REVIEW: Ghost, 02 Academy, Newcastle

Ghost on stage at the 02 Academy, Newcastle. Photo: Billy Lumsden.
Ghost on stage at the 02 Academy, Newcastle. Photo: Billy Lumsden.

Appearances can be deceiving they say, and that’s definitely the case with Ghost.

They’re Scandinavian, wear outlandish masks and outfits and are lead by a Satanic Pope-like figure - you could be forgiven for expecting some sort of unlistenable black metal nonsense, but tonight’s set proved that the Swedish six-piece can run the full gamut of rock and beyond.

Left, the Nameless Ghouls, and right, Papa Emeritus III. Photo: Billy Lumsden.

Left, the Nameless Ghouls, and right, Papa Emeritus III. Photo: Billy Lumsden.

As the band kicked off with Spirit, the first track from recent album Meliora, the Newcastle crowd gave their heroes a rousing welcome, which only got louder as singer Papa Emeritus III hit the stage. He’s a striking character and definitely the figurehead, but this isn’t a one-man show and each of the Nameless Ghouls who make up the rest of the band had an integral part to play.

Next up was From the Pinnacle to the Pit, a song from the heavier end of Ghost’s oeuvre. Full of crunching guitars, it’s classic metal in the vein of mid-period Metallica but has a soaring, chant-along chorus which shows there’s more in the band’s locker than mindless chugging riffs.

Theatrics play a big part in Ghost’s live performance - during Body and Blood two ‘nuns’, the Sisters of Sin, offered unholy communion to the lucky fans in the front row - but unlike bands like GWAR or Kiss, the costumes, masks and spectacle are only part of the show, rather than the whole point of it. Songs as good as Ritual and Cirice, which appeared mid-set, work just as well with no visual stimulus, and that’s the genius of Ghost.

At the mid-way point Papa Emeritus III ditched the Satanic Pope get-up and reappeared in a smart tuxedo as the band launched into He Is. If you needed proof of Ghost’s wide range of influences, this was it - a Scandinavian folk/pop/rock hybrid that maybe isn’t a million miles away from something Abba might have come up with (the twist being it’s about Satan, of course ...). Ghost play it absolutely straight-faced and it was a perfect showcase for Papa’s surprisingly tender, even sweet, voice.

A Nameless Ghoul. Photo: Billy Lumsden.

A Nameless Ghoul. Photo: Billy Lumsden.

Absolution and Mummy Dust followed, taking things back to the heavier end of the spectrum, but even in these rockers there are hints of a wider music universe at play.

The main set finished with a cover of psychedelic rock pioneer Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts. Like all the best cover versions, it sounded completely at home among the rest of Ghost’s set and elicited a huge reaction from the crowd.

The band returned for Monstrance Clock - a fan-favourite, and with its message of togetherness and union, it was a perfect way to send the happy ghouls out into the December night full of festive spirits.

Papa Emeritus III. Photo: Billy Lumsden.

Papa Emeritus III. Photo: Billy Lumsden.