Hardcore, Metal, Punk, Review, Rock

Album Review: Ghost – Ceremony & Devotion

Most iconic bands have expectations. With AC/DC, you expect to see Angus Young striding across stage with his Gibson SG, hammering out heavy 3 chord bluesy heavy rock and roll. With Amon Amarth, you can expect to hear brutal moshing death metal. Ghost challenges all expectations.

Ghost formed in Linkoping, Sweden, in 2006. They consist of their front-man and vocalist Papa Emeritus, equal parts Papal and ghostly, and an assortment of masked instrumentalists, fittingly known as Nameless Ghouls. With such an image adorned with inverted crucifixes and Satanic lyrics, you would assume a band like Ghost would have the same aural onslaught of a band like Cannibal Corpse.

That is not the case. Their work has more in common with bands of the 1970’s like Dio-era Black Sabbath, and the stadium ready sound of Led Zeppelin. Their album Opus Eponymous was released in 2010, was recorded in a basement studio in the band’s hometown. Nothing about the album or sound would make you think of a debut recorded in a basement; the combination of 70’s style guitar and keyboard riffs, with Emeritus’ velveteen vocals indicate a band at their prime.

Exploring Satanic themes is nothing new to heavy metal, but never have the melodies been so damn fun. Much of their sound is like an undiscovered Satanic pop record from the back of an aging Stockholm record store, more in common with the catchy choruses of ABBA and the Beatles than the cookie monster vocals of many other “Satanic” metal acts.

With the release of their newest album, Ceremony and Devotion, it seems that Ghost has finally begun to arise to their pinnacle. The art of charismatic rock and roll front men like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler seems all but dead in 2017. Fittingly, Ghost seems to be reviving that corpse on stage every night, proving that what is once dead may come back to life.

Over the summer, the band opened for Iron Maiden on their Book of Souls worldwide tour. It’s only fitting that a band with a twenty-foot tall walking undead mascot would be accompanied by a group of masked occult rockers. Both bands have a flair for the theatrical, never shying away from exploring both the lighter and darker sides of humanity.

Ceremony and Devotion was recorded this year during the North American leg of their tour. Opening the set was Square Hammer, the relentlessly catchy opening track from the band’s second EP Popestar. (The track debuted at #1, the first time in a Swedish band topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts in the United States.) “Are you ready to swear, right here right now, before the devil?” sings Papa Emeritus at the song’s chorus, to a roar of overwhelming approval from the crowd. Next on the occult ritual’s set list is fan favorite “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, with a monstrously swaggering bass riff.

It takes a serious degree of charm to make a ballad about a zombie queen sound so downright enjoyable. The ever charismatic Emeritus segues between songs; a smarmy, creepy, Rod Sterling-esque curator of an occult ritual you can’t help but want to join in wholeheartedly.

Across the 15 song-set, the band includes songs off all three of their studio releases, including the Ritual, and the acoustic ballad He Is. The album was mixed by Tom Dalgety, “Breakthrough Producer of the Year” for his his work on Royal Blood’s debut album. The album fittingly encapsulates everything great about Ghost’s unique sound. Every snare hit, guitar chord, and lyric comes through cleanly through the mix. A rarity on many live metal albums; you can actually hear the bass!

Even after a multitude of lineup changes over the past year, the band maintains the mystique and power of their studio sound in a live setting. Plenty of metal bands have embraced satanic themes, but none have matched the dark humor, melodies, and atmosphere of Ghost B.C. Come together and crank this album.

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