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Review: Ghost – ‘Ceremony And Devotion’

GhostA live recording from a band as visual as Ghost is always going to be a tricky prospect. Without being able to witness the massive production that Ghost now put on, can a vanilla recording hold the attention? Damn right it can! ‘Square Hammer’ is such a strong opener, and Papa Emeritus III and The Nameless Ghouls don’t really let up until the final strains of ‘Monstrance Clock’ fade out quite some time later. An accompanying BluRay would have been the icing on the cake, but until that surfaces, fans will need to make do with this live recording from San Francisco in 2017. The noise from the crowd is right there in between tracks, although the attempts by Papa to coax some audience participation falls flat in some places. Hearing the face-painted leader speak so freely is quite strange, especially surreal when he utters “clappity clap, Frisco” during ‘Per Aspera Ad Inferi’, and “okey dokey, San Francisco” while introducing ‘Mummy Dust’. I prefer the Alice Cooper or Till Lindemann approach of not breaking character until saying goodnight at the end, or introducing the band. Minor grumbles aside, ‘Ceremony And Devotion’ is a cracking example of how far Ghost have come in the last few years. Lest we forget that any mention of the band usually has to begin with the words “the Grammy award winning…”. Papa E/Tobias Forge has had to deal with lawsuits from former band members contesting his claim that the band was always a solo project, so it is a pleasure to sit back and listen to him do what he does best – perform.

The make-up and the masks have always hinted at a much heavier sound, and when most people hear Ghost for the first time, it’s usually a surprise how clean the vocals are. Play someone the magical ‘He Is’ then show them a picture of Ghost… does not compute! As well as being a surprise how light the band can be, the prog influences can also come out of the left field, but when the band go for a more traditional metal sound, the results are staggering. ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’, with its blend of fat, heavy bass and Bill Ward-esque drum fills is astounding when you hear it through a wall of Marshalls. The ghoulish keyboards stand out during the mid-section, especially with the high-sheen commercial hooks from Papa E. As expected, the guitars are more prevalent on the live version and give the song some muscle. ‘Mummy Dust’ is described by Papa E as the “one really heavy song on the setlist” and it comes complete with chugging guitars, deeper vocals, and a piercing guitar solo mid song. The haunting keyboards are never far away, but here they are toned down a notch or two. ‘Ritual’ is as monstrous live today as it was when it first appeared back in 2010 on the debut album, as is ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’ (the only other track from ‘Opus Eponymous’ featured). Highlights are numerous, but special mention has to go to the sublime seven minutes that are ‘Ghuleh/Zombie Queen’. The chilled out first few minutes, the sudden change in tempo, the irresistible surf guitar mid-song… it’s creepy and it’s kooky, and everything about it hits the spot.

‘Ceremony And Devotion’ is available digitally now, with the physical version available January 19th. Details on the multiple formats (including a cassette version limited to 500 copies!) can be found here.    

Review: Dave Stott

Live image: Rob Wilkins

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