LIVE: Ghost / Dead Soul @ KOKO, London

By Glen Bushell

The use of theatrics in the world rock and metal is nothing new. For years, bands have relied on elaborate stage shows to bolster their live show, adding more entertainment value for money. However, there are some cases where it becomes style over substance, and can detract from the music altogether; particularly if the music doesn’t match up to the spectacle. In the case of Swedish metal band Ghost, their music is more than capable of standing up on its own. It just so happens that when coupled with the bands imagery, it makes for a mesmerising performance.

Having been the talk of the metal community this year on the back of their phenomenal album ‘Meliora’, Ghost have been critically acclaimed by press, fans, and other musicians for their live show. While there is some debate about the bands authenticity from scene purists, it doesn’t change the fact that the Children of Ghost (as their fans are affectionately known) have turned out in force tonight, packing out the KOKO in London. This beautifully crafted, Art Deco building is a venue made for a band like Ghost, as this is not just a concert tonight; this is a show.

Before the main feature tonight, Dead Soul have the unenviable task of warming the audience up for half an hour. Being a relatively unknown quantity on the bill tonight, they play to a sizeable crowd. The faithful have crammed in early to secure a spot for Ghost, and Dead Soul seem to go over well with them. Their minimal stage setup still gives a big sound, and their blend of Type O Negative gothic rock with an industrial stomp undeniably won them some new fans tonight. However tonight is purely all about one band.

From the moment the lights go down, the roar of appreciation for Ghost is almost deafening. The Nameless Ghouls take their position on stage and launch into the classic rock crunch of ‘Spirit’, and the arrival of the now iconic frontman Papa Emeritus III is a sight to behold. Even in a venue the size of KOKO, his presence fills the room. Decked out in his trademark Roman Catholic attire and make up, he commands his flock with ease as they hang on his every word. However, when the thunderous bassline of ‘From The Pinnacle to The Pit’ echoes from the stage, it is evident that there is much more to Ghost than their stage show.

The playing ability of The Nameless Ghouls is faultless, with every guitar riff feeling precise and methodical, with little to no showboating. Older songs ‘Ritual’ and ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ have stood the test of time against the more melodic tracks from ‘Meliora’, and live, the satanic majesty of ‘Devil Church’ feels all the more powerful than on record. While it’s clear that Ghost take elements of their aesthetic very seriously, Papa Emeritus III is filled with humour, and is incredibly inviting. When he brings on the “Sisters of Sin” – two hirsute gentlemen dressed as nuns – to hand out bread and wine to the front row, he is making jokes and constantly interacting with Ghost’s incredibly devoted audience.

Much like an actual theatrical performance, Papa Emeritus III ducks out for a quick costume change mid-set, switching to a more vaudeville appearance. Some added stage props are bought forth for an acoustic song, before things are kicked back up to full rock power with ‘Absolution’, and the beloved ‘Zombie Girl’. As things start to wind down, the audience are asked what they have right now, that no one else, anywhere in the world has? The response from the crowd is simply “Ghost”. Papa Emeritus III is more than happy to tell them that they have everything, leading into a stirring cover of ‘If You Have Ghosts’ by Roky Erickson, and then after a brief interlude, the band return for an enigmatic run through ‘Monstrance Clock’.

You could argue that what Ghost are doing right now is nothing original, and that it could all just be a parody of what has come before them. That is not the impression you are left with after an evening in their presence. You feel like you have witnessed a gathering, a ritual, and West End show all in one. It just happens to have a heavy metal soundtrack. Ghost have already outgrown a venue like this, and surely arena shows can’t be too far away in the bands future. It was a pleasure to be with them at this stunning, and very special show.