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Strange tourfellows: Skeletonwitch and Ghost B.C.

Well, it’s finally happened. I finally saw Ghost (B.C.)  And I blame it all on Skeletonwitch.

Ghost and Skeletonwitch made a stop at Rams Head Live on July 29 during a five city mini tour that grew out of the fact that the bands would cross paths on their ways to other places. Skeletonwitch are wrapping up a headlining tour across North America on their way back home to Ohio. Ghost, who hail from Sweden (by way of Hell), are making a few stops on their way to Chicago to play Lollapalooza. These two sharing a stage seemed like strange bedfellows musically, and I kind of didn’t want to miss it. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to go to every show that catches my eye, but thanks to the kind gentlemen in Skeletonwitch (specifically their official band spokesman Scott Hedrick) and the gracious folks at Prosthetic Records, I was able to go to the show and get a photo pit pass.

Everyone I know who is into metal seems to have an opinion about Ghost, and I am no exception. Ghost erupted onto the scene in late 2010 with their debut EP Opus Eponymous. These musicians didn’t come from nothing and no where, however. Ghost is reportedly composed of members of the two Swedish bands: synthrockers Magna Carta Cartel and death metallers Repugnant. They hide their identities. That’s part of their schtick. I get it. I’m willing to go along with the joke. (Hey, I love Dragged Into Sunlight, and I have no problem with them downplaying their identities.)

Ghost seems to engender a lot of strong reaction from listeners. Some hate them and say they are false, posers, manufactured etc. Some love them to the point of near fanaticism, as was evidenced by the handful of Nameless Ghoul wannabes who attended Monday’s show in costume.  Me, I just fail to succumb to the hype and certainly never thought of Ghost as metal, but I gave them a listen anyway.

Admittedly, Ghost’s tunes are catchy, easy to sing along with and danceable. Papa Emeritus’ vocals are sweet and almost soothing. Overall, it’s similar to a lot of popular rock. Muse or The Postal Service come to mind except with heavier guitars and more minor chords and more Satan. I have settled on the humorous faux subgenre of Satanic yachtrock to describe them.

But I kept hearing that Ghost’s live show was really great and that I should not write them off without seeing them in person. My stance in situations like this is simple: I like what I like, and I don’t have to give everything that seems almost universally accepted “a chance” just because people think I am somehow defective for not liking what they like. I reserve the right to reject a band without seeing their live show. But here I was, getting ready to see Ghost live.

Now, let me say something about Skeletonwitch, who have spent the last 10+ years building their fan base, slogging around in stinky vans, playing little clubs for whoever would listen. A strong constituency at Rams Head Monday night was primarily there to see Skeletonwitch, which made me happy.

I have seen Skeletonwitch three times now, and each time I like them more. My favorite show was a headlining performance at The Ottobar, because I think they relate well to a smaller crowds. Their guitarists shred, their rhythm section crushes, and Chance Garnette has one of the most evil sounding voices I’ve ever heard. He provides a black metal style of vocal that slices like a razor though a sweet double layer cake of death metal and thrash.

Skeletonwitch worked the larger room well and got the crowd whipped up enough to have some respectable crowd surfing going on. Since the upper levels of Rams Head were blocked off, the 600 or so attendees were forced into the smaller floor area in front of the stage. lending a more intimate feeling to the setting. They cruised through 11 songs, something from each of their four recordings and one new song from their forthcoming album, Serpents Unleashed, that was called “Burned From Bone.” The new album drops in October.

Skeletonwitch played for only 35 minutes, which was not long enough in my opinion. This show was going to get me home early!

I don’t know what I was expecting when Ghost finally took the stage. Smoke, fire? I don’t know. The last show I shot at Rams Head was Behemoth, Watain, The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude.  I am not sure anything could have prepared me for Watain live. There’s nothing to compare it to. Nergal and Behemoth command the stage masterfully. Even TDB is compelling live and, of course, blood soaked.

But the Nameless Ghouls just quietly strolled onto the stage and waited for their leader to arrive. You can’t see their faces so you don’t know if they are happy or sad or indifferent about being there.  After some build-up, Papa Emeritus II  took the stage with little pomp, though the crowd provided enough enthusiasm to make his entrance significant.

When I look at Ghost, mostly what I see is something kind of Halloween-ish. Something like the band that would play in a live-action Scooby Doo movie and turn out to be the bad guy gardener and his tricky henchmen. To me it is costume-shop theatrics framing well executed. but not very exciting, music. For comparison, KISS uses theatrics and costumes, but I am willing to listen to KISS without having to look at them. That is not the case with Ghost, at least not for me. The show’s the thing.

