LIVE: Ghost / Zombi @ O2 Academy, Leeds

By Matthew Wilson

There’s a sea of skinny jeans, black shirts and high topped boots trampling towards the University of Leeds, coursing towards tonight’s Creeper gig in the union building. But halfway towards the city centre, the tide changes, and the horror punk patches and piercings give way to the long haired, denim jacket clad metalheads milling around outside the O2 Academy. Ghost are in town, filling the vacuum in the city centre left by the absent students with a welcome abundance of freaks and weirdos, revelling in campy devil-worshipping melodrama.

The O2 is absolutely rammed with a sea of expectant faces. Ghost are on a high, having won a Best Metal Performance Grammy last year for ‘Cirice,’ and halfway through their mega ‘Popestar Tour’ in support of their surprise EP since September last year. The last time they came to Leeds, it was in this venue, supporting Alice In Chains. Now, they’ve got enough power to pack it out on their own.

With all the palpable anticipation, their support have their work cut out, and unfortunately Pittsburgh’s Zombi don’t mesh well with the audience, their synthwave antics getting somewhat lost on a crowd expecting something else. They make a good show of it, bassist and synth player Steve Moore keeping up a friendly level of banter, but forty minutes of instrumental synthwave slowly chips away at the energy in the room, the guy in the crowd next to me muttering that “these guys sound like they’ve written the soundtrack to Kung Fury”. If you’re a fan of synthwave, ambience or glitchcore, Zombi are worth your time on record. They just didn’t land here.

However, what Zombi lacked in fireworks, Ghost deliver, even during the soundcheck, as the roadies bow to each other whilst setting up the backline. Then the lights dim and a satanic chorus heralds the arrival of the Nameless Ghouls to the stage, launching into a ferocious rendition of ‘Square Hammer’. And with a flash of the house lights, decked out in his anti-pope vestments and mitre, Papa Emeritus III appears suddenly on the centre stage riser. Throwing out shapes, dramatically posing for effect, everything about his campy satanic presence is captivating, and has the audience eating out of his hand.

Despite the anonymity of all musicians involved, all the Ghouls have their own distinct stage presence, with the female Ghoul bassist in particular hamming it up on the riser and never missing an opportunity to take centre stage, as she does on the bass heavy riff-fest of ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’. The entire band makes excellent use of the space on stage, interacting with the audience and being as enthused about the songs as the audience are. Before ‘Body And Blood’, Papa Emeritus introduces two audience members dressed up as nuns, before sending these ‘sisters of sin’ into the mosh pit to partake in communion, breaking the barrier between audience and band.

When the one two punch of ‘Cirice’ and ‘Year Zero’ appears unexpectedly halfway through the set, Ghost hit a new high. Papa Emeritus, after a costume change out of his robes into a less restrictive outfit, guides the audience and his band through all the highs and lows of ‘Cirice’’s six minutes, whilst the sheer silliness of ‘Year Zero’s demonic chorus and chunky riffs has the entire academy jumping. The evening finishes high, with most of their third album ‘Meliora’ being played, as well as ‘Infetissumam’’s B-movie surf rock mini-opera ‘Ghuleh/Zombie Queen’ seeing the band and crowd shuffling in style.

As the encore of ‘Monstrance Clock’ rounds the evening off in a euphoric manner, I’m left not really sure what to make of Ghost, and it’s this weirdness that makes me keep wanting to come back. They don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, but at the same time there’s an incredible amount of attention to detail that most bands wouldn’t ever think about that’s gone into their performance. They revel in their anonymity, but on stage there’s a level of character that is hard to replicate. Ghost are at their best when experienced live, so throw yourself in and just revel in the performance.