There are a lot of words I can use to describe Swedish metal band Ghost’s concert at Ovens Auditorium Sunday: entertaining, tight, theatrical, rocking, fun, well-rehearsed, and —as my 8-year-old said afterward — “awesome,” but not scary.
(Scary is how a few friends —who didn’t attend the show — described the band after I posted photos on Instagram during intermission. Yes, this was a metal show with an intermission.)
Despite the controversy surrounding its Satanic imagery, succession of skeletal demonic priests (one of which — Papa Nihil — pops up for a brief, blistering sax solo during “Miasma”), and lyrical references to Lucifer and his like, Ghost wasn’t scary, threatening or all that spooky.
That said, the mystique and magic of its live show was much more palatable in its fully realized headlining set than it was when the band opened for Iron Maiden on a sparse stage at PNC Music Pavilion during a daylight set a few years ago.
Seven masked band members performed before at the pulpit-like stage, which took on the look of a grand European Cathedral with a faux marble staircase and a backdrop of Papa Nihil rendered in faux stained glass. Cardinal Copia — Ghost’s latest leader (yet another alter ego of founder and director Tobias Forge) — sauntered about swinging his thurible in priestly cassock robes, or in fitted black and white tuxedo tails (sans bow tie) and banded fedoras reminiscent of a dandy 1930s gangster.
Musically the band, the sound and the Cardinal’s voice were impeccable. In fact, the crowd was the loudest thing in the room, as it roared for songs like “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Mummy Dust,” which received some of the second half’s biggest responses. The only time sound quality was even a blip on my radar was when the band launched back into its chorus-heavy cover of Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts” following lengthy introductions.
Despite the serious production and the seriousness with which most metal of this ilk takes itself, the show wasn’t without humor, intentional or otherwise. The supporting ghouls — while nameless and faceless — weren’t two-dimensional. Two guitarists performed dueling guitars, and after one botched the “Stairway to Heaven” intro, he stormed off stage — defeated — before the band launched into “Cirice,” another crowd favorite.
The same guitarist gave the show its one “Spinal Tap” moment, when he was enveloped in a cloud of thick stage smoke while standing atop one of the smoke machine vents as the band segued from “Absolution” to “Idolatrine.” Copia’s banter was jokey as well, aside from a metaphor about a cut hand healing and enduring life’s lows. It was an uncharacteristically uplifting, sober moment for a self-described shock rock band.
Yet unlike Gwar, which was once banned in Charlotte (or even Alice Cooper, who performed at Ovens in October), the emphasis for Ghost was more on the rock than the shock.
No one was beheaded, no monsters roamed the stage. For us, it was family night. In fact, the crowd ranged from 7-year-olds to graying old metal heads, who’ve likely found something familiar in Ghost’s combination of pop-metal, classic rock song-craft and dark imagery.
While at its most sinister during “Year Zero’s” cries of “Hail Satan” — which sent the otherwise reserved man to my left into fits of head-banging, teeth-baringand fist-pumping — Ghost is at its essence an amalgamation of its influences, with equal parts Queen and Black Sabbath stirring in its cold black heart.