Rats! On the Road: A Trip to Hell

*Disclaimer:  Do not read if you do not want to know member names!

The red curtains of impending doom.
Photo by me

I don’t know why I’m always so scared when Ghost reveals a new era.  I’ve been a fan for years, and they haven’t disappointed me yet.  Maybe part of the anxiety comes from the fact that I’ve invested so much of my free time (and money) into this band.  I don’t want to become crestfallen because they haven’t met my expectations.  But the reality is, that never happens.  With this newest era and the reinvention fo Tobias Forge into Cardinal Copia, my expectations have been met and exceeded.

Tobias Forge’s latest incarnation, Cardinal Copia.
Photo by me.

Part of what helps to fully appreciate this band and its mastermind is to understand the intent behind everything.  Forge has been very straightforward about his short and long term goals with the project.  A fan of various types of music, Forge is attempting to resurrect the idea of a rock opera.  Being a huge fan of works like The Phantom of the Opera and a fan of bands like Lordi and Slipknot, I can fully appreciate where he is trying to take this band.  And I would say he has been very successful at doing so.  The characters he creates on and off stage fully support the mythos that surrounds the band.

Looking at the latest incarnation (Cardinal Copia) and the theme of the upcoming album (Prequelle), it is easy to see that Forge’s hard work and planning is paying off.

From Papa to Cardi

Cardi C makes Employee of the Month.
Credits to creator.

Forge has killed off all of his previous characters in an attempt to separate himself from the bad karma surrounding the past years.  In order to help move past firing and being sued by his former friends, Forge has created a new manifestation for himself.  Removing all previous Papas from the line-up is both refreshing and saddening.  It marks the end of an era, but also allows for Forge to move forward without the burden of his past haunting him.  His reasoning behind killing the Papas and creating a new character is to prove that anyone in the band is replaceable.  This makes sense in that every other person/position within the band has been replaced.

While this idea has rubbed some Ghost fans the wrong way, it is important to remember that from the very beginning there was always a rotating cast of members.  The only members that remained the longest were Forge’s then-friends, Martin Persner and Simon Soderberg.  All other positions were constantly rejuvenated with new members.  Even though Mauro Rubino was the longest running Air Ghoul, it is important to note that for the beginning of the band, Air Ghoul was simply a mannequin.

In the long run, Tobias Forge has learned an important lesson that we all learn at some point in our lives.  You don’t mix business with pleasure.  If you are the boss it does not always behoove you to hire friends to fill positions.  That line between friend and boss will always be blurred.  Even now, Forge admits that he is keeping his new employees at a distance.  He is friendly with them and considers them friends without getting super close.  (For his happiness and the continuation of this band, I hope he maintains that status.)

The Plague of Prequelle

The cover of the upcoming release “Prequelle.”

As the new tour begins, we are getting closer and closer to the release of Ghost’s fourth full album, Prequelle.  The theme of this album surrounds the ideas of plagues in humanity.  While some who have been to recent shows are upset by fan favorites being struck from the set-list, you have to think about the bigger picture.  If you look at the theme for this era, the set-list makes sense.

Let’s compare the set-list from the Meliora/Popestar era to the new Prequelle era.

Set-List from The Warfield in SF (July 2, 2017)

Square Hammer
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera Ad Inferi
Body and Blood
Devil Church
Year Zero
He Is
Mummy Dust
Ghuleh/Zombie Queen
Monstrance Clock

As we look at each of these songs, we can categorize them as a) praise in the excess of sin and Satan, b) wanton desire, or c) both.  In fact, almost all of these songs do both.  The praise of the idea of human excess was the theme for this entire era.

Set-List from Riverside Municipal Theatre in Riverside (May 5, 2018)

Con Clavi Con Dio
Per Aspera Ad Inferi
Devil Church
Stand By Him
Jigolo Har Megiddo
Pro Memoria
Deus in Absentia
From the Pinnacle to the Pit
Year Zero
He Is
Prime Mover
Mummy Dust
If You Have Ghosts
Dance Macabre
Square Hammer

Mummy Dust at Riverside. Photo courtesy of Ghost’s instagram account.

As we look at these songs, they are much more “devilish” in nature.  Instead of focusing on the lustfulness of a person or people, these songs focus on what can become the downfall of man.

