The adorably Satanic dark rock and/or metal group GHOST returned to Helsinki again under the banner of The Ultimate Tour Named Death, uh… tour. We’ve all surely seen GHOST live at some point, but this time they had upgraded to Hartwall Arena. They’ve only been to Finland once since their latest album, “Prequelle,” came out last year but that was a supporting slot for METALLICA in Hämeenlinna. For this Hartwall Arena show in Helsinki on November 28th, 2019, they brought their countrymen, TRIBULATION, and American group ALL THEM WITCHES for support.
I’m probably the biggest GHOST enthusiast at Musicalypse, though I haven’t actually written much about them. I’ve been listening to them ever since I first heard “Opus Eponymous” back when it came out. I read about them in Terrorizer Magazine, if I recall correctly. It was that first, high-pitched, nasal declaration of “Lucifer” in “Con Clavi con Dio” that got me hooked. I loved the rough, analog sound and the cutesy approach to witchcraft and occultism. Though, it wasn’t until I saw them opening for IRON MAIDEN in 2013 that I realized, I was actually a fan. I missed out on the Hämeenlinna show so I hadn’t actually seen them live since 2017 in Jäähalli, Helsinki. That was a whole album plus a single ago, so they had lots of material I hadn’t seen them do yet. As a cherry on top, they had TRIBULATION with them. Therefore, I felt it was high time to go to black mass again.
The first opener was the sublime black n’ roll band, TRIBULATION. They started with “Nightbound” from their latest album, “Down Below,” which some of you will recognize as my nomination for last year’s third best album. It was one of the catchiest and most energetic songs in their repertoire. Their backdrop, as well as their outfits were carefully crafted and stylized. Their signature NWoBHM (as in new wave of black heavy metal) guitars rang beautifully in the giant arena hall. Their set had a myriad of fantastic songs including “The Lament,” “The World,” “Melancholia,” “The Motherhood of God,” and of course, “Strange Gateways Beckon.” Sadly, despite their great energy, they had to perform to an almost empty arena. They were simply slated to play way too early for people to show up. I felt like I was the only one who was genuinely enthusiastic to see them. Johannes Andersson‘s performance was absolutely immaculate, almost better than on the album. Jonathan Hultén‘s ballet dancing while playing was as mesmerizing as ever.
ALL THEM WITCHES had a much bigger crowd but a more down-played stage. Instead of Gothic backgrounds and horror elements, they had one big image in the back but otherwise the band merely stood in a row on an empty stage. They wore very casual black clothing, not different from one would imagine they’d wear every day. The three-piece was quintessentially American in both demeanor and style. Despite having occult themes in their music, they came across as just another stoner jam band. That being said, the mellow songs were crunchy and cool. The show was at it’s best when they had a good blues groove going. But even then I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I’d rather just be listening to ZZ-TOP. Ultimately they just didn’t live up to the expectations set up by the rest of the roster.
GHOST teased the crowd with “Ashes,” the intro from “Prequelle.” It utilized “Ring Around the Roses” the old folk song about the Bubonic plague which served as the perfect segue for “Rats.” The stage was made up to look like a marble palace. In the background they had a fake stained glass window which depicted what seemed to be Jesus anointing Papa Emeritus and him in turn anointing his successor, another Papa Emeritus. The singer, now known as Cardinal Copia, had a red suit in which he swaggered about like Tom Jones. Some people who are way smarter than me were reminded of The Joker as he danced his way down the steps. For this and the immediately following “Absolution,” the crowd screamed and sang along in a manner seldom seen in Finland. They used two pyrotechnics during the second song which came out flat and uninteresting. The Cardinal then wowed the audience by pronouncing the name of the country we were in, which of course, never fails to garner applause. After “Faith” they then played the new hit B-side “Mary on a Cross.” The crowd seemed really happy to hear it live and the band displayed some of their best vocal harmonies. It had an awesome chorus but was held back by the verses being virtually identical to those of “Dance Macabre.”
It was nice to see the Cardinal had a bit more room to maneuver in his tacky suits than Papa Emeritus’ did in their long papal gowns. The new Nameless Ghouls seemed to outnumber the old. For one thing, they had two keyboard players, including some female Ghouls. “Are these the first?” I wondered. Despite being mostly hired guns, they were given the chance to perform a little guitar duel before the next song, “Cirice,” came on. Honestly, it was cute at first but it went on far too long and the solos weren’t particularly interesting. After that, a few people dressed as plague doctors (the type with the spooky beaked masks) came on stage for a half a minute. The band then played the instrumental marvel that is “Miasma,” even including a real saxophone player at the end. The Cardinal then rode on stage with a bicycle (as you do) and proceeded to warm up the crowd by having them perform the classic screaming match between the different segments of the crowd. As the audience then became restless he jokingly reprimanded them for not taking it seriously. Then the lights cut out for an instant until “Guleh/Zombie Queen” started. If ever there was a time to sing along, this was it. What a gorgeous song, epic track.
On the slightly newer end of the spectrum was “Spirit” followed by its contemporary, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit.” The Cardinal came back with an outfit more befitting a clergyman. “Spirit” especially shined with its theremin intro, proggy transitions, heavy main riff, and grandiose chorus. The Cardinal then urged the audience to clap along as they played “Ritual” from the first album. “Oh, I’m getting the claps in Finland,” he cried. It was nice hearing something from my favorite album for a change. An outfit change later, they went on with “Satan Prayer,” which was a lot less fun but the chorus was so memorable – it was hard not to love. Despite that, the crowd wasn’t very loud when attempting to actually sing it. It was probably mostly because it’s usually in a lower register. They got a whole lot louder for “Year Zero” though. It was as epic as they come. They then shifted to a wholly different energy with “He Is,” which even inspired the elusive phone torch wave. The Cardinal then made a huge speech about how heavy the next song was going to be, that we could only ever be let down by it. In his defense, “The Mummy Dust” is a reasonably heavy song and it did, as he so crudely put it, “tickle [my] taint.” They even had confetti. After another even longer, jokey rant they finished the set with “Kiss the Go-Goat,” “Dance Macabre,” and “Square Hammer.”
GHOST’s visuals were a sight to behold and the band was impressive. Even though I didn’t get my favorite, “Stand by Him,” we got a well-balanced set that had something for everybody. I didn’t mind at all that GHOST had become an arena-level band. In fact, their whole thing was so tailored to becoming a big spectacle that it would almost be a shame if they never got to this plateau. TRIBULATION, however, I would love to see at a club. I felt the same way about them as I did with KVELERTAK when they opened for GHOST at Jäähalli. Metal just isn’t suited for arenas. ALL THEM WITCHES was just a missed opportunity for me. All the haziness and mystery of the records was completely missing in their performance.
Even though it was a Thursday it felt like a Friday. GHOST made it a marvelous evening for Satanists of all ages. There were lighthearted chants, heavy riffs, proggy instrumentals, and immature gags. I wholeheartedly recommend seeing GHOST any time, anywhere.
5. Mary on a Cross
6. Devil Church
9. Guleh/Zombie Queen
12. From the Pinnacle to the Pit
14. Satan Prayer
15. Year Zero
17. He Is
18. Mummy Dust
19. Kiss the Go-Goat
20. Dance Macabre
21. Square Hammer (encore)
Written by Vincent Parkkonen