Masked Swedish occult rock sextet Ghost are currently touring the United States fresh off of the release of the Popestar EP, a new offering featuring a single original song and a handful of covers. Not content with taking it easy after their wildly successful album Meliora and its equally successful tour earlier this year, the band had recruited French synthwave mastermind Carpenter Brut as solo support for another campaign to spread their dark arts across the country once more. This review will cover the September 30th show at Arvest Bank Theater at the Midland in Kansas City, Missouri.
Ghost, known at times for selecting somewhat unexpected artists to provide support on tour, cast their gaze further outside of the rock/metal genre and into the electronic realm. Carpenter Brut is an artist at the forefront of the modern “synthwave” movement, a style of electronic music that seeks to take the best parts of ‘80s synthpop and polish them with modern production and musical sensibilities – think Hasselhoff meets Pendulum – and though the crowd appeared puzzled at first, they quickly warmed up to the idea of headbanging to electronic music.
Appearing on stage as a trio – guitarist, drummer, and synths – and opening with the plodding “Escape from Midwich Valley”, the group started slow, but picked things up in a big way with the crushing bass synths of “Roller Mobster” and “Turbo Killer” and the infectious melodies of “Division Ruine” and “Meet Matt Stryker”. Massive synth leads with just the right amount of cheese helped carry each song, and though most of the group’s work is instrumental, the sampled vocals of “Anarchy Road” provided a catchy hook to which more than a few audience members could be spotted smiling and dancing. Paired with a dazzling light show and a grisly ‘80s action/horror movie-themed video projection, Carpenter Brut came seemingly out of left field, but left the stage as one of the strongest opening acts Kansas City had witnessed this year.
After a brief set-up, the crowd began to roar as billowing fog and otherworldly beams of light danced before a stained glass-inspired backdrop. An ominous canticle started playing over the PA, signaling the imminent arrival of the ghastly headliners. Renowned for their stage show based around the theme of an occult service, the five faceless instrumentalists – known only as “nameless ghouls” – arrived and situated themselves behind their instruments before opening with their single from the Popestar EP, “Square Hammer”. Vocalist Papa Emeritus III appeared on stage after the intro to the song – a striking presence adorned in full “anti-pope” garb, complete with a Dia de los Muertos-style skull painted on his face.
When considering the band’s visual aesthetic, one would likely expect Ghost to be purveyors of death or black metal from the deepest pit of the underworld. On the contrary, however, Ghost’s music hearkens back to the classic days of the metal genre – right around the time when it was separating itself from mainstream rock music with its darker themes, driving rhythms, and more aggressive instrumentation, but before it ventured into the realms of growling, speed-laden brutality. Emeritus eschewed the screams and grit of modern metal for a smooth, melodic style which lent itself well to the wonderfully harmonized chorus of “Square Hammer” – a chorus which features the perfect line for an opening song: “are you ready to swear right here, right now, before the devil?”
The band continued with the driving bassline and sinister whisperings of “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, and the organ-driven single “Secular Haze” from their second, critically acclaimed album Infestissumam, only stopping for a break after six back-to-back songs. Emeritus took the time to address the audience and introduce the “sisters of sin”, two fans dressed in habits who walked among the audience and distributed bread and wine in faux communion during the next song, the appropriately titled “Body and Blood”. About halfway through the set, Emeritus left the stage and reappeared in his alternate, presumably more comfortable outfit – consisting of a black and white formal jacket, white gloves, and slick black hair – for the crowd-pleasing and Grammy-winning headbanger “Cirice”. Other highlights of the show included the rollicking “Absolution” and its glorious hail of confetti, and the sing-along chorus of the band’s encore, “Monstrance Clock”.
Overall, Ghost provided a fantastic theatrical follow-up to their brief appearance earlier this year at Kansas City’s Rockfest festival, which had obviously left fans and newcomers alike hungry for more. Though Emeritus obviously stood front and center as the face of the band, the instrumental work of the nameless ghouls should not be overlooked, as it is especially impressive when one considers the tactile skill required when vision of a musical instrument is obscured by a silver mask. The enhanced stage setup, gorgeous light show, improved sound, and lengthened set list all contributed to quite the memorable evening, and attendees will surely attest that Ghost is worth seeing for anyone interested in experiencing an occult service worthy of the devil himself.
Visit Ghost at their website for tour and album info.