Asked about festival shows in interviews, ‘the man behind the mask’ of Ghost often says that they should only be considered a trailer for the real headline shows. And even though some of the festival sets I’ve seen from Ghost are very close to my heart (actually I consider for example the Tuska 2016 or Alcatraz 2017 shows some of my favourite rituals ever), he does have a point. We had a blast with Ghost at the festivals this summer (about which I’ve written plenty here), and they were nice to get used to the new era and the (partly) new band, but now it was time for the real deal!
Fans from all over Europe were desperate to see Ghost again, and them playing at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall – that’s not something you can easily say no to. I still don’t think many people expected tickets to sell out within seconds… but as a result of the hard work and clever marketing of the last years, Ghost are blowing through the roof at the moment!
Needless to say, expectations were high. Needless to say, Ghost exceeded them.
Once inside the venue, time went by faster than ever! Doors opened very late, and the evening was Ghost only, no support act – it felt like we had hardly settled into our spots when Miserere Mei Deus already started softly drifting from the speakers. The renaissance choir piece had always been an integral part of every ritual but hadn’t been played at the festivals, so it felt like finally everything was in its place again. Not in its place though was Masked Ball, the second formerly integral ritual intro. Instead, right after Miserere Mei, the Prequelle opening song Ashes started. A new opener for the show, like a sign for the new direction of Ghost: not as devilish and scary as before, but it’s not as if there wasn’t a certain creepiness to the child’s voice on Ashes while the Ghouls are motionlessly standing on stage… And more importantly: Ashes is huge. Ashes is epic and powerful, and the perfect overture to a grandiose show! That is the direction Ghost is going.
Rats now kicked off the set for real… and sounded horrible! Whether a guitar was out of tune or a Ghoul had lost his nerves on entering the stage of stages, I don’t know… but fortunately the problem disappeared soon, and it’s probably the last negative thing I’ll have to say about this show. Rats, followed by Absolution, two uplifting uptempo songs to get the crowd singing, dancing and headbanging, also a lot of opportunity for the whole band to introduce themselves to the audience, for example with the choir vocals on Rats or the dual guitar solo on Absolution, and of course the fierce vocals of Cardinal Copia. Rrrrrratss! This is how you start a show!
Ghost then moved to the more sacred atmosphere of their first albums with the next four songs, after all we were summoned for a divine cause… If we hadn’t felt divine before, we certainly did the moment we heard the intro of Con Clavi Con Dio – this was some serious bass porn for our ears! I’ve always had a thing for the various bass Ghouls in Ghost (all of them probably complimented by the great bass lines of the songs), and the new one is no exception; he plays very precise and even though his performance is rather chilled, compared to the guitarists at least, there’s a lot of energy in his sound. But the focus shifted quickly to the Cardinal who brought his incense on stage. Now clad in a long black coat and a cardinal’s hat, he finally looked like the religious entity he’s supposed to portrait, and reigned the Royal Albert Hall from the center of the stage….
….just to return a little bit later, after the Ghouls had excelled on Miasma, in his ridiculous white dandy suit. Although to be honest, in real life it didn’t look nearly as ridiculous as on the pictures I had seen before. To be honest, the white suit looked fucking cool!
The set was leaving the metal spheres now and slowed down instead. The guitar-synth-battle Miasma was followed by a relaxed acoustic performance of Jigolo Har Megiddo, actually the first time I ever heard this song live!
My life was complete when the string intro of Pro Memoria came up right after Jigolo. Pro Memoria is one of my favourite songs on Prequelle, and live it was even more intense, more than anything else due to Cardi whose vocals were captivating on this one! He hit the ‘ain’t that right, Swede Saint Peter’ line at the climax of the song – and suddenly you remember the human behind the mask who is stuck in the middle of a lawsuit, sued by his former band mates, flying over to London between two court days and delivering the show of his life (so far)!
Deus in Absentia ended Act I of this set. Is it really less than a year ago that this wonderful song was live-premiered in Stockholm? Seems like a lifetime ago…
The world is on fire, god is absent – we have reached a complication, and this is how we enter the darkness of Act II, to try to fight ourselves out of it. (However, we have to get through the intermission first. Even though I love the idea of splitting the set into two acts and how the setlist seems to follow the dramaturgy of a classical theatre piece, the break didn’t really work for me, to be honest. I have said before that seeing Ghost feels like entering a different, magical world, but the intermission brought us back to the real world for 20 minutes, the very normal world of people fetching another drink or posting their first pictures on instagram, while I just tried to cling to the enchanting feeling of seeing Ghost.)
