Ghost/Zombi - Manchester Apollo – 31 March 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 06 May 2017 04:00

As one of the biggest rising stars in the metal world right now, it’d be absolute lunacy to not go and see the band perform what is likely to be one of the last shows they play in their current iteration. Since the release of ‘Meliora’ the band’s profile has gone right through the roof, jumping from playing venues like the KoKo (capacity: 1,410) to playing the Manchester Apollo (capacity: 3,500 – the fifth biggest dedicated music venue in the UK). With quite easily one of the most meteoric rises through the ranks in the contemporary metal world, Ghost now stand as one of our biggest and most recognisable names, with enough potential to make the same mark on metal as Slipknot or System of a Down did at the start of the last decade.


Ghost - Manchester 3


Which makes it all the more exciting to be able to catch the band on this current run. For once, the rain up north feels entirely refreshing and expected, like pathetic fallacy for the satanic gloom that is due to ensue. Arriving at the venue reasonably early, we find the queue already backed around the entire venue before the clock has even struck half five, meaning it’s a cheeky one in the adjoining pub before we step up and prepare to head in.


It feels like a long time has passed since the last rising star of metal came around, bringing out the rock and metal community en masse. There are goths, there are black metallers, there are bread-and-butter metalheads here – everything you could hope for in our wide musical community. Tales and gossip of the band are widely spread throughout the queue as we slowly approach the doors, the atmosphere inside already electrically charged without anyone passing the merch stand.


Cavern like in appearance, the Manchester Apollo is an imposing building with a simple, lovable atmosphere. This is a proper gig venue, not like your pop-up O2s, this is a building with history that has seen every notable band and artist from every notable genre that you could care to name. Yet, the susurrus of conversation isn’t your usual bawdy complaints of how the week’s gone, or beer prices – all eyes, ears and tongues are firmly fixed on the band to come.


Which puts Zombi in an awkward position. While the support slot gig is (in theory) a perfect opportunity to break the ice for the gig and get the atmosphere truly buzzing, there is absolutely no need for it at tonight’s show. It doesn’t help either that Synthwave is not a genre that is openly embraced by the rock community. And yet, oddity is rock n roll’s oldest archetype and god damn if Zombi don’t try to make it work.


Zombi - Manchester


Perhaps a better support slot for Zombi would have been to join horror legend John Carpenter on tour, as he did last year. This comparison isn’t made simply to point out that both acts offer instrumentals, but to point out the similarity in tone and execution between both acts. And, when it comes down to it, being compared to one of horror’s biggest and most iconic names can never be a bad thing. Synth-laden though Zombi’s music is, this isn’t Duran Duran or New Order; theirs is a sound entirely built upon horror imagery, dark and desolate and (in any other place in the world) enough to set the teeth on edge and the spine tingling.


While the appreciative (which feels like yours truly and a dozen other fanatics) ‘get’ entirely what Zombi do (and do very well, at that), the fact remains that this show was always about one band, one figure, one (anti) papal figure. From the second Zombi leave the stage the music in the Apollo changes to tones familiar to anyone who has ever visited (or dare I say, frequented) a Catholic church. The choir-like music is complimented by two altar boys on the stage, putting a twist on between-band set-up as they unveil the drum-kit and miscellanea for the show.


Ghost - Manchester 2


Dramatic, ironic and (as any good magician will tell you) a perfect distraction, the altar boys make it so that the audience barely notices when the intro kicks in proper, Papa Emeritus seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Ghost launch straight in with ‘Square Hammer’, the crowd responding with nothing less than rabid fervour, a roar like thunder marking the start of a very special evening in the company of metal’s most mysterious band.


The hits fly out one after another, a crunching bassline signalling the start of ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’, followed by doomy organs for ‘Secular Haze’. And that is what marks Ghost as different to other rising star bands; they aren’t reliant on one album’s worth of great songs. Instead, the band draw on their whole back catalogue and never sound anything less than massive, an all-conquering theatrical force utterly owning their audience.


As the focal point of the band, Emeritus is a true ringleader and consummate showman, addressing the crowd in a playful manner which both embraces the band’s theatrical elements whilst also wrly sending them up. Papa Emeritus is surprisingly humorous as a frontman, casting a striking figure whether fully adorned in his papal attire, or just as a svelte figure in black smartwear. Flanked by his faceless (and nameless) Ghouls, Ghost create a visual which is at once entirely unique yet inherently recognisable within the rock and metal genre.


Ghost - Manchester 4


Whilst not quite at Rammstein levels of stagecraft yet, Ghost still pull out plenty of surprises and nice touches, in everything from confetti cannons and incense to plumes of flame and enough stage smoke to recreate the horror masterpiece ‘The Fog’. An unholy communion via some (very) naughty nuns proves to be one of the night’s more interactive elements, the crowd maintaining an atmosphere of intermingled reverent awe and absolute rabid fan frenzy.


While the show remains perfectly paced throughout, there is no denying that when the band pull out the onslaught of ‘Cirice’ and ‘Year Zero’ before the encore, followed by ‘He Is’, ‘Absolution’, ‘Mummy Dust’, ‘Ghuleh/Zombie Queen’, ‘Ritual’ and closer ‘Monstrance Clock’, it feels like they could achieve absolutely anything. Most bands are lucky to be able to pull out a three-song anthemic assault, yet Ghost manage it with no less than eight.


Much thought in the metal world now goes into which bands could possibly take over as festival headliners once the current crop of golden oldies finally heads off to the great afterparty beyond. They needn’t bother – Ghost aren’t just primed to headline the festivals of tomorrow, they’re ready to start today.


Ghost headline Bloodstock on Saturday 12 August.


All content © Über Rock. Not to be reproduced in part or in whole without the express written permission of Über Rock.