April 28 2014 12:00 AM

Swedish ghouls bring theater back to heavy metal

ghost4
Papa Emeritus of Ghost
Candice Eley

Some of the best musical theater of the last 40 years has come straight out of hard rock and heavy-metal concerts: King Diamond's ghoulish presence and operatic vocals; W.A.S.P.'s meat-pelting and models-on-torture-racks spectacle; and, of course, Alice Cooper's death at the end of every show. Sure, there are plenty of earnest, plain-clothes metal bands that rely on musical performance over high drama, but to some degree, metal has always been about escapism. And no band in recent memory has embodied metal's escapist tendencies better than Sweden's Ghost. ---


Following a performance by neofolk singer / songwriter King Dude-which I missed due to a painfully slow-moving line to enter House of Blues-the masked, robed and nameless ghouls of Ghost took the stage Saturday night like a group of evil monks. Against a canvas backdrop made to resemble stained glass, the musicians quickly transitioned from casting an ominous image to just plain rocking the fuck out, soaring into a high-energy performance of the instrumental title track from their latest album, 2013's Infestissumam.


And then, Papa Emeritus entered. The charismatic frontman of Ghost, Emeritus is-just like the rest of the band-a mysterious figure, draped in papal vestments, his face obscured by corpse paint. He's like a sinister pope, basically, and even once campaigned to be pope, before the conclave decided to go with Francis. And when he slowly strolled to center stage, holding his scepter with his left hand and hoisting up his leather-gloved right hand, that's when the fun really began.


For as much theatrical mayhem and Satanic mischief as Ghost creates through their elaborate image, they're basically a great rock 'n' roll band. Certainly, through songs like "Ritual," "Year Zero" and "Ghouleh / Zombie Queen," they evoke the classic heavy-metal sound of Denmark's Mercyful Fate. But just as often, Ghost displayed a keen knack for pop hooks through standout tracks like "Stand By Him," which owes more to the hard-rock swagger of Blue Oyster Cult-though my wife noted that the song actually sounded a little like Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (which actually isn't that far off).


Deeper into the set, it grew increasingly obvious just how much fun the band seemed to be having, despite how sweaty they must have been under their heavy robes. At one point, Emeritus even gave a bit of a tell that there was a lighthearted regular Joe underneath the face paint, as he noticed someone's young child near the front row (not the only one, I might add).


"There is a small child here tonight," Emeritus said, looking both caught off guard and pleasantly surprised. "Please-take care of the little one." From there, the group brought out a pair of nuns ("Sisters of sin," they called them) to offer communion to the audience during "Body and Blood"; added an extra dose of doom to The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun"; and shone a spotlight in the subtle humor in being a band of nameless musicians by having Emeritus introduce each musician with nothing but wordless gestures and light displays.


It's refreshing, given how seriously some corners of the metal world take themselves, to see a band give itself so willingly to spectacle and kitsch. If there's one thing that Ghost delivers in more plentiful amounts than many of their peers, it's fun.

Candice Eley

 


Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28