It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with Swedish Satan Rock superstars Ghost. Since the release of their third LP “Meliora”, initial subsequent US Tour, and supplementary EP release “Popestar”, the cat officially got out of the bag about the band’s real origins, that all three Papas Emeritus (Papa Emerituses? Papa Emeritii?) were just one man, a Swedish music industry lifer by the name of Tobias Forge, with a revolving cadre of backing musicians taking up the mantle of Nameless Ghouls, surprising and shocking the type of people that think Wrestling is real, and that if you shoot Hugh Jackman in the face his skin will really spit the bullet back out.
Papa, Ghost, Tobias, whatever has soldiered on though, despite some nasty legal entanglements and a slight downgrade in the mysterious coolness department, with a fourth LP on the way (one with Forge fully in the driver’s seat, just as he was on the band’s super heavy, creepy and yet to be topped debut “Opus Eponymous”) and with another nod to their occult arena rock forebears in Black Sabbath and Kiss have unleashed a live record, “Ceremony and Devotion”, currently available in all forms imaginable (even Eight Track!), that is a timely reminder just how great a band Ghost can be when you ignore the real world ramifications of how such a phenomenon came to be and allow yourself to be taken in by all the devilish pomp and circumstance and enjoy the show.
Recorded on the San Francisco stop of last summer’s “Popestar” jaunt and produced and mixed by Tom Dalgety, “C&D” sounds as absolutely massive as the band does live, yet not overly polished with plenty of organic grit in the mix. Forge doesn’t get much credit as a vocalist typically but he’s just as impressive here as he has been during the handful of times I’ve caught the band live over the years, wavering slightly towards the lengthy set’s end, and the fact that those imperfections make it onto wax are more of an expression towards the man’s integrity as a performer than any strike against this record’s overall presentation.
“C&D’s” greatest strength is it’s setlist, which starts with “Popestar” banger “Square Hammer” and runs from there with a solid selection of the best tracks from the band’s three LPs, including increasingly rare favorites like “Elizabeth” and “Secular Haze”, and avoiding over reliance of their questionable stable of covers. “Meliora” material, “Cirice”, “Absolution”, and particularly “Mummy Dust”, sounds especially savage and driving, as do scathing takes on “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” and “Con Clavi Con Dio”. Oddball power ballads “Body and Blood” and “He Is” also resonate deeply, while, of course “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” is the oddball centerpiece of the proceedings. Whether the new record is as “Opus Eponymous” heavy as promised or not, I hope it’ll still find time for some organ driven psychedelic freak-out-ery. “Genesis”, sadly, does not make the cut this time out.
Tobias Forge is one of the metal internet’s favorite whipping boys for sure, even more so now that his entire story has been laid bare. But you can’t deny that Ghost is a genius concept executed brilliantly, and that the man at the center of it is absolutely working his ass off. Bring on Papa Emeritus IV.