all words: Robert Winship
What is the current state of metal? Do we even know what metal is? The spiked arm bracelets, the face paint, the screaming, the decades of Sabbath and Maiden rip-offs. Where are we at with this? Like ‘pop’ and ‘rock’ the term has all but lost its significance and people have vastly divergent opinions on the matter. Patrick Galbraith and Nick Grant’s MAP OF METAL is a valuable tool in understanding a bit of the fractured nomenclature and history of metal. Metal massive banner under which many styles of aggressive music sit, beginning in the three ‘islands’ of psychedelic rock, blues rock, and garage rock. It might seem a little pedestrian, even sacrilegious to be taking metal history in the form of a color-coded picture-map, but the in-scene disputes over what classifies as ‘deathgrind’, as opposed to ‘grindcore’, point to such a need. This just serves to show that you need a little context and a wide purview when listing to and establishing your views on metal.
The venue was hot and packed on Thursday night. Openers Ancient VVisdom steadied the evening with southern metal/rock and a dash of folk, sometimes resembling the better Pantera albums. Blood Ceremony, the second band, was a little much for me. The Toronto outfit played some really solid bluesy carpet-metal. The variable to their set was the blending in, or bowing out to, the lead singer’s penchant for flute soloing. They pieced together their brand or music well, but it wasn’t terribly compelling and something about a pale, leather-clad girl playing the flute with wide eyes and theatrical blood, just felt a little juvenile. But, when done right, the shtick can work.
Enter Ghost, a Norwegian revival of old-school Satanic metal, in the tradition of Mercyful Fate. They’ve only been around for a few years and released one proper album, but they are a strong and dedicated act. Unfortunately the band did not allow photography at the show, so you’ll have to take my word for the events of the evening. The band is a six-piece group of costumed members. In any official capacity, the individual members are referred to only as ‘Nameless Ghouls’, never by a real name or unmasked face. All but one of the member’s are cloaked in full-body, executioner-style, black suits. The lead singer, sometimes referred to as ‘Papa Emeritus’, dons a bishop’s vestments and paints his face as a skull. During the performance, the twisted bishop only acknowledges the screams and devil horns of the audience with the signature papal acknowledgment, that is the spaced eyes and head nod. Ghost never breaks the character of their show, entering the stage to “Masked Ball” from Eyes Wide Shut and exiting to chanting and the dispersing of incense.
They moved through a short set with the heavy anchoring guitars on “Prime Mover” and “Con Clavi Con Dio”, while Papa Emeritus pulled off the more harrowing harmonies on “Elizabeth” and “Satan Prayer”. As they came into the end of their set, they took a break for some ritual chanting, then babies crying, then…I swear to Satan, they played the intro to “Here Comes The Sun”. Sure enough, it was a full-on cover of the least expected song of the night, but they hammered through it straight and passionately, giving the Fab Four their due. If any of their set had come with a wink or the understanding that they were not 100% into what they were preaching, it would have failed.
Here’s the thing, if you’re going to give this stuff a chance and don’t already own a full collection of Metal Blade LPs, Ghost might be the best place for you to jump in as the attuned, young (unharvested) soul that you are. The vocal harmonies are clear and strong, keeping the hunger-dunger guitars and adept soloing in check. The occasional chant and hymnal organ intros set this off as one of Satan’s greatest accomplishments in the last few years. If I weren’t so damn averse the the ritual human bloodshed, I’d be down to join this party. And wherever you are when the Prince of Darkness calls out your name to join the legions at the next Ghost show, please, in the name of Lucifer, heed the call.