From the outside, and I think largely due to its location outside the city centre, the Manchester Apollo is, for a large theatre-style venue, a fairly unassuming building, once inside its main auditorium though it has a similar feel to the likes of the Brixton Academy or Shepherd’s Bush Empire with its impressive design that, by chance, seemed to perfectly suit this show.
As we arrived Zombi had just taken to the stage and spent the following 45 minutes creating huge instrumental soundscapes that combined a movie soundtrack feeling with that of a live rock show.
Armed with a bass guitar, an array of synths and a drum kit the duo barely looked up from their instruments as they evoked the sounds of John Carpenter, Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner or Eno’s work on Dune but with added groove that flowed over the audience who were quietly receptive at first and by the end genuinely appreciative of this rather different opening act.
After a surprisingly short break, and with the headliner’s drums and keyboards still covered by a black sheet, the house lights dimmed slightly and the usual between band stock rock tracks were replaced by choral and orchestral, almost church-like, music.
As anyone who knows anything about them will know, Ghost are a hugely theatrical band and this started before they even stepped on stage with the ‘roadies’ coming out to uncover the gear and sound check the drums in a highly ritualistic way.
These weren’t your usual cargo shorts and t-shirt adorned people either but were smartly dressed in black, all setting the scene of what was to come, an experience the band refer to as a ‘ritual’ rather than a concert, show or gig.
With the intro music reaching a crescendo and the hall bathed in a red light the band launched, almost out of nowhere, into the lead track from their Popestar EP, Square Hammer. Getting one of the biggest reactions of the night it was clear this was a crowd as much enamoured with the band’s new material as the old (slightly different from my last time seeing the band) and this set the performance off on a high that, for the most part, it never came down from.
Papa Emeritus III is, of course, the focal point of Ghost on stage and whether he’s in his ‘anti-pope’ like robes (as he was for the first chunk of the set) or the more recently added vintage style suit with Ghostly adornments, he is mesmerising. Coming across something like a hybrid between the classic black metal frontmen in appearance and Freddie Mercury in mannerisms he acts as conduit for the music that could really be described in a similar way.
Throughout the set he moves about the stage with a stately grace commanding both band and crowd with a wave, a point, or a gesture that is rarely seen in metal away from arena behemoths. As the set went on, and particularly once the robes were cast aside, he developed a playful relationship with the group of Nameless Ghouls that are the rest of the band, particularly the lead guitarist, at times feeling like they were playing up a rivalry for stage presence but all the time within the performance.
Musically the Ghouls were sounding as great as you’d expect and, while on a couple of occasions the lead guitar duels felt a little off, it wasn’t so much to derail any enjoyment of the show and was brief.
As the set went on the band hit all the big points of their back catalogue (with one exception) and the it was good to see newer tracks He Is and Cirice sit alongside Year Zero, Con Clavi Con Dio and Ritual in the crowd’s affections, though it was clear there were two camps within the crowd of longtime time fans and relative newcomers (like me), but in general, they all came together with an appropriate sense of congregation.
With the customary visit from the Sisters of Sin for Body and Blood (communion was offered to those nearer the front) and a few asides from Papa playing on his suitably off-kilter charisma, a balance was maintained between great, musically lighter-end heavy metal, and pure entertainment (no mean feat given the often po-faced nature of much heavy metal these days) and Ghost delivered a set that culminated in a truly epic encore of Monstrance Clock.
Described by Papa Emeritus III as ‘a celebration of the orgasm… in the name of Satan’ it was the perfect conclusion to the set as it left the crowd, and Ghost’s on stage leader, signing its final refrains (“Come together, together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son”) together before the lights came up and we headed back out into the sadly less fantastic real world.
While If You Have Ghost was the only track I thought was missing from the set, Ghost’s performance here was something to behold
It combined the darkness of the darkest heavy metal with a twist more poppy than most metal bands would ever dare and all delivered as a complete package making it truly the ‘ritual’ they describe it as and a complete self-contained event that is one of the best ‘show’ style concerts I have ever attended.