Op-Ed: Ghost WILL Be the Next Big Arena Rock Band in Metal
When Ghost first broke onto the scene in 2010/2011 there was hype from the get-go. Very early on in the band’s career — a crossroads for the music industry, when much hand-ringing was being done regarding its future — people were making predictions that Ghost, in a metal landscape devoid of big headliners that aren’t Metallica and Slipknot, could one day make the jump from underground sensations to crossover darlings. Naysayers (yours truly included) claimed they were too niche, too weird, not special enough. After seeing them play a two set, “evening with” show in Port Chester, NY on Tuesday, though, I have to concede I was very, very wrong. The Ghost train has been gaining speed consistently ever since their debut, but this next album could offer their big break.
This much is certain: Ghost (or Tobias Forge, really) think they’re ready for the big time. I’m inclined to agree. Whether the public will too remains to be seen, but Ghost are certainly walking the walk and talking the talk, and sometimes perception is reality. An “evening with” tour with no openers is a tough sell for any band, let alone one with only three full albums out in the world. Their stage show was outsized for the venue, consisting of an eight-piece band (!), a full-stage back drop modeled after the stained glass wall of a church, and a white, imitation-stone riser with wide steps and a raised platform on each side spanning the entire width of the stage. The band members used it well, mixing choreographed stage positions with impromptu rock moves to make for a visually engaging and fun performance. Ghost may have picked up a thing or two from all those dates with Iron Maiden last year.
Ghost have the songs to make it, and lots of them. How’s this for cajones? The band reserved “Dance Macabre,” one of their unreleased numbers debuted live earlier on this tour, for their encore and second-to-last song of the night (they closed with “Square Hammer”). That tells me the band thinks highly of the track and has big plans for it, and with good reason: hearing it live I was immediately struck by how catchy and powerful it is, and the audience seemed to think so too. It’s got a GIGANTIC-sized arena rock chorus that’s impossible to deny: think Chicago, Night Ranger and other ’80s AOR gems, just wrapped up in heavier riffs. It’s The Night Flight Orchestra with costumes, really. As incredible a song as “Cirice” is, “Dance Macabre” might be even better and more primed to be a big breakout, crossover hit: it’s simpler, less heavy, less weird and shorter, but still undeniably Ghost.
All big arena rock bands need a great frontman, and Tobias Forge has grown into quite the charismatic stage leader. The posturing, the audience interaction, the costume changes, the between-song banter (“Yes… yes.”), it’s all there. Fan-filmed YouTube footage consistently reveals that Forge isn’t a top-shelf vocalist, but he’d probably even admit to that… and it sounds fine in person. Other legendary vocalists have certainly done way more with way less than what Forge has.
Here’s something else that struck me about Tuesday night’s show: the startling number of fans wearing Ghost t-shirts. Metalheads — nay, all serious music fans — know not to do this; you never wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see! The preponderance of Ghost shirts at the Ghost show tells me that Ghost fans are simply Ghost fans; they have a few favorite bands, of which Ghost is one, but they’re not music fanatics or diehards, otherwise they’d know not to break that cardinal rule (pardon the pun). And that’s the audience you need to have if you’re ever going to truly cross over: the casual listeners. Those casual listeners, for what it’s worth, don’t seem to give one iota about Forge’s unmasking or the lawsuit against him by former members of the band, and the band’s core fanbase of metalheads like us who’ve been along for the ride the whole time don’t seem to care much either. Great songs and a solid shtick trump all.
Whether Ghost truly break through or not will depend on the strength of the songs on the new album and clever marketing, both of which the band has in droves, and the success of those songs at radio. If all goes well, the sky’s the limit. With two arena shows booked for the fall, Ghost are certainly ready: are you?