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Ghost at Theater of the Clouds/Moda Center 9/26/2019 Photos and review

By ANTHONY PIDGEON // Ghost merges Arena Pop Metal with the macabre theatrics of Black Metal and comes out with a hell of a show.

For the uninitiated, Ghost is probably not who or what you think they are. Despite lyrics, symbolism, album art, and a stage presence suggesting otherwise, Ghost is not Death, Doom, or Black Metal, or even close. If anything, they're quite pop, in the hard rock sense. Quite simply, Ghost has mastered the art of cleverly appropriating metal cliches into irresistible pop anthems while still appearing subversive. An early bio self-describes their debut as:  “a daringly beautiful combination of satanic rock music with an almost unthinkable pop sensibility”, and this seems reasonably on point.

In the tradition of KISS, Alice Cooper, and Ozzy, Ghost has tapped the classic 70s/80's heavy metal vein, tongue planted firmly in cheek at all times, which is a big part of what makes them so appealing in the moment. Strong vocals, crunchy guitar riffs, soaring choruses, hooks galore, and the requisite lyrical themes of lust, rebellion, and the devil abound. Designed to both drive conservative parents into conniptions and intrigue rebellious kids, Ghost merges arena pop metal with the macabre theatrics of black metal and comes out with a hell of a show.

Ghost is essentially the creative vehicle for lead singer/figurehead Tobias Forge, who writes and performs the majority their studio recordings as a one man band. An articulate and polite Swede who shuns the spotlight off stage, Forge is an unlikely metal icon. By appearances, would seem more at home pitching the IPO of a tech startup than fronting a shock-rock band. He performed anonymously for several years under the elaborate guises of deathly anti-pope figures Papa Emeritus I-III, and in a send up of papal succession, retired that figurehead with each new album to create a new one. The latest incarnation is Cardinal Copia, a still funereal but far more human character, perhaps due to Forges' identity being revealed in 2017 in a lawsuit by former band members.

At their Theater of the Clouds performance in Portland last Monday, Forge's Copia morphed his way through a variety of potential new personas. When not in his black ritual robes, the Cardinal presided over the stage in a snug red swallowtail suit, identity always concealed by a latex face mask suggesting a character study of aging Mafioso. It's a curious fusion of iconography when paired with his stage presence, which combines the deranged ringmaster persona of Alice Cooper, the gothic gentleman presence of Dave Vanian, and the occasional theatrical moves of Freddie Mercury.

Forge's onstage accomplices are known as The Nameless Ghouls, and they are essential in completing the presentation. Dressed in coordinating horned masks, black swallowtail jackets, and white spats, they call to mind a demonic Blue Man Group styled by Jack Skellington. Serving as the musical force, an extension of Forges grand visual design, and even as comic foils, the Ghouls churn out nonstop 70s/80s metal riffage, dark melodic ballads, and add to the undercurrent of wink / nudge humor with the occasional mime gag.

Its a highly entertaining combination, and the stage show pulls out all the stops. In addition to the Ghouls and various Forge personas, fans were treated to a hirsute pope playing the sax, a keytar solo, a Foley shtick involving a bicycle, recurring sight gags with the Ghouls, and all the requisite fire, explosions, fog machines & confetti cannons one could hope for at an arena metal show. As Cardinal Copia summed it up at the end, “all asses were wobbled, all taints were tickled”... and fans went home thoroughly entertained.

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