REVIEW: Ghost Captivates at Sydney Download Festival
By Madeline Ward
I left my boyfriend in the crowd waiting for Slayer about an hour and half before the start of Ghost’s set at Download on Saturday night. This was a decision I’d agonised over: this was, after all, Slayer’s final world tour. The final hours of Download were by and large an exercise in strategy: we got up the front for Alice in Chains to stay there (through Judas Priest) for Slayer, and I endured half an hour of Pennywise to be front row for Ghost. Choosing between a plethora of critically and commercially acclaimed heavy metal bands is ultimately a good problem to have, no matter how complicated the tactics were. A good two hours of waiting through other sets proved to be more than worth it, with Ghost putting on a live show that was truly spectacular, even with the limitations of a one hour festival set.
Download was a pretty massive day for heavy metal fans of the feminist persuasion, with 11 of 36 acts featuring at least one female member. Being the day after International Women’s Day, many acts spoke on feminism and women’s empowerment during their sets, including Rise Against and Slaves. Ghost felt like an explicitly feminist set for a different reason, one that was largely driven by the fact that, at least where I was standing at the front of the stage, the crowd was dominated by female fans. Girls were invited to the front in many crowds, by many acts, throughout the day: but at Ghost there was no invitation. We didn’t need one. No man stood a chance against the throngs of women that were pushing their way to the front of the set with unmatched determination.
Ghost’s onstage presence is captivating: in the hour I was waiting for their set to start I watched a team of roadies assemble what was effectively a cathedral, complete with “marble” steps and stained glass curtains. The nameless Ghouls and Ghoulettes ( Ghost are one of the 11 bands with female members, with two Ghoulettes on keys ) walked on stage to what I can only describe as womanly screaming, of which I will happily admit that I took part. The set kicked off with “Ashes” from their latest release, leading straight into “Rats” with the arrival of Cardinal Copia (Tobias Forge) on stage to a renewed round of screaming. “Absolution” immediately followed, kicking off a round of classics from earlier Ghost albums Meliora and Opus Eponymous. Ghost’s live show is as much theatre as it is heavy metal, and the latest incarnation of the band’s frontman is as charismatic as his predecessors. Never have I felt more a part of the heavy metal sisterhood as I was in the front row of Ghost, surrounded by screaming women, being serenaded by a small swedish man dressed as some kind of satanic John Waters. “Faith” and “Cirice” both proved to be crowd favourites, and “Miasma” was an extended opportunity for the musical talents of the band to be showcased, including a decrepit Papa Nihil arriving on stage for the most ridiculous saxophone solo I have ever witnessed.
Copia introduced “Mummy Dust” by asking the audience if we wanted our “asses wobbelled” and “taints tickled”, to resounding screams of “fuck yes” from the crowd. “Mummy Dust” allowed the ghoulettes to exhibit their considerable musical prowess: a keytar solo was particularly memorable, as were the aggressive hip thrusts that the Cardinal peppered throughout the song.
Say what you will about Prequelle, but the album’s lead single “Dance Macabre” is undisputedly a banger. The tune made for the perfect beginning of the end, with “Square Hammer” rounding out a set that pleased Ghost fans old and new. The only negative thing that I could possibly say about the show was that it was far too short: an hour being nearly half the length of their headline shows meant that we missed out on songs like “Monstrance Clock” and the monologue about the female orgasm that usually accompanies it.