By Ashley Taylor
The newly-appointed Papa Emeritus III and two of his Nameless Ghouls brought a full house to Zia Records’ Phoenix location on Friday afternoon. An enthusiastic crowd of fans chanted “GHOST! GHOST! GHOST!...” as they waited for them to walk on stage, filling every crevice of the store, peeking around CD displays and a jungle of black balloons, ready with phones in-hand. We were lucky enough to be one of the five cities included in their Unholy/Unplugged In-Store Acoustic Tour surrounding the release of their new album Meliora and even luckier that they played here on its drop date.
“It feels fucking - oh sorry - it feels fantastic! Thanks for commemorating this with us,” P.E. laughed as he commented on the new album. He was without his usual mitre and instead showed off a nice, thick head of black rockabilly-style hair and his Ghouls were dressed in all black with silver gargoyle-esque devil masks. The Swedish occult rockers prepared a brief, stripped -down three-song set sans their usual elaborate getup but gave us the raw beauty of acoustic guitar and, believe or not, kazoo instead of electronic synths.
For those confused here, the members of Ghost keep their identities secret. They only refer to themselves as Nameless Ghouls, aside from the lead vocalist who goes by Papa Emeritus (who “dies off” or “gets fired” and is replaced every now and again hence why we’re on Papa Emeritus III now). There were only two Ghouls at this performance but there are typically five all together; each representing one of the five elements (fire, water, wind, earth, and ether). While they have the stage presence and theatrics of Kiss or David Bowie, the idea is to keep the focus on their art and not on their personal lives. They even credit their songs to “A Ghoul Writer.” There is, of course, speculation on who P.E. is or was or continues to be... but at the end of the day all that matters is the music and therefore their method of mystery is successful.
They opened with “Jigolo Har Megiddo,” which was a good way to warm us up to the idea of hearing a heavy song, minus its heaviness and instead show us what metal-turned-acoustic can really sound like. Next, they played “Guhleh/Zombie Queen,” one of my personal favorites and quite possibly even more so after hearing it in its purest form. They had the audience join in with a rapid “Spanish clap” and some “Hey!” chants, which gave the track a whole new sound and really showcased their European roots. Fittingly, they ended their short set with a cover of Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts,” no doubt an influence behind some of the psychedelic folk sounds in their music.
Papa was surprisingly comedic, not something you would expect from someone who typically fronts a metal band in a full demonic anti-Pope costume with his face painted to look like a skull. But that was the best part about this performance. We may not know their names or what they really look like underneath the makeup and the costumes, but the meaning behind their anonymity was clearer than ever: they are true artists.