Ghost and Skeletonwitch made a stop at Rams Head Live on July 29 during a five city mini tour that grew out of the fact that the bands would cross paths on their ways to other places. Skeletonwitch are wrapping up a headlining tour across North America on their way back home to Ohio. Ghost, who hail from Sweden (by way of Hell), are making a few stops on their way to Chicago to play Lollapalooza. These two sharing a stage seemed like strange bedfellows musically, and I kind of didn’t want to miss it. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to go to every show that catches my eye, but thanks to the kind gentlemen in Skeletonwitch (specifically their official band spokesman Scott Hedrick) and the gracious folks at Prosthetic Records, I was able to go to the show and get a photo pit pass.
Everyone I know who is into metal seems to have an opinion about Ghost, and I am no exception. Ghost erupted onto the scene in late 2010 with their debut EP Opus Eponymous. These musicians didn’t come from nothing and no where, however. Ghost is reportedly composed of members of the two Swedish bands: synthrockers Magna Carta Cartel and death metallers Repugnant. They hide their identities. That’s part of their schtick. I get it. I’m willing to go along with the joke. (Hey, I love Dragged Into Sunlight, and I have no problem with them downplaying their identities.)
Ghost seems to engender a lot of strong reaction from listeners. Some hate them and say they are false, posers, manufactured etc. Some love them to the point of near fanaticism, as was evidenced by the handful of Nameless Ghoul wannabes who attended Monday’s show in costume. Me, I just fail to succumb to the hype and certainly never thought of Ghost as metal, but I gave them a listen anyway.
Admittedly, Ghost’s tunes are catchy, easy to sing along with and danceable. Papa Emeritus’ vocals are sweet and almost soothing. Overall, it’s similar to a lot of popular rock. Muse or The Postal Service come to mind except with heavier guitars and more minor chords and more Satan. I have settled on the humorous faux subgenre of Satanic yachtrock to describe them.
But I kept hearing that Ghost’s live show was really great and that I should not write them off without seeing them in person. My stance in situations like this is simple: I like what I like, and I don’t have to give everything that seems almost universally accepted “a chance” just because people think I am somehow defective for not liking what they like. I reserve the right to reject a band without seeing their live show. But here I was, getting ready to see Ghost live.
Now, let me say something about Skeletonwitch, who have spent the last 10+ years building their fan base, slogging around in stinky vans, playing little clubs for whoever would listen. A strong constituency at Rams Head Monday night was primarily there to see Skeletonwitch, which made me happy.
I have seen Skeletonwitch three times now, and each time I like them more. My favorite show was a headlining performance at The Ottobar, because I think they relate well to a smaller crowds. Their guitarists shred, their rhythm section crushes, and Chance Garnette has one of the most evil sounding voices I’ve ever heard. He provides a black metal style of vocal that slices like a razor though a sweet double layer cake of death metal and thrash.
Skeletonwitch worked the larger room well and got the crowd whipped up enough to have some respectable crowd surfing going on. Since the upper levels of Rams Head were blocked off, the 600 or so attendees were forced into the smaller floor area in front of the stage. lending a more intimate feeling to the setting. They cruised through 11 songs, something from each of their four recordings and one new song from their forthcoming album, Serpents Unleashed, that was called “Burned From Bone.” The new album drops in October.
Skeletonwitch played for only 35 minutes, which was not long enough in my opinion. This show was going to get me home early!
I don’t know what I was expecting when Ghost finally took the stage. Smoke, fire? I don’t know. The last show I shot at Rams Head was Behemoth, Watain, The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude. I am not sure anything could have prepared me for Watain live. There’s nothing to compare it to. Nergal and Behemoth command the stage masterfully. Even TDB is compelling live and, of course, blood soaked.
But the Nameless Ghouls just quietly strolled onto the stage and waited for their leader to arrive. You can’t see their faces so you don’t know if they are happy or sad or indifferent about being there. After some build-up, Papa Emeritus II took the stage with little pomp, though the crowd provided enough enthusiasm to make his entrance significant.
When I look at Ghost, mostly what I see is something kind of Halloween-ish. Something like the band that would play in a live-action Scooby Doo movie and turn out to be the bad guy gardener and his tricky henchmen. To me it is costume-shop theatrics framing well executed. but not very exciting, music. For comparison, KISS uses theatrics and costumes, but I am willing to listen to KISS without having to look at them. That is not the case with Ghost, at least not for me. The show’s the thing.
You see, there is something captivating about watching a grown man in an elaborate Pope/Skeletor outfit leading the audience in a Latin sing-a-long. And, I did find my self head-bobbing along with their now familiar songs. After my three songs for shooting in the photo pit ended, I joined friends at the bar and watched the rest of the Ghost show near the Skeletonwitch merch table. At one point during the song “Year Zero”, I ended up doing a kind of hilariously fun Pulp Fiction-esque dance routine with a high schooler. But then again, I will dance to Carpathian Forest and Arckanum, and I don’t care who is watching (and laughing at me). I wished I could have understood some of Papa E.’s stage banter, but from where I was the sound was not clear and people were talking. A few folks were inspired to crowd surf, but that seemed rather unnecessary. And the shouts of “Hail Satan” from the audience were pretty funny. I am sure the members of Ghost are also chuckling to themselves about that, all the way to the bank.
The bottom line about the evening is that I was highly entertained by both groups for completely different reasons. Skeletonwitch always puts forth 10,000 percent and delivered a satisfying performance for the headbangers with such musical integrity that you could feel it in your gut. And Ghost delivered a satisfyingly lighthearted performance that was fun and surprisingly warm, despite the Luciferian overtones. I can’t deny that I was touched by the fact that Papa E. reached out and took a fan by the hand. I am sure that person felt extremely blessed. In summary, I didn’t hate Ghost, but I spent my merch dollars at the Skeletonwitch table. To each, her own I suppose.
Here are some of my best shots and a couple of videos. Enjoy.