Many fans were whining and complaining  about the loss of songs like “Body and Blood” and “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” but the reality is that they don’t fit the theme.  And honestly, do we always want to see the same tired set over and over?  The Popestar tour became very predictable.  I always knew the set-list before I walked in.  I like the surprise and resurrection of songs like “Prime Mover” and “If You Have Ghosts.”

From Page to Stage

As the evolution of the band continues, so does the structure of the stage.  As if taken from a scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the stage is transformed to the top of a medieval gothic church.  Members of the band are stationed on make-shift turrets with chains to hold them in.

The medieval stage.
Photo courtesy of Ghost’s instagram account.

The stained glass backdrop mirrors the aesthetic with medieval images of satanic popes, cardinal, and demons.  Gone are the art deco inspirations from the Meliora period. Now, the windows reflect the medieval plague-laden years.  Even the frames around the images reveal a cold, brick like facade.

As the show goes on, it is clear that now there is some choreography involved.  Before each song, ghouls and ghulehs hurry to what can only be assumed as starting marks.  While throughout the songs, it appears they are free to wander and dance and scream and stomp as they please, they always begin in a fixed location.

The addition of more ghouls on stage allows for more theatrics.  Instead of one ghoul playing the keyboards, we have two Ghulehs.  The Ghulehs perform loos choreography to the songs, while playing and singing backup.  It is reminiscent of a recent Fire (Ben Christo) that has since parted ways with the Ghost.  The addition of these Ghulehs brings even more energy to the stage (How is that even possible thought?).

Sassy Pants/Swiss Army Ghoul.
Photo by me.

Next to the our drummer, we have a multi-talented ghoul who has been dubbed “Swiss Army” Ghoul.  This is thanks to his ability to play electric and acoustic guitar, and the tambourine.  His gyrations on stage rival that of Cardi C.  (Those who are especially observant will notice that before “Miasma,”  Swiss Army Ghoul is running off the stage for a costume change.  He dons the Papa Nihil costume in order to perform the saxophone solo.) . While most call him “Swiss Army” Ghoul, I just call him Mr. Sassy Pants Ghoul.  Any Ghoul that has the audacity to dry hump his guitar and/or the air is definitely worthy of such a name.

There has been some speculation amongst fans that with the addition of more ghouls on stage, they have ditched their monikers for the elements.  Instead, they are meant to represent the Seven Deadly Sins.  I admit, I like this idea.  But until it is formally addressed by the clergy, I’m not going to confirm it.

A Nameless Ghoul (Chris Catalyst) and his guitar.

A certain guitarist has added more fun to his stage presence by becoming a back-up vocalist as well (Chris Catalyst).  As a fan, I appreciate his leaps from risers and interactions with the crowd.  I often find myself imitating his should jerks in the car while listening to Ghost.  Perhaps the only slightly disconcerting moment was when I noticed  he was chewing gum on stage.  (I know he recently quit smoking and this gum is probably to help him from lighting up again.) . It was just slightly off-putting to see a silver mask, black face paint, and then white teeth chomping on gum.  But… in the end, more power to him.  At least he wasn’t on the piss.

A Nameless Ghoul (Per “Sodo” Eriksson) and his guitar.

The former bassist has taken over as the lead guitarist (Per “Sodo” Eriksson).  I will have to admit, I have a soft spot for Soddy.  I believe he is a truly gifted musician, as we have seen from his stints with Bloodbath and Katatonia.  While I miss seeing him on bass, I do love seeing what he can do with that guitar.  (Side Note:  Apparently Soddy gets a little naughty on stage from time to time.  In Arizona, he licked his guitar pick and then threw it to my friend Elizabeth.  Swoon.)

Old Ghouls vs New Ghouls

Many fans have lamented and/or left the fandom since the “Old Ghouls” left the band.  Many bands, not just Ghost, have seen ever evolving and changing line-ups.  So my question is:  Why be so fickle?  Without even giving the New Ghouls a shot, I think you are doing yourself a disservice by not attempting to experience the entirety of the show.  I have seen both the “Old Ghouls” and the “New Ghouls.”  I have to say, I honestly prefer the new ghouls and the new direction.  They carry a different stage presence that invites the audience in.  It is not an “us vs. them” situation.  I like the inclusion.  I want to be considered a part of the show.

Final Thoughts

Ghoul Life
Photo by Me.

Ultimately, every fan will make up his/her mind about the direction of the band.  I want to encourage skeptics to approach the new show and the new ghouls with an open mind.  You may just find yourself pleasantly surprised.  Besides, do you really want to miss out on the thighs of Copia?

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