Ghost Haunts the Aragon Ballroom with a Sinfully Good Show: Concert Review

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By Sofia Bening

Swedish band Ghost has always been an oddity in the heavy metal scene. This troupe of masked musicians, heavily-reliant on costumes, characters and theatrics, makes it easy for metal traditionalists to label them as ‘gimmicky’ or ‘cheesy.’ After all, their frontman calls himself ‘Cardinal Copia,’ the Devil’s answer to a cardinal in the Catholic Church, and typically dons a snazzy black suit, upside-down cross brooch and hyper-realistic mask of a middle-aged man’s face.  Wouldn’t you expect a more menacing look for the brutal band that mimics a Satanic cult?

And yet, eight years, four full-length albums and a plethora of awards (including a Grammy) later, Ghost has amassed a global legion of devoted fans that they affectionately call ‘Children’. Last Thursday, as part of their ongoing Pale Tour Named Death around North America, the eight-member ensemble enchanted Children of Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom, where they performed a 26-song set. Make no mistake: Ghost are definitely a metal band like no other—and their unique live show proved exactly why they are taking over the genre.

Ghost kicked things off with “Ashes,” the eerie opening track off their latest album Prequelle. As the voices of children singing the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie” filled the room, the band members, sporting their horned chrome silver masks, entered the stage one by one. Finally, the sinister tune launched into the hard-hitting drums of the album’s first single “Rats,” prompting the crowd to erupt into roars of delight. The irresistible guitar riff led beautifully into Cardinal Copia’s smooth-as-silk vocals, and he appeared in the right corner of the stage, immediately commanding the attention of everyone in the room. “Chicago, Illinois! Are you with us?” he yelled, accent thick and suit impeccable, right before the song’s explosive chorus.

What followed was a non-stop treat for the fans present that night. Ghost delivered hits and favorites from past and present, including the deliciously devilish “Ritual” off their debut album Opus Eponymous, the soaring instrumental track “Devil Church” from 2015’s Meliora and their Grammy award-winning headbanger “Cirice”.

One thing that would astound any fan in the room was how identical the Cardinal’s live vocals were to the studio version. Cardinal Copia’s voice is a thing of wonder: it is thunderous, powerful and has you in a chokehold, but at the same time glides effortlessly through the air with infallible grace and control. He is capable of shapeshifting his voice, producing guttural growls in their heavier songs like “Faith” and “Mummy Dust,” but turning around to croon like Hell’s very own Frank Sinatra in their ballads “Life Eternal” and “Pro Memoria”.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ghost show without it being a feast for the eyes. The band did not disappoint with their theatrics, transforming the stage into an elevated altar straight from a church. Stained-glass panels adorned the backdrop, portraying ghoulish and macabre illustrations. During the show, stage lighting was an integral part of the band’s performance, with every change corresponding to the mood of the song: a brooding red during “Year Zero,” an ode to Satan that terrifyingly looms and leers; a heavenly white during “He Is,” an uplifting song of celebration; an electrifying green during the exhilarating anthem “Square Hammer”.

In addition, Cardinal Copia spared no expense in impressing the crowd with his outfits, going through four costume changes that included a traditional red cardinal’s robe and a sharp white suit and fedora hat. Fans cheered and wolf-whistled with every reveal, much to the pleasure of the Cardinal, who strutted and pranced around like a proud show pony.

Perhaps what was most unexpected, above everything, was how hilarious the band was. Yes, the music and imagery were as dark and wicked as could be, but when Ghost weren’t captivating the crowd with songs of hellish praise, they had everyone in stitches. It started when Cardinal Copia began to encourage everyone to pretend it was Friday instead of Thursday, sympathising with those who had to wake up early for work the next morning: “I know it sucks balls. Big balls. Long, hairy balls. But nevertheless, we must suck it together.” This quote being uttered in a thick accent by a petite man possessing an emotionless, unmoving, prosthetic face, was pretty darn funny.

More than a rock concert, Ghost’s show felt like a huge party, with the band and audience flattened into one crowd of friends. Even though their faces could not be seen, it was clear they were having as much of a blast as the fans were. They were grooving and bobbing their heads, jumping around, and the guitarists even had a couple of solo improvisation battles that comically ended in middle finger exchanges or one party admitting defeat with slumped shoulders. Let us not forget about Cardinal Copia, who owns so much charisma and stage presence it should be criminal: he danced like his life depended on it, punctuating each beat and thump with a little jig or a hip-thrust. The band’s magnetic performance of their latest single (and one of the catchiest dance-rock earworms to come out in recent times) “Dance Macabre,” was truly one of those moments in life where you are having so much fun that you forget everything troubling you.

Before their final song, the Cardinal dished out some life advice to fans going through a rough patch: “Things change, they always change. What feels like a shitty steamer one night, a year later you might just feel a little bit of an ooze.” And on that note, Ghost closed their spectacular set with the haunting “Monstrance Clock.” And with one last triumphant howl proclaiming his love for Chicago, the Cardinal swept his Children into the rousing chorus: “Come together, together as one/Come together for Lucifer’s son.”

If there is anything to gather from this magically strange, strangely magical experience, it is this: Ghost are the most unlikely torchbearers to be pushing the envelope and redefining metal, but they sure as hell are doing it, and they are doing it right.

MusicNoah Franklin