...And who was the band that inspired me and several others to crawl out of the woodwork? None other than the inimitable and wonderfully diabolical Ghost B.C. aka Ghost (http://ghost-official.com/), hailing from Sweden.
I approached Emo’s (http://www.emosaustin.com/) on East Riverside in Austin and I was early to arrive and surprised at the numbers of people that had already shown. Glancing at the faded, green walls of the outside, I remembered all the good times I had here when this building used to be the old Back Room club until it closed in the mid-2000’s. It seems fitting that another pillar of Austin’s live music scene, Emo’s, chose to make this their prime location after closing their longtime stronghold downtown on 6th street. Now, expanded and renovated, this venue is serving to bring bands like Ghost and many more to our happy little hamlet for the enjoyment of those of us with a taste for the darker and heavier sides of music.
Inside, I was greeted to the familiar sights, sounds, and smells (yes, always the smells) of a crowded club waiting with anticipation for the show to begin. I decided to make my way to a spot close to the front of the stage, where a cluster of people were already staking their claims for a good view of the festivities to come.
For those not familiar with them, Ghost B.C.(more popularly known as simply “Ghost” but, for legal reasons, unable to use that name in North America) play a style of primitive heavy metal mixed with psychedelic rock’n’roll. Ghost have crafted a highly theatrical, almost absurdly over-the-top Satanic image, complete with cultist robes, scary masks, candles, incense, and stage back-drops of stained-glass windows. Despite the lack of contemporary “heaviness”, Ghost’s subtly catchy songs are rife with dark themes and sinister harmonies that more than make up for any lost aggression.
The stage decor was already set up: a huge wall-to-ceiling tapestry designed to make it appear like you were looking out three enormous stained glass windows in an ancient, medieval church. The stained glass on the windows each depicted scenes of gruesome death, occult imagery, and other diabolical fare. In front of that, there was an American flag, torn and blackened as if by some apocalyptic fire, propped up between two wooden posts. Finally, at the front of the stage stood two angular wooden crosses. At the time, I had thought the flag and the crosses were part of Ghost’s stage set, but soon came to understand that these belonged to the opening band, King Dude.
King Dude (https://www.facebook.com/kingdudemusic), How to describe them? The three of them sauntered slowly onto the stage as the fog machines rolled out mist and the ‘90’s metal hits that had been playing over the intercom were gradually turned down. I noted there was only a drummer and two guitarists (one of which seemed to also be the singer), but no bass player. I was curious as to what they’d sound like. Then, the singer picked up his semi-hollow electric guitar (which should have been a clue) and begin strumming some melancholy-sounding open chords with a semi-clean, slightly reverbed tone. To be honest, the feel of that first song came quite unexpected, considering the general “metal” atmosphere. It was a sad, dark country/folk tune with a slow, lumbering beat that made you feel like you were trudging across the desert at night with only the moon to light your way.
I could tell by their reactions that many of the others in the audience were just as taken aback by this entrance. Their set continued, with songs that ranged from more dark and somber country/folk rock, to furious rockabilly stomps. I was particularly impressed by their final song, which saw the drummer rattling a long, linked chain in time with the bass drum to create a true “walking to the gallows” feel. It was a great way to end a set! In all, I actually felt that King Dude, with their “haunted country” or “southern goth” styling, made an interesting contrast to Ghost. Well done, gentlemen! I’ll be listening for more things from you.
The metal that had blared over the intercom was replaced by a somber, echoing Gregorian chant. Combined with the sweet smell of the incense, and with the fog machines continuing to roll the mist out across the stage and into the audience, the atmosphere truly felt like the beginning preparation for an old-fashioned Catholic mass. Unlike that holy ceremony, however, we were shaping up for a most decidedly unholy affair, indeed.
And, we were not disappointed.
The five Nameless Ghouls (two guitarists, a bassist, drummer, and keyboard player) filed out on stage with their instruments, enshrouded in black, cultist robes and wearing grotesque, long-nosed masks. The two guitarists were distinguished by their choice of color for their custom Gibson Explorers, with the one on the left side of the stage holding a black one and the other on the right sporting one with a white finish. They all stood in silence for a moment, then, all at once, a choir of voices broke the silence as the band launched into the title track of their most recent album, Infestissumam. The track is a short one, building up the intensity each moment and serves as an intro leading right into the opening chords of “Per Aspera Ad Inferi”, the stomping, diabolical call of welcome that Ghost had prepared for us.
Papa Emeritus II, resplendent in flowing black robes with a sacrilegious pope’s mitre (the traditional Pope’s hat) atop his head and brandishing a tall staff with an inverted cross at the top entered the stage to the screaming delight of the devoted fans in the audience. He approached the mic, gracefully waving a greeting to the masses before him and began to sing the opening verse. From that moment on, he commanded the room like a grisly conductor, raising a hand towards each musician in turn as they featured on the song.
Ghost continued playing through song after song, showcasing the blasphemous harmonies that make them great. Throughout their set, Papa demonstrated that he is certainly one of the more charismatic front men in rock and metal today, all without needing to resort to the hyperactive antics typically espoused by singers in these genres. He also displayed a lighthearted, humorous side, as well, joking with the crowd between songs. “So, how are the women of Austin?” he asked, to a roar of female voices. Gesturing for quiet, he shrugged and clarified, “I was asking the men…” which brought on a chorus of laughter.
Now, up to this point, the audience had been fairly well behaved, nodding their heads and singing along to each song. But then, Ghost finally came to one my personal favorites (and a lot of other peoples’ as it stood) ”Stand By Him”. When Ghost came to the chorus, the fans near the front could no longer contain themselves and burst into a chaotic mosh pit. Ghost does not (strictly speaking) make the kind of music that normally invites moshing, but the fervor they’d built up in the crowd required a release of pressure, evidently. After the song finished, Papa shook his finger and admonished the crowd, “Now, now. Behave out there, you. I’ll tell you what, I’ll be back in a little while. You calm down, yes?” With that, he strode off stage.
The evening had been a grand one but, at last, Ghost came to their “final” song “If You Have Ghosts”, penned by Austin’s own Roky Erickson. It seemed an appropriate gesture of respect, here at Emo’s in Roky’s hometown, and this was not lost on the crowd, who cheered vigorously as the song came to its conclusion.
I stumbled into the parking lot in a daze, feeling that old tingling sensation I used to get back in my younger, concert-going days. With the ritual just experienced, I felt rejuvenated. And, damn it, it’s good to know I’ve still got that old enthusiasm for great, live music still going inside. It might be down to mostly embers these days, but the flame still burns brightly on occasions like this. For that I am thankful to Ghost B.C. for bringing their incredible showmanship and downright awesome music to my city. I certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of them here but, with their name on the rise, I have a feeling they’ll be back before too long. My suggestion: don’t hesitate to go check them out. Maybe I’ll see you there.
edited by William Tompkins