Ghost is a metal band from Sweden that appeals to a wide swath of fans: from metalheads who appreciate the group’s loud, heavy songs that pay homage to classic-rock riffs to mainstream rock fans who like its hard, catchy hooks to fans who relate to and indulge in the band’s over-the-top lyrics, which, tongue-in-cheek or not, express Satanic and occult themes.
Most of the nearly 1,500 fans at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Friday night seemed to be the two former types. Many sported concert T-shirts honoring their favorite metal bands, including Slayer and Megadeth; others appeared to be there for the sing-along songs and the high entertainment quotient.
For more than 90 minutes, those fans were treated to a lavish exercise in rock theater. Ghost took the stage in all its costumed glory. Lead singer Papa Emeritus III wore papal vestments: a dark cassock and a miter monogrammed with an upside-down cross. His face was covered by a skeletal mask. Aside from him, the five Nameless Ghouls wore matching dark jackets and horned devil masks. Behind the band towered three faux stained-glass windows.
Ghost’s music is a hybrid of several hard-rock styles but it bears a heavy pop element. Because of their appearance, they draw comparisons to bands like King Diamond or Slipknot, but at times they sound like something brighter, like a gloomier version of Queen. It all made for a show that was as entertaining and theatrical as it was innocuous – that is, more Rob Zombie camp than Rammstein or early Marilyn Manson menace.
Several times, Papa Emeritus chatted with the crowd up front, adding levity to the presentation. Otherwise, he let the music and his band do the work. They opened with “Square Hammer,” a gleeful pile-driving pop-rock anthem from the deluxe edition of “Meliora,” released in August 2015. It delivers a melody and chorus that are irresistibly catchy and that, upon close listen, bear a slight resemblance to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”
They followed that with another “Meliora” track: “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” a more straightforward metal anthem with some grunge dynamics (think Alice in Chains). Then came “Secular Haze,” a waltz-like anthem from the “Infestissmam” album.
Ghost’s lyrics are sophomorically provocative, like this passage from the turbo-charged hardcore anthem “Mummy Dust,” one of several highlights: “You are the possessée of avarice / I am the ruler of the earth / I will smother you in riches / Until you choke on sordid mirth.” Or this from “Stand By Him”: “Devil's power is the greatest one / When his and hers holiest shuns the sun.”
Whatever dark side the lyrics attempt to cast, however, is washed away by the well-crafted music and arrangements, the outstanding musicianship, the extravagant stage and light presentation (including a confetti blizzard during “Mummy Dust”) and Papa Emeritus’ dexterous, expressive voice.
They closed with a flourish. After “Mummy Dust” came “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” which starts as a rock hymn embroidered with some Pink Floyd traits before erupting into a riotous anthem, then “Ritual,” a sing-along rock song built on pop progressions and lacquered with vocal harmonies.
For the encore, they performed “Monstrance Clock,” a stadium-size anthem with a catchy-as-hell chorus and cryptic lyrics that name-check Lucifer and that is, supposedly, dedicated to the female orgasm. Whatever.
Lyrics aside, it was another grand exercise in the confluence of songcraft, musicianship, role playing and theater, all of it harmless but worthwhile and entertaining, no matter the band’s name or lyrical themes.
Square Hammer; From the Pinnacle to the Pit; Secular Haze; Stand By Him; Con Clavi Con Dio; Per Aspera ad Inferi; Body and Blood; Devil Church; Circle; Year Zero; He Is; Absolution; Mummy Dust; Ghuleh/Zombie Queen; Ritual. Encore: Monstrance Clock.