Ghost review – satanic Barry Manilow leads magnificent metal pantomime

Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
The flamboyant Swedish band fuse rock bombast with pop classicism on their most ambitious tour to date

‘Welcome to tonight’s spectacle,” murmurs the fiendish figure in the spotlight, his latex face rigid as the audience roars. And it is quite a spectacle, replete with pyrotechnics, costume changes, crowd participation and confetti. Swedish metal outfit Ghost have arrived in the big league with a bang.

The man in the mask is the band’s leader Tobias Forge, taking to the stage here as Cardinal Copia, a sort of satanic Barry Manilow who serves as the latest in a string of creative personas. He’s flanked by a slick band who perform under horned silver helmets and go by the collective sobriquet Nameless Ghouls. It’s all terribly silly, and tremendous fun.

This tour is Ghost’s most ambitious to date, but they wear the bubbling pre-curtain excitement well. Their recent album, Prequelle, was a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and in the years since their emergence as an occult metal oddity with a flamboyant streak, Forge has fine-tuned his writing to combine rock bombast with a winning line in pop classicism.

Beginning with the thunderous Rats, he plots a course through a set brimming with outlandish camp and pantomime theatre. The music does the heavy lifting to offset some hackneyed stagecraft: if call and response isn’t your thing then the tiered psych-pop harmonies of Mary on a Cross or the monstrous Cirice, 70% doomy riff-fest, 30% Total Eclipse of the Heart, offer more intriguing fare.

By the time the disco-derived stomp of Dance Macabre has reduced the crowd to a giddy mess of hugs and awkward shape-throwing, Ghost have successfully retrofitted their schlocky origins with a thrilling sense of scope and ambition. The closer, Square Hammer, is fitting. It keeps Forge’s obsession with melody close to its heart, but it’s also the sort of head-banging imperative that satisfies the old guard.

Ghost’s arena show is loud, self-aware and studded with outstanding songs. Pop and metal have long found common ground in a shared love of over-the-top pageantry, and there are few better at delivering that than Forge and his anonymous crew. “Are you with us?” he yells. The answer from the floor is a resounding yes.

Touring the UK until 23 November.


Huw Baines

The GuardianTramp

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