Ghost

support All Them Witches + Tribulation
author AP date 25/11/19 venue Forum Black Box, Frederiksberg, DEN

Continuing my late November gig marathon, this wet and dreary Monday evening takes me to Forum, which is set up in the Black Box configuration with a capacity of 4.500 people for the return of Ghost to play their first headlining indoor show in Copenhagen since 2017. It seems, thus, like the popularity of this ‘Satanic pop’ act in Denmark has reached its peak, considering the slight downgrade from Valby-Hallen to here, and the fact that although the turnout is by no means lacklustre, the concert is nonetheless far from sold out. I have never understood why Ghost have earned so much hype, so to me this is not surprising; their hit singles are fantastic but if you ask me, they are yet to release an album half of which is not occupied by forgettable filler. I want the Swedish-born group to change my mind though, which is why I decided to see them live for the first time outside of a festival setting tonight.

Hasan Jensen


Tribulation

One reason why I was enticed into attending was without a doubt Tribulation’s being in charge of warming up the crowd. I have yet to be disappointed by the Gothic metallers’ performances, and when “Nightbound” off the band’s 2018 album “Down Below” gets underway, they give me no reason to think they might be about to soil my impression of them tonight. As is his trademark by now, guitarist Jonathan Hultén, donning a tattered robe and wearing corpse paint as well as eerie contact lenses, drifts around like a wraith, making the entire stage his own for his black pirouette. His ghostly dance is the central element in Tribulation’s showmanship, yet even without his injection of drama, the songs are so well written that it would take some serious blunders in order to render the group’s concert disastrous. The following “Melancholia” (taken from 2015’s “The Children of the Night”) is subdued somewhat by a cavernous, echoing sound that makes it difficult to home in on Hultén’s fantastic lead melody, but thankfully the antics of the four musicians provide redemption while the sound engineer is sorting out his levels just in time for “The Lament”. Whether it is this struggle with the mix or something else, however, it seems like most of the audience is not warming up to Tribulation, who, despite their theatrical demeanour, are perhaps a bit too much on the extreme side for your average Ghost fan, even if the setlist only includes material from the band’s two latest albums.

Indeed — apart from the growled vocals of the bass-wielding frontman Johannes Andersson, the group have long since left their death metal past behind, and, depending on who you ask, the catchiness of their output has improved tremendously because of that. “The Motherhood of God”, for instance, is a phenomenal piece of music, and we are treated to a breathtaking rendition of it here, with especially the gloomy, Sentenced-style melody in the chorus making an even more profound impression on me than usual. The only thing that keeps the concert from reaching the glory of their previous appearances in Denmark is that only those with an existing affinity for Tribulation seem to be affected by it, while the vast majority of the crowd is content to take it in with arms crossed and a look of skepticism on their faces. This is not fault of the band’s, however, and regardless of the audience response, one has to admire the no-holds-barred style of Tribulation’s performance yet again.

7


All Them Witches

If the opening act felt a little misplaced on this bill, then All Them Witches stick out like a sore thumb. They have been reduced to a power trio since the last time I watched them live, with keyboardist Jonathan Draper quitting last year, but the effect of this on the group’s sound is minimal, as it turns out. “Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird” off 2013’s “Lightning at the Door” is aired first, enveloping the venue in the fuzz of Ben McLeod’s guitar and inviting us to lose ourselves in the groove of frontman Charles Michael Parks, Jr.’s hypnotic bass lines. “I’m not gonna talk too much, but I hope you’re having a great time”, he offers afterward, but looking around, people seem to be at best perplexed by what they’ve just seen and heard. The stoning psychedelic rock is admittedly a far cry from the headliner’s style of music, and as such, the Nashville-based outfit has some convincing to do. But neither the heavy delivery of, nor the intriguing oriental guitar scale in the beginning of “3-5-7” (taken from 2017’s “Sleeping through the War”) has the desired effect, with most of the attendees left scratching their heads in response to Parks, Jr.’s megaphonic vocals and the iterative formula to which this track conforms. I must be one of the only ones here to find these deeply psychedelic and riff-centric songs like “Diamond” (off 2018’s “ATW”) and “Charles William” mesmerising, but even I will concede that, despite the trio playing them intensely and tightly, they are far better suited for a more intimate setting than what the Black Box can offer. Still, I am drawing great enjoyment out of my solo trip, and continue to do so all the way until “When God Comes Back” brings the set to a conclusion — and as such, I have to go against popular opinion here and propose that All Them Witches were far from the yawn-inducing experience most other critics accused them of being.

