythm guitarist, who's symbol stood for ether or quintessence, depending on what you read. He sipped his beer and greeted me with one of the friendliest hellos I have ever heard. "Oh! You are coming to the show tonight?" He asked, taking my ticket and stamping his symbol in silver. "Yes," I replied. "I'm very excited. Are you excited as well?" His eyes glistened with a grin as he spoke very coyly, "I am always excited. It's always great here in Vegas. It's a great venue." Finally, I reached the fifth Ghoul, the bassist, who's symbol stood for water. "Hello," he said, "it is very nice to meet you." He seemed shy as he stamped my ticket. Then came Papa Emeritus II. His expression was harder to read than his bandmates, as his eyes were covered by dark aviator sunglasses. He greeted me with a kind handshake, covering my hand in both of his. I can count the amount of times I have been starstruck on one hand, and thanks to Papa, I am one finger closer to it being both hands. I managed to choke out, "It is so very nice to meet you." As he took my ticket he said, "You as well. Ah, is this your first time?" "It is!" I exclaimed. "I am very excited for the show." He chuckled a little, handing my ticket back to me and taking my hand again briefly. "It will rock."
And rock it did...
By the time we reached the venue, the weather had grown to cloudy and dark. We walked in to wait in the growing line so that we could experience the chaos that was likely to take place. Once we got in and past supporting band King Dude, a band that takes the blues rock, Johnny Cash sounding music to an even darker level, the crowd grew restless while the crew set up the stage that was laid out in front of the Cathedral, stained glass type of background.
Two incense burners were placed on each end of the House of Blues stage, engulfing the crowd in the smells of traditional Frankincense and Myrrh. Now, I'm not talking your cheap sticks of incense in a pretty flat burner here. I am talking of two very powerful things here. In the scene of the Nativity, Frankincense is given to Jesus as a symbol of importance, almost priestly. Myrrh was then used as a resin to anoint the body in death. An omen, if you will, to the Crucifixion. The smoke rose from the thuribles as the room darkened, lit only by red lights upon the stage. The song "Masked Ball" by Jocelyn Pook began. If you are familiar with the song, then you know it is a prayer, sung in Romanian. Translated to English it is: "And God told his apprentices, 'I gave you a command to pray to the Lord for the mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, the search, the leave, and the forgiveness of the sins of God's children. The ones that pray, they have mercy, and they take good care of this holy place.'" Now, that is only if the song is sung forwards. The version playing over the crowd was backwards. Some say that prayers said backwards make them Satanic. Whether this is true or not, I do not think matters, but it added the allure needed for the evening.
The Ghouls came onto the stage and broke into "Infestissumam". As the song built, Papa Emeritus II, this time in his full Pope getup, emerged onto the stage, greeting the crowd with his welcoming hand gestures. With ease, the band broke into "Per Aspera Ad Inferi", which loosely translates in English to "Through the rough to Hell." The crowd chanted along with Papa in unison. Hands pumping together as one, like you see in those commercials for CDs of Worship. The crowd continued this action as they then broke into the song that I had first heard by them, "Ritual". If you have never heard Ghost and would rather take baby steps into their music rather than dive into the depths of Papa's enchantment, I'd suggest this one. It has a very Blue Oyster Cult type of feel to it.
Before the powerful bass line of "Prime Mover" began, Papa took a moment to thank the crowd for coming to the "ceremony". The crowd responded with screams of "Papa!" and "I love you!" You wouldn't think that a man in a Satanic Pope's outfit would make women scream, but it did. With hands outstretched towards not just Papa, but the Ghouls, it became quite clear that this was not just a band to some, but sex symbols. Earlier in the night, someone had explained to me at the merch booth that there was actually a Ghost dildo sporting Papa's face that came in a Bible type case , which lo and behold, was in fact for sale at the booth. No, I did not buy it. I had laughed a bit about it, and the evening's earlier comedy made the show less alluring for the moment as I thought of it.
That humor was quickly brought to a halt as Papa picked up a thurible of incense, and as he swung it over the front of the crowd like a priest would in mass, the opening lyrics to "Con Clavi Con Dio" shook me to my very core. "Lucifer, we are here." Um. WHAT? The crowd danced, hands outstretched in worship, singing each lyric. I will admit, I started thinking to myself, "What am I watching?" Suddenly, something very comical became very real.
A few tracks later, as the song "Body and Blood" played, the realization of this whole thing being very tongue and cheek hit me. It is an instrumentally gorgeous song, although one could take offense to the lyrical content, which seems to poke fun at the act of Communion. Following this was the song "Death Knell". There are three bridges and choruses in this song, the first chanting "six, six, six" , "sex, sex, sex", and finally "S-A-T-A-N". As if the Papa dildo wasn't a wake up call, this was, but I'll explain more of that later.
