Back in June when Swedish retro/goth/prog rock act Ghost announced a one-off show at the Royal Albert Hall, the news caught many off guard and swiftly caused the internet to burst in a torrent of bitterness. Triggered instantly, a horde of permanently enraged keyboard warrior types leapt into battle with Caps Lock buttons at the ready, proceeding to inform the internet in the strongest possible terms that, “they’ll never sell that many tickets”, “they’re nowhere near that big”, and “it’ll be hilarious when they cancel”. Oh, and of course, the now almost delightfully traditional war cries of “they’re shit”, and “they’re not metal!!”
So, over the course of two extremely brief presales and one slightly lengthier half an hour of general sale, the tickets ended up flying out of the gates faster than a speeding shitpost, leaving the naysayers – and also, unfortunately, thousands of unlucky punters – disappointed in the desperate rush to grab them. And so, with the show just three (albeit infuriatingly long) months away, and newly purchased tickets printed and at the ready, the waiting game had officially begun.
With an almost tangible sense of anticipation (as well as no short supply of blatantly undisguised smugness at ownership of the hottest tickets in town), the crowd gathered outside is peppered with fans in elaborate costumes and detailed make-up, some every bit as good as the real thing. Inside the venue, people have already begun to take their seats in the boxes and stalls, even though there’s nearly an hour before the band actually arrive on stage.
With around half an hour to go, the strains of ‘Klara Stjärnor’ by deceased Swedish jazz musician (and, just for you, fact fans – the father of Anders and Jens from Hammerfall) Jan Johansson, and ‘Miserere Mei, Deus’ by Italian composer and priest Gregorio Allegri are piped into the sumptuous arena, and a noticeable sense of urgency begins to take hold as more people edge their way onto the main floor and into their seats with keen expectancy.
The lights finally go down and a deafening roar erupts as album intro ‘Ashes’ (featuring the spooky voice of Minou Forge – daughter of frontman Cardinal Copia aka Tobias Forge) quickly segues into the first of the night’s huge anthems, the infernally irresistible ‘Rats’. With the audience already fully enraptured and in full voice, the first half the band’s two-hour-plus set continues with a rousing ‘Absolution’, a thunderous double-header of ‘Ritual’ and ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’, both from the band’s 2010 debut Opus Eponymous (Rise Above), and a mighty ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ from 2013 follow-up Infestissumam (Loma Vista).
After a short breather in shape of instrumental ‘Devil Church’, the band deliver a crushing version of ‘Cirice’ involving yet another huge crowd sing-along, and a thumping ‘Stand By Him’ before launching into one of the highlights of the whole evening. Simply one of the best hard rock/metal instrumental pieces since Metallica deliberately misspelled ‘The Call of Ktulu’ back in 1984, ‘Miasma’ is welcomed like a conquering hero and sounds nothing short of magnificent, the quite hilarious entrance of guest saxophonist, Papa Nihil sending the exhilarated crowd into near-orgasmic musical overload.
Ending “Act I” with an acoustic version of ‘Jigolo Har Megiddo’, another massive sing-along for newie ‘Pro Memoria’ and a dynamic ‘Deus in Absentia’, the band leave the stage to rapturous applause, fans aware the next twenty-five minutes of intermission will probably feel as long as the months of waiting it took for the gig to arrive in the first place.
With undiluted enthusiasm, everyone is safely back in their allocated positions as Jocelyn Pook‘s ‘Masked Ball’, taken from Stanley Kubrick‘s final movie Eyes Wide Shut slowly fades out and the band tear into “Act II” of the show with the sublime trio of ‘Spirit’, ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’, and ‘Faith’. The opening of ‘Year Zero’ is met by the sound of five thousand people completely losing their shit, and that same sound continues after a brief interlude for ‘Spöksonat’, with Ghost’s very own torch song, ‘He Is’; the sight of hundreds of mobile phones and cigarette lighters being held aloft making for a wonderful sight.
‘Prime Mover’ and the band’s “only really heavy song” ‘Mummy Dust’ follow, the conclusion to the latter accompanied by a huge eruption of brightly coloured ticker tape exploding from either side of the stage. The lighters and phones come out again for a wonderful cover of Roky Erickson‘s ‘If You Have Ghosts’ before the crowd are lifted to another level yet again by the positively climactic double of ‘Dance Macabre’ and ‘Square Hammer’. All previous sense of decorum has been completely forgotten in the seated area now as the crowd are on their feet everywhere, singing jubilantly to Satan at the top of their voices whereas the night before the exact same venue had played host to the rather more reserved festivities of that old English staple of classical music, ‘The Last Night of the Proms’.
With the band having left the stage, Cardinal Copia reappears, walking deliberately and slowly back to his microphone. Taking his time in the spotlight, he stops for a moment, says thank you and goodnight and walks straight back off again to a chorus of lighthearted boos. Strolling casually back across the stage almost immediately, he playfully asks, “did you just boo me?” Eventually reappearing, the Nameless Ghouls (now having been introduced in suitably comical style) ready themselves to play ‘Monstrance Clock’, the final track of the night, preceded by the increasingly talkative Cardinal telling the still highly exuberant audience about how the song is all about orgasms and how he’d like everyone to go home and give themselves one while thinking of him. Apparently, he’d also like to have sex with each and every one of us in the park outside: an awfully nice offer for sure, but one that most people in the hall politely decline.
As the slow filing out process began, not a single voice of disappointment or even mild discontent is to be heard anywhere, none of the usual post-gig shakes of the head or mutterings about sound, lighting, or which personal favourite had been excluded. Nothing. Just polite thanks to the utterly bemused but smiling and gracious staff of the Albert Hall, accompanied by an already growing feeling of anticipation at the prospect of the band’s next visit to these shores.
Too soon to call it a classic? An exaggeration to refer to it as legendary? Not a chance. Just ask anyone who was there.