By Natalie Zed; live photos by Adam Wills
I’ve been looking forward to this show for ages. Fellow Hellbound writer and friend Justin M. Norton suggested I check out Ghost months ago and I was immediately smitten with the retro coolness of their sound, and the disparity of their surprisingly upbeat music paired with unabashedly occult and infernal lyrics. I was so disappointed when they could not get into the country to join Enslaved and Alcest on tour (recently I heard a rumour that was because they put their stage names on their visa forms – can you imagine working for the border and getting paperwork from Nameless Ghoul and Papa Emeritus?). When it was announced that they had successfully been cleared to travel and would be headlining, I was overjoyed. Theatricality is a necessary and vital part of heavy metal, in my mind. From the carefully choreographed violence of hardcore to the complex film projections of prog, the live metal experience is as much about putting on a show as it is purely playing music. Ghost promised to deliver on this front, and that definitely revs my engine.
The night started off somewhat lacklustre with a set from Ancient Vvisdom. The self-styled “metal rock ‘n’ roll” band from Austin, Texas sound a lot like a dirtier, folkier Alice In Chains. Though they had lots of carelessly applied makeup, battle jackets and small animal bones strewn about the stage, I got the feeling that they were playing, that they were really something more akin of a hard indie rock band just trying on the trappings of metal in an ironic way. The front man of Ancient VVisdom is also the percussionist (I can’t call someone who plays two cymbals and a tom a drummer, even if he uses a length of chain as often as drumsticks), and he certainly pours out energy into the performance. They did ease into their set, I can say that I enjoyed the last two songs, but they didn’t seem comfortable enough with their own aesthetic to really pull it off.
I’ve seen Blood Ceremony in smaller venues and less auspicious circumstances, and have always been impressed; at this show they completely blew me away with their intensity and skill. The band are based right here in Toronto, and are surely one of the city’s hard rock gems. They both terrorized and thrilled the Mod Club with a top-notch performance. Blood Ceremony call themselves “witch-rock,” and perform a combination of occult metal, harsh folk and horror infused classic rock. Frontwoman Alia O’Brien is an arresting figure, performing with heavy, Nefertiti-like eyeliner and black hot pants, the long fringes on her coat accentuating the swooping movements of her arms as she switched between singing (in a smoky, coke-dark voice), playing the flute (eerie and playful) and pressing the keys of the organ (oppressive and moody). Their set was vibrant, vital, heavy, and super playful and enjoyable too. They put on a weird performance that is also supremely great to witness. They have been deservedly enjoying quite a bit of success this year after the release of their sophomore album, Living With The Ancients (March 2011), and touring Europe. They deserve even more support, and especially more love and attention locally If you have not checked this band out I sincerely advise that you do!
Ghost are a band who thrive on theatricality; it is their life blood. A red velvet curtain obscured the stage the entire time the band was setting up, and came up as the opening notes of the intro music began to play, with the band already on stage and dramatically backlit. There can be no doubt that the undead cardinal Papa Emeritus and his band of hooded Nameless Ghouls are a imposing sight, and the dramatic coloured lighting in lurid shades of red, pink and green makes everything even more surreal.
Musically, however, it pains me to say that their set was only okay. Vocalist and front-demon Papa Emeritus’ voice started out on “Deus Culpa” kind of weird and pitchy, as though he had not warmed up.
Ghost clearly settled into the show, and while the performance never lagged and the illusion was seamless, the music was just decent. The cheerfulness of the record, Opus Eponymous, works as a recorded piece but as a live show the upbeat garage rock seems not only at odds with the incredible perfomativity of anything else, but becomes almost thin and weak in comparison. The performance benefited from a tight set, barely 50 minutes in length. Ghost played their whole album plus a cover of “Here Comes The Sun” (which was great) and no encore, just the red curtain coming down and again obscuring the stage. I fully enjoyed myself, loved the spectacle of it, and look I forward to the band touring and performing more, and in the process getting better at their live sets and improving their charisma.