In the midst of the darkness, the sounds from the keyboardist Ghoul's fingertips were that of a church organ. Then came the words. "Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter." Papa's voice was calm and sweet as he sang the first of the two covers they would perform that evening. "Here Comes the Sun", originally by the Beatles, was done eloquently and perfectly. Keeping the base of the original tune and making it their own, Ghost performed it in such a way that would make the late Beatle who performed it, George Harrison, smile in approval. Equally beautiful as "Here Comes the Sun", was the song "Genesis" later performed in the show. Papa stood next to each member individually, gesturing to the crowd for applause and praise. Praise they did. The beauty of it all was that no member received more praise than another. Each was shown equal love by their fans who stood in the crowd in front of them.
The mood took an eerie, heavy tone again as they broke into "Year Zero". The crowd chanted the demonic opening as the song began, calling the names of dark deities of all ranks. "Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanus, Lucifer" was chanted by the members of the crowd as they danced. Despite the darkness and the "Hail Satan"s happening during the chorus, I could not help but be completely enthralled in the moment. The best way I can describe it is like a good horror flick. I'm not talking just any good horror flick though. Imagine the first time you saw The Exorcist. I'm sure that like me, you were captivated by the mystery as to whether or not this held the possibility of being real. I was entertained, frightened, and excited by what was happening before my eyes, not just with the crowd, but with the band. How does a band captivate one so? Gotta love that metal.
Next came the second and final cover of the night, Roky Erickson's "If You Have Ghosts", a song that has become like a theme song for Ghost's fans. Each lyric strikes a chord in the heart of the many fans of Ghost. "If you have ghosts then you have everything." As Papa sang to the crowd, and the crowd sang back with equal heart, he lifted a rose to each side of the stage, and to the middle, before throwing it into the crowd. Never before had I seen a band give back to their audience in such a way. It was a truly beautiful moment that took place before they left the stage.
Upon leaving the stage, the crowd screamed for more. Usually it takes a moment or two for someone to begin chanting a band's name, commanding them to come back to the stage for their encores. Not with this. The crowd immediately erupted into screams of "Ghost! Ghost! Ghost!", and the band took notice. They came back out almost immediately. Papa looked upon everyone. "Still awake?" he asked. He was answered by the many screams of the packed venue and a few moments later would go into the two encores of the night, "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" and the hit single "Monstrance Clock". Before beginning "Monstrance Clock", Papa notified the crowd that they had to be the choir, as there was not a real one present. He asked them to chant the chorus together. The first chorus was sung by him alone, and as the song continued, the crowd began to chime in. "Come together, together as one. Come together for Lucifer's son. Come together, forever as one." I may have not known all of the faces in the crowd, but I do feel that I am connected in a way to everyone there because of the night's events.
The day overall was mind blowing. I caught the friend who had first showed me Ghost in the crowd after the show, and threw my arms around them, thanking them for bringing this band into my life. In one day, Ghost had shown me that they had achieved heights in metal that other bands either hadn't reached, or hadn't tried. Again, they blend mystery, darkness, and all of the rebellion that is rock n' roll, from the music to the sex, into one. Rock n Roll is rebellion, and this band completely embodies that. The experience was an amazing one, best described as a religious experience. They push the envelope in ways I really haven't seen done.
I don't believe the Satanism aspect is really truth, but done more as a tongue and cheek joke. Many have asked if they are serious about it, and it really depends on the member you ask. It adds to the mystery of Ghost. One has said that Satanism is blasphemous, and they play rock n roll, which is very blasphemous. It goes hand in hand. Another has stated that they try to paint a picture for man to better understand the relationship between we as humans, God, and Satan. I think if you really want to know, do what I did. Listen to their music and enjoy it. Go to their show and experience it. Be open minded and enjoy the moment. After all, if you have Ghosts, then you have everything, right? I think if you are wondering whether or not these guys are for real about this Satanist thing, your answer lies best in a quote from one of the Ghouls: "Do we believe in Satan? The only thing that matters is that he believes in us."
Masked Ball- Jocelyn Pook
Per Aspera Ad Inferi
Jigolo Har Megiddo
Con Clavi Con Dio
Body and Blood
Here Comes the Sun- The Beatles
Depth of Satan's Eyes
Stand By Him
If You Have Ghosts- Roky Erickson
All photos ©Alexander Zayas/Insane Pie Photography