Swedish band Ghost is one of the most interesting acts to come out of the heavy metal genre in a long time, and the world is starting to take notice. The band released their third album, Meliora, last year, and this February took the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for their song “Cirice” from it. The band played the first date of their “Black to the Future” tour at The Fillmore in Silver Spring last fall, and this past weekend they returned to the area for a Sunday evening show at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore.
Prior to the show, incense wafted and haunting choral music filled the room, building the mood for the show that was to come. When the masked band (anonymous, referred to only as the Nameless Ghouls and individually by symbols referencing the alchemical elements) came to the stage with the ringing bells at the intro of “Spirit,” the opening track of the new album, the entire crowd cheered in excitement. Then Papa Emeritus III, the singer and figurehead of the band, came to the stage in his full satanic pope regalia, and the mass fully began.
What is most interesting about Ghost is that, while they fall into the genre and many of its tropes are present, they have considerably more going on in their music than simple heavy metal. Fans of progressive rock will find as much to like here, particularly in the keyboards and the often-complex time signatures. Far from the gimmick that they might appear to be at first glance, Ghost is a band of first-class musicians who put on one hell of a show.
While the setlist drew heavily from the band’s new album, all three records were well represented. Following the second track from the new album, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” the band went back to play two songs from their first release, 2010’s Opus Eponymous, “Stand By Him” and “Con Clavi Con Dio,” followed by “per Aspera ad Inferni” and “Body and Blood” from their second, 2013’s “Infestissumam.” The last of these was accompanied by two women recruited from the audience and dressed as nuns to be “Sisters of Sin,” and pass out host wafers to people sitting along the aisles.
While the band’s Satanic schtick risks being a bit off-putting (many metal bands use references to Satan, of course, but Ghost seems to maybe take it a bit too seriously), it makes it disarming when Papa Emeritus speaks between songs and turns out to be so nice. He thanks the audience for coming and sounds sincerely moved that so many people would show up to see them on a Sunday night. He actually apologizes at one point to parents with children in the audience for his language, saying “Sorry, I say fuck a lot. Because I think fucking is important.” Not what you’d expect from Satan’s high priest.
Ghost themselves are a theatrical event, however, fitting for a room like this one. If you’ve only heard them in recorded form, you’ve missed half of what the band is about. The entire thing – the music, the costumes, and the show – has to be seen to be believed.