You see, there is something captivating about watching a grown man in an elaborate Pope/Skeletor outfit leading the audience in a Latin sing-a-long.  And, I did find my self head-bobbing along with their now familiar songs. After my three songs for shooting in the photo pit ended, I joined friends at the bar and watched the rest of the Ghost show near the Skeletonwitch merch table. At one point during the song “Year Zero”, I ended up doing a kind of hilariously fun Pulp Fiction-esque dance routine with a high schooler. But then again, I will dance to Carpathian Forest and Arckanum, and I don’t care who is watching (and laughing at me). I wished I could have understood some of Papa E.’s stage banter, but from where I was the sound was not clear and people were talking. A few folks were inspired to crowd surf, but that seemed rather unnecessary. And the shouts of “Hail Satan” from the audience were pretty funny.  I am sure the members of Ghost are also chuckling to themselves about that, all the way to the bank.

The bottom line about the evening is that I was highly entertained by both groups for completely different reasons. Skeletonwitch always puts forth 10,000 percent and delivered a satisfying performance for the headbangers with such musical integrity that you could feel it in your gut. And Ghost delivered a satisfyingly lighthearted performance that was fun and surprisingly warm, despite the Luciferian overtones. I can’t deny that I was touched by the fact that Papa E. reached out and took a fan by the hand. I am sure that person felt extremely blessed. In summary,  I didn’t hate Ghost, but I spent my merch dollars at the Skeletonwitch table. To each, her own I suppose.

Here are some of my best shots and a couple of videos. Enjoy.

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Behemoth to unleash fury on Rams Head Live

Behemoth

Few extreme metal bands are surrounded by as much controversy as Behemoth, who play Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Saturday, May 5. Together with their tour mates Watain, The Devil’s Blood and In Solitude, concert goers should expect an evening of fire, brimstone and rock and roll.

In their home country of Poland, Behemoth has gained a reputation of pissing off religious groups. In 2010, Behemoth lead singer Nergal (Adam Darski) faced a possible prison sentence for a 2007 concert incident in which he ripped pages from the bible and accused the Roman Catholic Church of being a murderous cult. The act of offending the RCC is a crime in that country. Although the courts later cleared Darski of any wrong doing, saying his act was a work of artist expression, controversy remained. Later, pressure from the Polish Catholic church caused a television network to dismiss Nergal as one of the judges on that country’s version of the talent show The Voice.

The Devil’s Blood
Even on this current Decibel magazine sponsored tour Behemoth and crew have met with trouble. The owners of the venue, The Brewmaster’s Gate, where they were to play on April 11 in Columbus, Ohio decided to cancel the booking due to religious conflicts. The show was quickly moved to a notorious venue, Al Rosa, the club where Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott was shot and killed by an audience member in 2004.

Nergal’s reaction to the banning was somewhat comical:”… WOW! We are facing a legendary moment: Amerika, the land of the free, is banning Behemoth coz of religious beliefs. The madness starts in Ohio, but of korz we are playing anyway. Nothing can stop us now. God, please save me from this freedom.”

Behemoth was not the only group on this tour to face difficulties. Watain’s visas were delayed, and they were not in the US in time to perform for the first five shows of the tour. Some of those cities are being rescheduled, so if you are follower of the Watain “ritual,” then you should be checking their Facebook pages for updates about when those will occur.  The Devil’s Blood reported on their Facebook page that after their show in San Antonio, their driver ran off with some of their money. And In Solitude has reportedly had some travelling woes as well.

No matter, come this Saturday all should come together for one “hell” of a show. And that is hell in the literal since, as the groups on this lineup all espouse, to one degree or another, anti-religous or satanic view points. What does that have to do with the music? Nothing, in my opinion, but not everyone would agree.

This tour is actually quite diverse. Behemoth plays crushing death metal with Nergal’s aggressive vocals and pounding memorable riffs. Watain’s music is a bit more guitar driven with complex melodies that rely heavily on the flatted fifth, aka The Devil’s Interval. The Devil’s Blood sound something like a cross between the Jefferson Airplane and Coven, that is, strong psychedelic tunes with a bold female vocal. In Solitude is a straight up rock and roll band with a heavy nod to Blue Oyster Cult , Black Sabbath and even Kiss.

Attendees should be advised that Watain (when permitted) use rotting animal carcasses and blood in their performance. The smell can be overwhelming, though, like any smell you continue to inhale, you stop smelling it after a bit. The Devil’s Blood also uses blood in there performance. Candles will light the stage for much of this show. Overall, the evening should be one of intense aural, visual and olfactory stimulation.

Tickets are $20 in advance online or $25 the day of the show at the Rams Head Live box office.
Or you can enter to win two free passes here.

Win free passes to see Behemoth at Rams Head Live

Y U No Enter Mary’s Contest?

The kind folks at 24-7 Entertainment have given me two passes to GIVE AWAY to see BEHEMOTH! Saturday night, May 5 at Rams Head Live in Baltimore.

So here is what you have to do: it’s a two step process. Go to the Facebook page for Metallomusikum and like that page. Then post on the wall that you want to enter the contest. If you already like the page, just post that you want to enter.

From all the people who do both by 5 p.m. on Friday (that’s tomorrow) I will pick one winner and you and a friend will get to see Behemoth! Go!!!

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