Rise of the Cardinal: Ghost's Comeback and Return to the Stage

Hard-rock sensation Ghost returns to the limelight with their Rats on the Road tour.

The last few months have been very big for Satanic-tinted hard-rock band Ghost. After a substantial hiatus, a lawsuit and the resulting exposure of their previously anonymous identities, Ghost has come back with a new front man, single, album release date and tour. From magazine features to charts and lists, all eyes are on them, and it looks like Ghost is more than happy with the resurrection.

And “resurrection” is honestly the best word for it, when you understand what’s been happening to the band since their last run promoting their Grammy-winning album Meliora with front man Papa Emeritus III.

I’ll preface this with a spoiler alert — or something close to that. The front man and creator of Ghost has been forced out of anonymity, but many fans of the band like to retain his anonymity by keeping his name under wraps. For those interested in maintaining the illusion, the front man will remain anonymous here. For those who don’t care, click here for his information.

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Courtesy of Amaris Sicklick

The front man’s exposure came from a lawsuit by former band members, the previous Nameless Ghouls who are still fighting to decide whether the band is a solo project or a communal effort. This has been a big roadblock for both Ghost’s rise to fame as well as their commitment to the anonymous aesthetic, a fairly tarnishing bit of PR that made many people doubt they’d even continue making music. The morally ambiguous suit calls into question whether people will even want to listen to Ghost anymore, and the exposure of a human face behind the inhuman mask could break many people’s happy illusion.

But from what we’ve seen of Ghost’s return to the limelight, it looks like the lawsuit hasn’t stunted the front man’s creative abilities but, in fact, spurred him on to go even harder in his dedication to the act. For the exposure of his identity, he seems to be compensating by committing even more to the mysterious, dark and foreboding persona.

Ghost is reaching a new level of theatricality, up to and including a new video series expounding on the lore of the band — something to do with a dark Clergy, a dynasty of papal figures, and probably definitely something to do with the devil.

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Courtesy of Amaris Sicklick

They’ve also ventured into including new characters in the canon, including the patriarch and matriarch of The Clergy: Papa Nihil and Sister Imperator, who’ve not only helped establish a new social media presence but made personal public appearances.

A mysterious “morning sermon” was conducted on April 30 in New York City, where both characters announced the next installment of their video series and a new tour. They also conducted a trivia contest and traded jokes with the audience. Yes, jokes, and also yes, the links above were to their official Twitter accounts. It’s easy to notice Ghost’s new commitment to actually making fun of themselves, unlike many other theatrical acts, and fans seem to appreciate it.

With the expansion of the lore came the long-awaited introduction of their next front man character. While still the same man in disguise, Ghost shows a solid commitment to making their new leader, Cardinal Copia — the plague-bringer — his own very individual character. A new face, a new name, a new personality, and a new set of radical dance moves have certainly breathed new life into the band, but it wasn’t until the release of their new single “Rats” that Ghost was bumping up on the charts yet again. The music video has clocked in at over six million views (at the time of this writing), made it onto multiple charts and sponsored playlists, and crashed a few websites on its advance release.

And now, Ghost is on tour, appropriately dubbed Rats on the Road, ongoing through the month of May to end with the release of their next album, Prequelle.

Rats on the Road started with an impromptu preview show in Los Angeles, featuring theatrical entrances and pop-up shops made to look like Satanic shrines. Reviews poured in that told audiences to expect the best for the rest of the tour — and the new era of Ghost.

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Courtesy of Rosey Eikenberry

The tour features large theater venues, and many of the shows don’t begin with an opening act, including the show in Port Chester, New York, where I was lucky to attend. This show was all about Ghost. Fans, who waited over five hours outside to get a good spot, can attest. The Capitol Theater was swarmed, and staff were outfitted with pins and shirts of their squirrel mascot, now in full Satanic regalia.

When the curtains opened, it was very clearly not going to be an entirely different show from what we’ve seen before — but it certainly was going to be bigger.

A huge stage illuminated in hazy mysterious green revealed a familiar set to their previous shows, an allusion to a pristine church complete with stained-glass windows. But previous images of Satan and fallen angels were replaced this time with a tremendous featured portrait of Papa Nihil, the ancient patriarch of The Clergy, overlooking the stage like an expectant and judgmental god. It was an image we saw again and again during the show, at one point during intermission projected onto the entirety of the walls of the Capitol and up into the ceiling, and finally during an appearance of Papa Nihil himself — during a saxophone solo cut into a new song. Apparently the decrepit Satanic pope also shreds on the sax.

Cardinal Copia made his grand entrance to open up with his claim to fame, “Rats,” dressed in a tight black tailcoat and snappy dress shoes. Like his predecessors, he opened with a call of “Are you with us?” and drank in a roar from the crowd as he floated about the stage like a jazzy, sexy, plague-bringing Gomez Addams.

A new commitment was shown to the truly live aspect of live music, with new backup vocals from a set of Nameless Ghouls, including live mixing, keyboard and backup percussion from what he called “the Ghoulettes.” There were few to no prerecorded tracks, in a high-risk, high-reward feat of live music.

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Courtesy of Amaris Sicklick

The air of glam-shock rock changed with the Cardinal’s outfit, as he emerged again in his namesake traditional robe, shifting partway through the show from the gothic black shown in magazine covers to a deep red. Homage was paid to the first era of Ghost as he entered the stage with a swinging thurible, the item carried primarily by their first front man, Papa Emeritus I. With the burning incense came blasts of smoke machines scented with lavender, filling the room with a mysterious and all-consuming fog that obscured most of the stage, except the diligent Cardinal, who swung his thurible and moaned through the dark and evil lyrics of “Con Clavi Con Dio,” in a set paying tribute to eras long past.

Dramatic introductions led to the premiering of new songs: the instrumental “Miasma,” the hard-rock hit “Faith” and the ’80s-style power jam “Dance Macabre.”

All of these songs are set to be released with their newest album, Prequelle, on June 1. The album promises a black-death theme and Ghost’s approachable but distinctly dark sound. Advance reviews of the album have come back glowing, and from witnessing a few of the featured songs it’s fair to attest to the evolved sound of Prequelle. It’s clearly influenced by stadium rock, like Kiss and Alice Cooper, and draws on rockabilly and metal roots to fit into an entirely danceable, sure-to-hit-the-radio sound.

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Courtesy of Amaris Sicklick

As Ghost — now all of Ghost, which includes one Cardinal and seven Nameless Ghouls — took a bow onstage, the sight elicited a feeling of having witnessed a performance in a theater rather than a metal show. But the sore neck from head-banging affirmed they’re still a hard-rock band. You could practically smell the influence of last year’s touring partner Iron Maiden in the flashing lights and dramatic stage composition, and it seemed Ghost had learned well.

Ghost has successfully bounced back from a PR nightmare by doubling down on what made them so distinctly them and evolving naturally from Satanic metal to theatrical, dramatic Satanic metal. But the change isn’t as drastic as one would think, because really Ghost is just sticking to what they always were. They aren’t just a hard-rock band; they’re a performance art piece, challenging the ultimate authority, telling a story of the dark and mysterious parts of religion and putting on a hell of a show.

Ghost will feature two more shows in A Pale Tour Named Death at the Forum in Los Angeles and the Barclay’s Center in New York City, and tickets remain on sale. Bear witness to them there, or catch their new album Prequelle on June 1.

Join the fandom on social media: Facebook @thebandghost, Instagram @thebandghost and Twitter @thebandGHOST. end


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