Metal band Ghost makes a hauntingly strong appearance in Boise

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Andrea Carrizales is a Boise State student guest writing for The Arbiter.

It has been four years since the last time Swedish rock/metal band Ghost performed here in Boise, when they headlined the Knitting Factory during their 2015 Black to the Future tour. Now, after having three Grammy nominations and one win under their belt, they took the stage at the recently renamed ExtraMile Arena to perform what could, essentially, be called an anti-Catholic mass.

One of the first things many people say when they first hear Ghost is how much their sound differs from their appearance. While more elite metalheads view this negatively, most Ghost fans see their genre defying sound as part of the appeal. Often compared with bands like Blue Öyster Cult, their music combines light tenor vocals with dark, occult-themed lyrics and catchy riffs. 

Ghost’s frontman and director, Tobias Forge, has a tendency to go for theatrical performances, and takes the opportunity to express those tendencies thoroughly within every aspect of this band. 

Shortly after the opening act, Nothing More, left the stage, the venue filled with the unobtrusive scent of incense. The music shifts to a piano melody, “Klara stjärnor” by Jan Johansson, then again to “Miserere mei, Deus” by Gregorio Allegri. This celestial Gregorian chant sets the mood perfectly for the show, or ritual, as the band and their fans refer to them.

Then the lights go out and the song “Ashes” begins, signifying the start of the show. A child’s voice sings a haunting version of the nursery rhyme (“Ring-a-ring o’ roses, a pocket full of posies…”), the final words punctuated by a heavy guitar riff. The curtain rose to reveal a large set of cathedral-like stairs leading up to platforms for the musicians, a towering stained glass backdrop, and of course, the Nameless Ghouls.

The Ghouls, adorned in black clothing and silver, horned masks, immediately launch into “Rats,” the first single off of Ghost’s most recent full length album, “Prequelle.” Cardinal Copia strides out, clad in a devilish red outfit, charisma radiating off him. The lyrics of “Rats” recall the time of the Black Death, a theme consistent throughout “Prequelle.” Second and third on the setlist are “Absolution” off of their 2017 album “Meliora,” and “Faith,” one of the heavier songs from their latest album.

Up next is “Mary on a Cross,” a synth heavy, harmony-filled 60’s/70’s style jam. This song is half of their most recently released seven-inch EP, “Seven Inches of Satanic Panic.” The instrumental “Devil Church” gives Copia time to change costumes — something he does multiple times in a night — and an entertaining guitar duel between two Ghouls precludes “Cirice,” the song that sent Ghost home with a Grammy. At every show, Copia takes this chance to woo one of his captive audience members, singing directly to them and holding their hand when the stage allows for it. There is no doubt that everyone hopes that this time; maybe it will be them.

The show takes an eerie turn as multiple plague doctors tread slowly across the stage, holding out lanterns and examining the audience members, mist swirling under their feet, before they wordlessly exit on the other side. Another instrumental, “Miasma,” gives the musicians a chance to shine. Even Papa Nihil, the elderly father of the late Papa Emeriti I, II and III, gets some time on stage to rock a sweet saxophone solo.

After the rousing “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a shortened version of “Helvetesfönster,” and two more songs from “Meliora,” Forge takes it back to the band’s first release with “Ritual” and “Satan Prayer,” two of the more sinister songs in Ghost’s repertoire. But none is quite so evil, both in lyrics and performance, as the fan favorite, “Year Zero.” A chorus of “Hail Satan / Archangelo / Hail Satan / Welcome year zero!” echoes through the arena, accompanied by fire and smoke engulfing the stage, a spectacle to behold.

Ghost rounded out the evening with a performance of their newest single “Kiss the Go-Goat,” another song with a 60’s, almost psychedelic vibe, and “Dance Macabre,” a catchy but lyrically ominous love song. Then, instead of pretending to go backstage and come out for a familiar encore, they closed out the night with the popular “Square Hammer,” a song perfectly suited for an arena show. Copia and the Ghouls take their time saying their goodbyes to the audience, and end their time in Boise with a bow.

This was my third time seeing Ghost live, and I was just as enraptured as the first. From the costumes, to the audience interaction, to the effects and lighting and beautifully detailed backdrop, to the music itself, seeing this band is an awesome experience from start to finish. It is an amazing thing for a band to be so tongue-in-cheek and over the top yet still so genuinely brilliant and compelling at the same time.

Tobias Forge is a hell of a showman and he does not half-ass anything, at least not relating to Ghost, and it shows. Though he has stated before that he does not plan on doing any touring in 2020, I can only imagine what else he has in store.

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