IIt’s a feat to bring corpse painting to the mainstream, but Ghost has done it: the Swedes arrive for the opening night of their first UK tour in three years after seeing their new album Impera reach number two up the charts last month.
The group’s identities were once totally secret, and while the others remain anonymous — called Nameless Ghouls, and wearing part steampunk, part Tom Hardy’s Bane headgear — Ghost are a less mysterious proposition now that the theatrical Tobias Forge is known as their leader. . Not that it had any impact on their symphonic and pop metal. What started as an occult doom band turned into a hit arena act, like creepy Def Leppard without the flowing locks.
We’re two songs down and the Premonitory Rats already have a packed arena. Released before the pandemic, Forge sings, “In times of turmoil, in times like these / Beliefs contagious, spreading disease.” Cut out Spillways’ driving guitar chugs and in another life it might be an Abba staple, such is its outrageously catchy chorus – this plinking piano opening is surely a Mamma Mia homage from their fellow Swedes.
“Do you like a lot of punch? Forge inquires, before the group embarks on Mummy Dust. Its goofy keytar solo doesn’t fool anyone: with towering Metallica-style riffs, it’s Ghost’s heaviest song. On the moody Cirice, Forge weaves onto the stage with bat wings, before Square Hammer’s funeral stomp inspires the most frenzied chanting of the night.
There are confetti cannons, costume changes, flamethrowers, and other forms of pyro, but the group is self-aware, which keeps the proceedings from getting too cartoonish. As one of the three guitarists relishes a solo spot on From the Pinnacle to the Pit a bit to their liking, Forge playfully berates them with a wagging finger; it’s pantomime as much as rock’n’roll.
Ghost have often delved into history for themed fare – 2018’s Prequelle took inspiration from the Black Death, Impera from Victorian empires – but they always seemed to be one step ahead on their sensational transatlantic rise. Forge said he had already decided on the title of Ghost’s next album; we just hope he doesn’t forget to take all that into account, because his band has something wonderful to offer in the present.