It’s some feat bringing corpse paint to the mainstream, but Ghost have done it: the Swedes arrive for the opening night of their first UK tour in three years having seen their new album Impera reach No 2 in the charts last month.
The band’s identities were once totally secret, and although the rest remain anonymous – referred to as Nameless Ghouls, and wearing headgear that’s part steampunk, part Tom Hardy’s Bane – Ghost are a less mysterious proposition now that the theatrical Tobias Forge is known as their frontman. Not that this has had any impact on their symphonic, pop-savvy metal. What started as a doomy occult band has morphed into a blockbusting arena act, like a spooky Def Leppard without the flowing locks.
We’re two songs in and the prescient Rats already has a packed arena in raptures. Released pre-pandemic, Forge sings: “In times of turmoil, in times like these / Beliefs contagious, spreading disease.” Remove the driving guitar chugs from Spillways and in another lifetime it could be an Abba staple, such is its outrageously catchy chorus – that plinking piano opening surely a tribute to Mamma Mia from their fellow Swedes.
“Do you like a lot of oomph?” Forge enquires, before the band launch into Mummy Dust. Its zany keytar solo isn’t fooling anyone: with hulking, Metallica-esque riffs, this is Ghost’s heaviest song. On the moody Cirice, Forge slinks across the stage wearing bat wings, before funereal stomper Square Hammer inspires the most frenzied singalong of the night.
There are confetti cannon, costume changes, flamethrowers and other forms of pyro, but the band is self-aware, preventing proceedings from ever getting too cartoonish. As one of the three guitarists relishes a solo spot on From the Pinnacle to the Pit a little much for his liking, Forge playfully reprimands them with a wagging finger; this is pantomime as much as rock’n’roll.
Ghost have often delved into history for thematic fare – 2018’s Prequelle drew on the Black Death, Impera from Victorian empires – but they’ve always seemed one step ahead during their sensational, transatlantic rise. Forge has said that he’s already decided the title of Ghost’s next album; one only hopes that he’s not forgetting to take all of this in, because his band have something magnificent to offer in the present.