Having caught Ghost in the last few years during the touring cycle for their third album, Meliora (and follow-up EP Popestar), I was amazed this most visual of bands hadn’t officially released any live material.
While they still haven’t got a full-length film to their name they do now have a live album, the appropriately named Ceremony & Devotion, capturing their 2017 live set, or in their words ‘ritual’, in all its glory.
Recorded in the USA, predominantly in San Francisco judging by the between song chat from Papa Emeritus III (coincidentally the first place I saw them), its fair to say it becomes clear how well choreographed Ghost’s performances are as this is almost identical to their performance in Manchester in April 2017.
While with some bands that can lead to things feeling stale and performed by rote, that doesn’t seem to be the case here with the whole thing sounding powerful and energetic throughout.
The record kicks off with Square Hammer, the lead track from the Popestar EP, and that sets the tone with its glam stomp sounding huge.
As it goes on the set spans the band’s entire career but all comes with a sense of the heightened, energetic theatricality that has become the trademark of their third stage and the crowd are clearly eating it up when we can hear them between the songs and, most obviously, singing along during them.
Most impressively for a live album, which often feel rushed with less well thought out mixes than studio albums, the sound here is brilliantly clear and in many cases has a more polished sound than the band in the studio.
Though looking at the style of the band, who have evolved from a Merciful Fate style pre-black metal band to the more pop rock and glam rock sounds of their recent releases, this may be the point and a live album captured during their first or second, or their upcoming fourth, eras would likely have been an entirely different beast.
For a band who deal with lyrics (and imagery) that are fairly on the nose in their satanic or irreligious nature its amazing to hear a crowd singing along and also to be able to clearly hear what’s being sung.
What this does is elevate all the tracks but a few particularly stand out.
Ghuleh/Zombie Queen and Year Zero (a regular live favourite) from their second album Infestissumam sound enormous, like pure stadium rock songs just with lyrics like ‘Since dawn of time the fate of man is that of lice, equal as parasites and moving without eyes,’ or ‘Up from the stinking dirt, she rises ghastly pale, shapeshifting soon… But now she’s rigid, stiff and stale’ – not exactly Foo Fighters…
Mummy Dust from Meliora, meanwhile, sounds heavier than it ever has, heading as far into full on growling heavy metal territory as the band ever have.
Between these the strange charisma of Papa Emeritus III is in full force, and, while its hard to tell if the humour is entirely intentional or has grown from his particularly accented delivery, it works and is just as entertaining on record as when accompanied by his live gesturing and physical work.
This all culminates in the joyous, twisted, celebration of Monstrance Clock that ends with the audience and band signing its heretical anthem in unison.
While I would still like a concert film of Ghost, Ceremony & Devotion does an amazing job of capturing the band in all their live pomp and is one of the most complete live records I’ve heard, similar, but in many ways very different, to Against Me’s 23 Live Sex Acts.