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.
The group’s most recent record, Eterno Treblinka, which you can download here for $10, has everything: death growls, thrashy drums, super cool guitar riffs and memorable, circle-pit inducing melodies.
Looking For An Answer, founded in 1999, does not monkey around with extended solos, 10-minute long tracks or sound sampling. Do you want some break-neck-speed death metal in the vein of Cannibal Corpse, only maybe a little younger, cuter and skinnier? Here it is, in Spanish. Now, shut the fuck up and mosh!
Looking For An Answer plays Saturday afternoon, May 26, at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest.
Michael is probably one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic rockers you are ever going to encounter. Don’t be surprised if you see him headbanging along with everyone else in the crowd either before or after Artillery plays on Friday, May 25. From his replies that follow, it is evident he loves what he does.
Artillery has been around for so long! What is the key to your longevity and resilience despite changes?
We love playing this kind of music. You know when you stand on the stage and feel the response from those die-hard thrashers, you are still being motivated so much so you overcome all troubles. We feel so grateful for this support through almost 30 years and are looking forward to hitting the USA for the first time ever.
What genres of music do you listen to?
We listen to a lot of music including blues and 70´s rock, but basically metal and hard rock like everything from Jethro Tull to Slayer. Bands like Black Sabbath, Exodus etc. are on my record player almost every day. I have a collection of around 3000 CDs. And none of them are downloaded.
I was surprised to learn that you had not toured the US (or anywhere in North or South America, for that matter.) Is that correct? And why not? What do you plan to do while you are in US? I see you have a show at Saint Vitus. What else is planned?
We are only playing the Maryland Deathfest and one show at Saint Vitus Bar in New York, then we are moving on to play South America with (German thrash metal band) Exumer. We tried for many years to come to the US, but it never really worked for us until now. But it´s never too late, and hopefully we will come back soon to play Texas, California and some of the other great places in the USA in the nearest future. We will stay in America between the 24th to the 28th of May, so I hope we will see a lot both in Maryland and New York.
Tell me about the metal scene in Denmark. What styles are popular now?
The most popular band in the “metal genre” at the moment is Volbeat. Bands like Mercenary, Hatesphere, King Diamond and newcomers in thrash like Impalers are also getting attention these days. Even old bands like Pretty Maids still have a lot of fans, but in my opinion the best metal act is still the defunct Mercyful Fate. As for Artillery, we are gaining more and more attention back home, which is great.
Are the Danes really the happiest people on the planet?
I think Denmark is a very good land to live in. We really don’t have those big problems and mostly people care for each other and help where it’s needed. Denmark is a very small land with only 5 million people so it makes it easier to have a good security net. So maybe that’s why!
You are scheduled to play Barge to Hell. Have you ever played a musical cruise before? Have you ever gone on a cruise at all? What do you expect?
Yes, we played the Sweden Rock Cruise in 2009, and it was one of the highlights in our career so far. So we are looking forward to sail in the ocean between Florida and Nassau in good weather with all the other bands and the headbangers. Also the food I have heard is totally delicious. So we expect five great days away from the cold weather in Denmark!
What sort of merchandise will you have available for sale at the Maryland Deathfest?
We hope that we can have all our merchandise with us, T-shirts from all our albums, CDs, etc. You can check out our merch here or on our Facebook site.
Is there anything special that you think people ought to know about Artillery?
Yes, we really are so excited to see how the American thrashers are gonna react to our music. We will promise that we will deliver it 100%!
Thank you Michael! See you at MDF X!
Remember punk rock? Bloody Phoenix does. This grindcore, punk, ensemble hails from Los Angeles, California. They have been churning out screaming chunks of punk-flavored goodness since the fall of 2001. Their songs are long enough to get the mosh pit going but short enough to make sure no one gets killed.
Bloody Phoenix might be the band The Ramones would have become, had they taken the left hand path. There is no denying the punk rock roots in a song such as “Marching Into A Bottomless Well,” but the eerie vibe and death growl vocals reveal the true motivations here. Some reviewers describe this band as thrash core. That’s an interesting term. They just seem like balls-out punk rock to me. In researching this article, I really liked the 20-track album Death to Everyone from 2010.
Members include Jerry Flores (guitars), Michael Karubin (drums), Vito Tagliente (bass), and Molly Scarpine (vocals). Saira Huff from Question/RØSENKØPF/x-Detestation will be contributing guest vocals.
In an email, Flores said much of their setlist will come from Death to Everyone.
“Songs will vary… Mostly from our Death To Everyone LP as well as our split 7″ with Question and some new songs made for a 4-way split LP that will be coming out later this year. Possibly a couple of older songs sprinkled here and there,” Flores wrote.
As for the merch available from the band during the festival, Flores said to expect the usual. “Shirts, CDs, some vinyl, and possibly some pint glasses,” he said. Wait a minute… PINT GLASSES? WANT!!
So prepare for a raucous start to a long, long list of bands crushing through Saturday at the 2012 Maryland Deathfest. Get there by noon, as Bloody Phoenix takes the stage first.