Darkness, I said it. At last there is Masked Ball, dragging our minds back to the show. Deus in Absentia, the closer of the Meliora album, had closed Act I; Spirit, Meliora’s opener, opened Act II. For me, Spirit was the emotional highlight of the whole set, the one moment that really made me tear up. Not only because the song itself is beautiful and incredibly powerful without needing the biggest, heaviest riffs, but also (now here comes the personal part) because it brought up a massive flashback to my first Ghost gigs in 2015/16, when Masked Ball->Spirit used to open every ritual. A flashback to a time in my life when I was very unhappy and depressed until I fell head over heels in love with this band and their spellbinding live performances, giving me the energy to move forward and the courage to throw myself into the vessel of possibilities and to change things that needed to be changed.
Ghost threw one heavy banger after the next at us now. Pinnacle! Faith! Stop – a short moment to pause on He Is… (After I had started to get a bit bored by this song on previous rituals, tonight I really felt it again. Simply everything was a little bit more intense at this show.) …and on they went with, unholy shit, Prime Mover!, and last but not least Mummy Dust, including tons of cofetti of course. During this part of the set, nothing was more fun than watching lead guitar Ghoul who was right in front of us most of the time. Not only does he kill it on every guitar solo (taking them to the next level by adding some pretty vibrato here or a mental little adlib there…), he also seems to feel the music with every fiber of his body, rocks harder than anyone else in the building, keeps the level of sass high and is sometimes just a little bit too naughty… He’s also a great match to rhythm guitar Ghoul, the chemistry between these two seems to be excellent and together they are responsible for a good part of the entertainment.
…but then Ghoulette comes out on Mummy Dust and steals the show by delivering the solo of the night on her keytar!
Finally the set slowed down for If You Have Ghosts, with Cardinal Copia taking his time to give every Ghoul and Ghoulette their due credit.
It seems we have reached a solution in our theatre play, because it’s time to put on them dancing shoes, to end the set on Dance Macabre and Square Hammer. But wait – emotional Cardi strikes again. You thought Dance Macabre was a trivial, happy love song? Actually a bit too happy and too trivial for a satanic rock band? But have you ever noticed how dark and sinister the song actually is? No, me neither… But suddenly there was Cardi, singing about wanting to turn back the time, about a sting in the way he’s kissed, about it being the last time before it’s over. And for the first time, Dance Macabre felt sad and sinister to me, therefore fitting unexpectedly well into this set that had had Prime Mover a mere 20 minutes before.
Of course they’re not leaving us with a (not so) shitty ending like that. We deserve an especially happy ending, namely Monstrance Clock. While Cardi talked us through the details of achieving very certain happy endings and apologized for not being able to fuck all of us outside in Hyde Park, my eyes caught a Ghoul who was looking up and letting his view drift across the four levels of balconies in awe. Even with the mask covering his face, it wasn’t very hard to guess his thoughts in this moments.
And this is the end of what might have been the best out of the 24 rituals I’ve seen so far. The sound – amazing (at least where we were standing, I heard other people complained about it later…). The Ghoulettes and Ghouls – very close to perfection in regards of playing, singing and entertaining. The visual design – beautiful, although the amount of smoke caused poor Cardi to get a coughing fit at some point… 😉 But who cares as long as it looked good, and it did!
Cardi – I don’t have words, he ran the show like a true master, perfectly balancing comical and thoughtful moments in just the right pace, rocking all of his four outfits. Admittedly, he might not be the best singer in the world and surely misses a few notes here and there, but as I’ve implied several times, on this night I found his vocals more expressive than ever, he made me discover new aspects of the songs and certainly gave me all the feels sometimes.
There’s this picture that was posted on Ghost’s instagram account a few hours after the gig. Blurry and low-quality as it might be, it is an almost scarily accurate illustration of how I perceived the show. Me at the barrier. The band in font of me, represented here very fittingly by my favourite Ghoul.
Just slightly recognizable, my friends to my left and right. The rest of the crowd pretty much lost in fog and darkness. Just like ever so often before, Ghost made me forget everything around me; while they were on stage there was just me and the band and nothing (or nobody) else. For example, I can’t tell you anything about the crowd; whether they were loud and active or rather calm, I don’t know, I didn’t notice. A show that keeps your attention so tightly bound to the performance that the world around you disappears for more than two hours – what else could you wish for?
Remember that Cardinal Copia wants to fuck all of us in Hyde Park? (And all of us want to get fucked by Cardi of course?) Well… with the speed at which Ghost is rocketing to the sky, I totally expect them to play the giant Hyde Park open air stage in a few years (months, probably). Ghost shows or sex… where’s the difference anyway? 😉 In conclusion: Cardi’s wish could be fulfilled one day.