The Agit Reader

The Fillmore, Philadelphia, July 20

August 1st, 2017  |  by Brian O'Neill


If you had a dollar for every disparaging word posted on the internet about Ghost, you could retire a very wealthy person. Factor in legitimate concerns over how Papa Emeritus, a.k.a. Tobias Forge, was outed as a control freak who shit-canned his whole band, and it’s easy for a metalhead to get even more cynical than usual.

As such, it was especially refreshing to see Astronoid open the show. Forget about the uniqueness of the band’s stargazer space-metal with three guitars that sound like synths and a vocalist who seems to harmonize with himself. For every metal truism the Boston band defies, they perfectly fulfilled the stereotypical role of young upstarts getting their big break and confidently carpe-ing that diem.

With everything to prove and nothing to lose, the band blew through half a dozen songs from last year’s Air without pausing to breathe, making every second of their 35 minutes matter in front of the soldout venue. There will likely be more big moments for Astronoid, and you can’t help but think they will be up to the task.

Despite all of the controversies (and maybe a little bit because of them), Ghost is one of the only metal bands to emerge in the post-download era (alongside Mastodon) to successfully make the jump from indie cult attraction to the majors. The band sold out the same room Megadeth didn’t just three weeks prior and only a month and a half after supporting Iron Maiden in the arena down the road.

A big reason for that success is due to the band’s flamboyant secrecy. Even as internet sleuths and law suits shatter the illusion of integrity, Ghost still embraces the former like the musicians on the Titanic, actors who refuse to break character despite the set collapsing around them. Even when admonishing someone in the crowd who started a fight, Papa made telling the brawler to fuck off seem like a Papal decree.

For those disheartened by the current state of Ghostly affairs who still want to believe, consider it a solo project. The current Nameless Ghouls certainly do; anonymous, masked foils who didn’t have to write the material to play it, didn’t have to slog it out in garages, vans, and shithole clubs. They flashed horn hands, bounced around the spartan multi-level stage, and rocked the poses and played their parts just like the contract says they should.

Never mind the bollocks, the truth is in the strength of the songs, which is why Ghost could open the show with “Square Hammer,” its biggest hit and only song performed from the Popestar EP from which the tour takes its name. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to open a show with your most popular, most recent song and audacious bluster if you fall on your face from that point on. But that didn’t happen.

Ghost obviously relished being able to stretch out with a headlining set in between Maiden shows, playing a setlist culled mostlyfrom 2015’s Meloira and the sophomore Opus Eponymous; only two songs from the debut were played, though one of them, the insanely catchy “Ritual,” did close the set. The band has several EPs of interesting cover songs that they’ve made their own (Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts” being particularly wonderful) but they didn’t play a single one. This might have been a missed opportunity, though hearing just how many legitimately great songs Ghost has in its repertoire made it a minor misstep at worst.

Highlights included the epic melodramatic balladry of “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” and “He Is,” the best love song to Satan ever penned, as well as riff-roaring cuts such as the chunky “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and the Sabbathian “Cirice.” As unorthodox as Ghost sometimes appears, they nevertheless seamlessly fall into rock & roll cliche. The crowd was showered with confetti, not blood, and Papa does all the standard stage banter. Some of it may be tongue in cheek; “Mummy Dust” was introduced as a song which would make your “taint tremble,” which is not something Paul Stanley ever said (but it sure would have been funny if he did). And we won’t even discuss the strange ode to orgasms that was the introduction to the Uriah Heep-ing psych-rock encore “Monstrance Clock.”

The most impressive thing about the concert wasn’t the theatrics or the way the band merges Blue Oyster Cult and Mercyful Fate with genuine pop songcraft, but the audience assembled to watch. Little kids and grizzled concert veterans stood side by side; underground types in black tee-shirts high-fived mainstream Metallica mooks; and women of all ages were in attendance in far greater numbers than is standard. It had the feel of an Ozzfest-type festival with representatives from every metal demographic and even a fair number of onlookers who don’t self-identify with the dark arts at all. Except this wasn’t two stages; it was two bands, one of whom hardly anyone knew. Ghost alone brought all of them together. Don’t tell the haters, they’re definitely doing something right.

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