7


Ghost

When the two intro tracks (Jan Johansson’s “Klara stjärnor” and Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus”) have rung out and the curtain drops, the stage that presents itself resembles a cathedral, which if of course a very appropriate setting for Cardinal Copia (the stage persona of vocalist Tobias Forge). Just like Ghost’s latest album, 2018’s “Prequelle”, the show begins with “Ashes”, before segueing into the undisputed smash hit from that record that is “Rats”, much to the crowd’s elation. The six so-called ‘Nameless Ghouls’ that comprise the rest of the band twist and turn like rockstars in their designation positions, while Copia himself, who is dressed in an elegant bordeaux tuxedo, paces the width of the stage, sometimes dropping to his knees and eventually throwing some slick, Elvis-inspired moves at the top of one of the staircases that lead up to the drumkit, keyboard and backing vocalists. The Satanic pop label that is often used to describe Ghost suggests that there must be some hint of danger to the band’s music, but honestly, as the following “Absolution” off 2015’s “Meliora” shows, none of it deserves an advisory rating higher than PG13. Indeed, this song in particular lends some credence to the idea that Ghost would be more at home in the Eurovision song contest than the various metal festivals they frequent every year. It is undeniably catchy, but there is next to no substance in it, and as such, I am yet to be turned.

When Cardinal Copia announces that ”[he’s] gonna sing a song now that Papa Emeritus used to sing” (in reference to his previous persona), I am sure I am not the only one who expects something a little older than “Mary on a Cross”, which was released as the b-side of a double single Ghost issued earlier this Fall. But that is nonetheless what follows, and unlike much of the aforementioned “Prequelle”, the operatic rock style of this track manages to capture my attention, not least because it reminds of Poets of the Fall from my native Finland. The vocal harmonies between Forge and the two choir singers in this song render it a clear highlight of the concert thus far, but rather than riding the surge in its wake, Forge inexplicably retreats backstage while two of the Nameless Ghouls rip out a couple of guitar solos and bits of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”. It is a completely unnecessary intermezzo that takes steam out of the performance, and this is only exacerbated by the emphasis on instrumental parts (including a saxophone soliloquy by Cardinal Copia) in the subsequent pair of “Cirice” and “Miasma”.

After this period of inconsequence, the darker “Spirit” thankfully restores the proceedings to a good standard. Regardless of my personal opinion on Ghost’s music, there is no denying the fact that Forge is a phenomenal frontman who knows how to make his presence felt, and after he has changed into more religious attire, he makes a fantastic show of himself during the fan favourite “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and the standout old song “Ritual” (which appears on 2010’s “Opus Eponymous”). It is one of the heaviest tracks aired tonight, but like the best of this band’s material, it of course features a resounding chorus that earns additional power by virtue of the loud singing along that erupts. It is a rare show of enthusiasm from an unusually subdued audience, which again implies that people might be in the process of leaving Ghost behind now that the initial mystique is no longer there. Indeed, neither of the likewise older songs “Satan Prayer” and “Year Zero” (the latter off 2013’s “Infestissumam”) manage to incite much of a reaction, nor does even an explosion of confetti in the end of the black metal-inspired “Mummy Dust”. As I claimed in the preamble to this review, there are only a few songs in Ghost’s discography that have the capacity to get me off my feet, and it seems like this feeling is shared by many of the attendees here; once two of the smash hits — “Dance Macabre” and “Square Hammer” — arrive, the atmosphere is instantly euphoric. And when some of what I refer to as filler is aired, people head for the bar. The show tonight is thus quite the hit and miss affair in which most of the songs sadly miss their target.

6

Setlist:

  • 01. Ashes
  • 02. Rats
  • 03. Absolution
  • 04. Faith
  • 05. Mary on a Cross
  • 06. Devil Church
  • 07. Cirice
  • 08. Miasma
  • 09. Ghuleh / Zombie Queen
  • 10. Helvetesfönster
  • 11. Spirit
  • 12. From the Pinnacle to the Pit
  • 13. Ritual
  • 14. Satan Prayer
  • 15. Year Zero
  • 16. He Is
  • 17. Mummy Dust
  • 18. Kiss the Go-Goat
  • 19. Dance Macabre
  • 20. Square Hammer

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