Words and Photos by: David Bell
We traveled to Leeds in the United Kingdom for a divine evening of blasphemy and sacrilegious hymns from one of Sweden’s most successful bands. GHOST won a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance (Cirice) last year and this year the Swedish Grammy Award for Hard Rock / Metal of the Year category for the third time in a row. This latest tour is in support of the band’s latest Popestar EP released through Reaktor / Universal / Loma Vista recordings on 16th September 2016. The tour is premiering for the first time in the UK after a successful first run in the United States. A member of the band confirmed in recent interviews that the Popestar tour will be GHOST’s biggest production yet as a headliner and promised there will be smoke, fire, canons, new stage set-up and new songs from the EP.
The O2 Academy was packed as the American Synthwave opening act ZOMBI took to the stage. On GHOST’s last UK tour they had a similar style opening act DEAD SOUL from Sweden, so fans would have an idea what to expect this time around. The band takes its name from the Italian title of George A. Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead. The film was named Zombi in Italy, with original music performed by Goblin, who were an influence on this band.
ZOMBI debuted songs from their latest instrumental album Shape Shift which was available to purchase on colored vinyl at the merch table. The two piece duo from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania consisting of Steve Moore on bass and synthesizers and Anthony Paterra on drums opened a new dimension for the eagerly awaiting Leeds fans. ZOMBI created a live soundtrack for the audience and the Goblin influence was heard as the duo played hypnotic drum patterns and synth waves which transported the crowd into the interstellar void. Steve Moore asked the crowd, “who’s into progressive rock music ? . No, you’re not”. Throughout the drones and experimental set, ZOMBI created a unique and alternative support for headliner GHOST to take to the stage. The band ended with “Bye” from Steve Moore and exited the stage.
As the ZOMBI stage was cleared, the crew began to set the stage of tonight’s ritual and the crowd reacted as the masonic flooring was laid, the new church backdrop was lifted and the smell of Satya Sunrise incense filled the room. As the band’s gear was being set up, Miserere Mei, Deus by Gregorio Allegri played softly in the background to set the mood for the evening.
The house lights of the O2 Academy blackened and we moved from the side of the stage into the photo pit in complete darkness. The well-known introduction from Jocelyn Pook titled Masked Ball played through the in-house PA at full volume and the crowd began to shout. The drummer and keyboard player walked out as the lights flickered and they took their seats. As the introduction stopped the latest single Square Hammer from Popestar had begun with the remaining three Nameless Ghouls walking into the middle of the stage. Papa Emeritus III appeared amongst the smoke at the back of the stage between the drummer and keyboard player.
GHOST quickly progressed onto From The Pinnacle To The Pit and Secular Haze which made its way back into the setlist after being absent from the past couple of tours. These two tracks from the albums Meliora and Infestissumam gave a variety performance to the set and were crowd pleasers.
After seeing the band up close and from my photographs in this review, it was clear that all five Nameless Ghouls were new and the original backing band had been replaced. A Nameless Ghoul had recently stated that GHOST has undergone up to 10 line up changes with switching bassists and drummers, but this time it was the complete band that had been replaced. The new band featured a shorter keyboard player who sat on a stool, the drummer had a different style of playing to the previous 3, the bassist was no longer a lady like in the US Popestar dates and the guitarists were playing Hagstrom RD customs based on the Gibson RD’s that the original Nameless Ghouls, Omega and Alpha used on stage. According to comments to fans from Hagstrom on Facebook, these guitars will be available very soon to purchase.
Regardless of the lineup change, these new musicians showed stage presence and were very energetic when interacting with the crowd. The new band played solidly through GHOST classics Con Clavi Con Dio, Cirice, Year Zero, He Is and Absolution covering the guitar solos with their own style and added keyboard parts. The musicians were no strangers to the live setting as they boasted, standing on top of raised platforms at the front of the stage for the solos and choruses. A particular favorite was the Year Zero which was played heavier by the guitarists in the verses and the chorus went down very well as the crowd roared HELL SATAN! The band used a lot of smoke during the end of this track which blasted it from the stage floor to the ceiling of the O2 Academy.
Papa Emeritus III was in good form as some fans may remember that in the band’s last stop in Leeds, the frontman collapsed and had to go off stage. The ritual came to a halt as the Nameless Ghouls and crowd waited for around 10 minutes from him to return. It was then stated after the show to us that he was unwell and panicked. This time it was a completely different performance from Papa Emeritus III as he performed all of the GHOST hits back to back with crowd humor and conversations in between.
A highlight of the ritual was during Mummy Dust when the cannons on stage fired Papa Dollars into the crowd along with confetti. Shortly after the band began to play the track, Papa fell off the stage over one of the monitors and onto his knees in the pit. He continued to sing and stood up on the barrier close to the fans on the front row. As fans began to jump and search the floor of the O2 Academy for any remaining dollars, this is the first time that this has happened in the United Kingdom and was only seen debuted at the band’s performance at Hellfest and the US Popestar tour dates.
GHOST band to unwind their set with their first single Ritual and came back with the encore of Monstrance Clock. The Nameless Ghouls left the stage as the pre-recorded choir began to sing the outro and Papa Emeritus III stayed behind to thank the crowd and take a final bow before leaving the stage.
As the house lights came on The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance, played in the background as fans exited the auditorium.