The days are getting cooler, and darkness descends earlier. The leaves are changing colors then falling to the ground. Halloween is just around the corner. What better time for Ghost (or Ghost B.C., as they are forced to call themselves in the US… but we’ll stick with Ghost here anyway), the mysterious metal band from Sweden, to go on tour? Not only that, but they brought a band named Skeletonwitch with them on the road. Halloween just got even cooler.
Skeletonwitch has been steadily ascending to the upper echelons of the death metal hierarchy ever since they formed a decade ago, in Athens, Ohio, of all places. Northeast Ohio – and Cleveland in particular – may be the rock and roll capital of the world and a lot of great bands and musicians (Nine Inch Nails, Chimaira, Mushroomhead, Marilyn Manson, drummer Eric Singer, etc.) hail from there, while Columbus and the rest of the state is relatively lacking in nationally known talent. Therefore, it’s extra-special to see a (quasi)local band do good. Indeed, vocalist Chance Garnette called this gig a hometown show. The people turned out for them too: the Newport Music Hall was about half-full when Skeletonwitch hit the stage at the somewhat early time of 8 p.m.
The band is too heavy to be labeled simply as thrash and there’s nowhere near enough orchestration in their sound to even think of calling them black metal. If they were forced to be defined by a label, it would be death metal; however, drummer Dustin Boltjes, bassist Evan Linger, and guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick each add a surprising amount of swing into the mix. Make no mistake: Skeletonwitch is just as brutal as any other band on the scene and there’s no fear of them becoming a Grateful Dead-styled jam band, but they don’t play fast and heavy just for the sake of playing fast and heavy. They’re not confined by the draconian boundaries of traditional death metal.
It was hard to tell if all the thought that goes into Skeletonwitch’s music was appreciated by the crowd however. Mosh pits in sizes usually reserved for headliners erupted all over the floor when the band tore into gems such as “Repulsive Salvation” and “Cleaver of Souls.” It was like watching the hordes of zombies in 'World War Z' destroy everything in their path. The band probably already had a lot of fans in attendance to see their semi-homecoming (there were plenty of Skeletonwitch t-shirts and sweatshirts on display in the crowd), but they no doubt gained many, many more last night.
By the time Ghost hit the stage, the venue was about three-fourths full. Not bad for a band with only two albums and no radio airplay, not to mention they were just here a little over four and a half months ago at Rock On The Range 2013 (read my review of the concert here). This band, however, is much more suited for the dark claustrophobic interior of the Newport Music Hall than the bright sunny outdoors. They still put on a hell of a show, albeit a very brief one, at Rock On The Range, but they were definitely out of their element there.
Not last night though. When the lights went down and the ominously creepy Jocelyn Pook composition “Masked Ball” played over the PA, the five “Nameless Ghouls” walked on stage, each one clad in black robes that made them look very similar to the Nazgul from 'The Lords of the Rings.' After basking in applause for a minute, the ghouls started their set with a rendition of “Infestissumam” that was considerably heavier than the album version. During this song, frontman Papa Emeritus II made a grand entrance, resplendent in his pitch-black Pope garb and skull makeup. The audience ate it up, cheering wildly and even moshing to the keyboard-heavy music.
With only two albums under their belt, and no hit singles, Ghost pretty much had the freedom to play whatever they wanted. By the time the show ended, they had played all but one song from their phenomenal debut album (read my review of 'Opus Eponymous' here) and half of the brand new album 'Infestissumam' (read my review of that album here). One of the tracks from the latter album was “Jiggalo Har Meggido” which, according to Papa Emeritus II, was the first time Ghost was ever performing it.
The evil pope didn’t say much else; the band’s stage banter was kept to a bare minimum. Indeed, the Nameless Ghouls could’ve been robots and no one would notice. The only one to show any emotion at all was the one with the black guitar, who stomped his foot quite a bit while shredding. Papa Emeritus II barely addressed the audience, although he did say, with tongue in cheek, that the band’s performance of “Elizabeth” was “for the ladies.” It’s all a part of the mystery surrounding the band though, plus no one goes to a Ghost show hoping to hear life stories ala Bruce Springsteen. The performance is what mattered, and Ghost delivered on all counts. Most of the songs were even heavier than their recorded counterparts, although the decision to play two of their least heavy songs at the end of their set was just as cryptic as the band. That’s merely a trivial gripe though; Ghost is one of the most exciting newer metal bands on the scene, and they have the potential to be huge, so the chance to see them playing at a small venue like the Newport was not to be missed. They might not perform in such an intimate setting next time.
2. Per Aspera ad Inferi
3. Con Clavi Con Dio
4. Jiggalo Har Meggido
5. Prime Mover
7. Secular Haze
8. Stand by Him
9. Death Knell
10. Satan Prayer
12. Year Zero
14. Ghuleh/Zombie Queen
15. Monstrance Clock