On June 11th the Swedish band, Ghost, was opening for Iron Maiden on the Book of Souls tour at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. I was fortunate enough to acquire photo credentials for Ghost. The band led by Papa Emeritus (vocals) and the Nameless Ghouls Fire (lead guitars), Water (bass), Wind (keyboardist), Earth (drummer), and Ether (rhythm guitar) formed back in 2008 and have released three full albums and two EPs. ‘Meloria’ has been their most successful album to date with their single “Cirice” winning a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2016. Their appearance as a Satanic band is depicted through the Nameless Ghouls devil faced masks, through the appearance of Papa Emeritus’ skull face and anti-Pope-like garments, and the lyrics in their songs. To be clear, the appearance is all for show, even though some out there believe they are Devil worshipers. Though with the all the controversy Ghost has encountered, their fan base is very strong and they have toured to sold out venues across the world. Tonight, would be no different.
As the photographers we’re led into the pit before this massive arena, I looked up at the familiar Satanic church background they use for all of their shows. It wasn’t long before the Nameless Ghouls stepped out on stage one at a time. And within moments those infamous drumbeats and guitar riffs to “Square Hammer” started and the crowd roared. Papa Emeritus stepped out on stage in his full anti-Pope-like garments, microphone in hand, and started to sing. And it sounded great. Papa Emeritus urged the crowd to sing along with the chorus.
“Square Hammer” debuted a top the Active and Mainstream Rock charts at number 1 when it debuted. The album ‘Popestar’, where “Square Hammer” is listed as track number 1, debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums and Hard Rock Albums charts. The album itself has been streamed over 18 million times. There was no doubt why Ghost opens with this song. It’s perfect in every way from the music to the lyrics and chorus.
They led into “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” from the ‘Meliora’ album, which has sold over 250,000 copies and has been streamed over 120 million times. The song is heavier than most and starts off with a great bass riff. It’s a dark and broody song and Papa Emeritus sings it as such lowering his voice just slightly to give it that dark mood. Papa Emeritus gracefully moved around the stage during the song, waving his hand slightly back and forth with the drumbeat, like a conductor with an orchestra. The Nameless Ghouls responding as such through their playing, perfectly in synch.
Ghost delved back to their first full album from 2010 named ‘Opus Eponymous’ with the track “Ritual”. It starts off a little lighter than most Ghost songs before ripping into the heavy guitar riffs. You can definitely see the difference in style from this song to their current work. The song turns to a more darker mood when Papa Emeritus begins to recite a Satanic version of “Our Father”. After all, the song is about a Satanic ritual.
After the third song, the photographers were guided out of the pit and since I had a ticket for the show, they brought me to a place to check in my camera bag. As I was walking away, I could hear the chilling guitar strings to “Cirice”, the song that earned them a Grammy Award in 2016. The crowd screamed and cheered when the song started. After checking in my gear I quickly made my way back to my seat to join my family to enjoy the rest of the show.
Though I had unfortunately missed “Cirice”, I got there as they started “Year Zero” from the 2013 ‘Infestissumam’ album. This is one of my favorite songs from the album with the use of a church choir singing Satanic verses using multiple names for The Devil. It has a haunting sound hearing the choir singing in between the chorus. And as usual the music maintains that haunting sound especially when it ends so abruptly.
“Absolution” from ‘Meliora’ was next and is by far an amazing song from the first open chords to the last. It has heavy use of bass, great guitar work, drums, and even keyboards. My favorite piece of seeing this live is when the Nameless Ghoul Wind steps out from behind the keyboards to play a keytar. My son absolutely went nuts seeing Wind play that on stage and I admit, I loved it just as much as he did. Absolution by far has one of the best guitar solo riffs I’ve ever heard. As short as it is, there’s something about that melody that sticks in your head and has you playing air guitar while you’re listening or watching it.
They band took a quick stop listening to the crowd cheer and Papa Emeritus asked them “Do you want to hear something heavy?” The crowd cheered in response. He asked again louder, “Do you want to hear something heavy?!” The crowd roared and applauded as Papa Emeritus introduced “Mummy Dust” also from the ‘Meliora’ album. It is one of their heavier songs and starts out with a great drum beat, bass and guitar, and very prominent keyboard notes and maintains those throughout the song. Papa Emeritus sings this one similar to “From The Pinnacle To The Pit” by lowering his voice to make the song sound darker. He goes even lower with this song and extends out the “S” sounds in the chorus to make it creepy. And during the instrumentals, Papa Emeritus, urges the crowd to cheer, which they happily did.
The band stopped again as Papa Emeritus explained this was the last song of the night for them called. He said this song was a celebration of the female orgasm and had a very sexual undertone. It was the only time I covered my children’s ears during the show. Papa Emeritus was very animated as he spoke and then introduced “Monstrance Clock”. This is the standard closing song for all of their shows. Nameless Ghoul Earth maintains a drumbeat through that is almost like a second hand ticking if you listen to it closely enough. During the song, Papa Emeritus stops before each of the Nameless Ghouls and holds his hands up and applauds essentially asking the crowd to do the same for his Nameless Ghouls. When the song comes an end, there’s a backing track of a choir singing “Come together, together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.” At that time, Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls walk out to the center stage in a line and bow to the crowd. The crowd at the Amalie Arena roared, applauded, and cheered in any way possible for Ghost’s performance that night. As the choir is still singing, the Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls individually wave to the crowd before walking off stage.
Ghost has truly become one of my favorite bands over the past year. The music and lyrics are creative and inventive. Their concept as a Satanic band is well conceived and thought out in their appearance. These days, most bands who go under that Satanic image are usually very heavy metal with vocalists who use that deep guttural voice or are screamers. Instead, here you have a singer with high pitched vocals who could be singing with a church choir. But, the one thing that Ghost excels at over most bands is their stage presence.
They are not only musicians but stage performers from start to finish. They have certain spots where the guitarists and bassist will line up and play together and all move the exact same way. They interact with the crowd throughout their show. Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls will interact with the photographers as well providing them some great poses and shots. Nameless Ghoul Wind on keyboards, who is pushed as far back as Nameless Ghoul Earth on drums, noticed me trying to catch a picture of him and purposely posed for me. And Papa Emeritus alone knows how to manipulate a crowd. He’s charismatic and seems to know what the crowd wants or needs at any moment.
Overall, they put on a fantastic set as an opener to Iron Maiden. My only complaint about their performance is that it was too short and I wanted to hear more songs. But, as the opening act they were limited to what they could perform in the time allotted. If you are a fan of their music, they are a must see live band. I look forward to the next time they come back to Florida headlining a tour.