“In some medieval religions, the female orgasm is considered the craft of the devil. This is a black mass where we celebrate the female orgasm… in the name of Satan!”
Cue awesome rock-and-roll finale and crowd sing-a-along.
And so concluded the first-ever concert in Miami by the occult-themed Swedish power metal band, Ghost.
Or, more accurately, so concluded the spectacle, because we promise you, dear reader, unless you were there, you have never seen a show like this before.
Accompanied by opener Marissa Nadler, Ghost chose the Fillmore Miami Beach for its debut in South Florida, an apt choice considering the theatrical nature of the band's show.
At 9 p.m. on the dot, a booming recording of “Miserere mei, Deus,” a choral Psalm from the Renaissance by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, drifted through the room. It seemed that, unlike most rock bands these days, Ghost would be punctual. Ah, Europeans — so courteous even when they’re hailing Satan.
They followed that with “Masked Ball,” another orchestral piece, this time by English composer Jocelyn Pook. The pair of intros took so long that people stood, sat, and stood again, much like the crowd at a church’s Sunday service. This tease of angelic harmonies was, of course, part of the plan. It built the anticipation, the eagerness, the expectations, until… behold! There they were.
Frontman and vocalist Papa Emeritus III and his five-piece band of Nameless Ghouls appeared as if out of thin air or, more apropos if one is to believe the red lights and their lyrics, the sulfur pits of hell.
Papa Emeritus III was clad in his ceremonial pope outfit and face makeup while the Ghouls sported identical masks – horned, silvery demon visages. The latter were reminiscent of the Sons of the Harpy from Game of Thrones or a Doctor Who villain-of-the-week. During the band's six-year career, the public has never learned the true identities of these masked men, an impressive feat in our snoopy age of social media and TMZ.
In fact, in an interview with Rolling Stone last year, one of the costumed members of Ghost said, "You know, we thought we were going to be completely outed and everything was going to be over basically one week after the first record came out. We're as baffled as anyone that it hasn't happened yet. I have no idea how we've done it."
There’s a simple answer to his puzzlement: Nobody’s looking. Trying to discover the faces behind those masks would be like peeking behind the curtains of a magician’s act. Unless someone is attempting to steal some tricks for his own Vegas showcase, part of the awe lies in the thrill of the unknown.
This being the Popestar tour, Ghost led off with its current single, “Square Hammer,” off of the Popestar EP, revealing a cheerily blasphemous backdrop filled with satanic iconography on a faux stained-glass window one might find in an ancient cathedral. Eventually this gave way to “Secular Haze,” a song that sounds like an evil carnival jingle played over the loudspeakers of a circus run by nightmares. At the forefront of this dark revelry was Papa Emeritus III, hammily gesturing, arms wide open, motioning like a Christ figure embracing His chosen people from afar.
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Halfway through, Papa Emeritus III changed outfits into a more comfortable button down shirt and black frock. It allowed him to freely lead this black parade back and forth across the stage, every so often dry-humping the air with the mad whimsy of a Gothic Joker hosting a live rendition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This is all an act, of course. Satan was not truly present last night in the general admission pit of the Fillmore — not to our knowledge, at least. Still, it was thoroughly engaging, fun, macabre theatre. Between the EDM confetti canons and the creative lighting seemingly emitted from both heaven and hell simultaneously, the performance was far from terrifying. What was very clear, however, was the talent of this band.
Combining classic hard-rock elements that encompass the rich sounds of Alice in Chains, Black Sabbath, and Metallica with the melodic songwriting of modern-day pop-radio masters and a group of musicians with the chops to perfectly bring it all to life is a wonder in and of itself.
In particular, their lead jester, Papa Emeritus, stood out. At one point, he jovially asked the crowd if they were ready to hear “the hardest motherfucker that’s ever fucked a mother” and made Miami sing, laugh, and dance all night.
When a band crafts a song like “Body and Blood,” a cannibalistic, blood-thirsty take on the Christian Eucharist, and turns it into a charming, dulcet, catchy-as-hell number, it’s clear that Ghost is unlike its heavy-metal counterparts; indeed, it's unlike any other band either here on Earth or any shadow dimension.