Take a moment to dig back through the archives of Australian music festival history and find the 2013 Soundwave line up poster. Blow off the dust. Keep blowing, there’s a lot of dust. Right there, six rows down, on the left: Ghost.
In what feels like a lifetime ago, Ghost’s first performance in Sydney was in the late afternoon on Soundwave’s Stage 3, a mere 427 metres (we checked) from where today, a decade later, Ghost play their first ever headlining show in Australia. Except this time, it is a little bit more grandiose.
Thanks, in part, to TikTok, Ghost’s popularity has soared of late. Originally set for the Hordern Pavilion, the intense demand for tickets saw a venue upgrade of all three cities on the tour, with Sydney bumping up to Qudos Bank Arena.
Supporting Ghost on the entire run is the most isolated heavy metal band in the world – Southeast Desert Metal. Hailing from Ltyentye Apurte Community/Santa Teresa, about 80km southeast of Alice Springs, with a population of 708 (as of the 2021), Southeast Desert Metal are carving a unique niche in Australian metal music, with a sound clearly inspired by that of Judas Priest, Sepultura et al., but with a strong cultural influence, tapping into, sharing and celebrating the rich history of Arrernte culture. It also bears a mention that their home is the most Catholic place in Australia, and they are performing tonight in Ghost’s elaborate cathedral stage set up. Oh yeah, did we mention that Ghost are playing a literal cathedral?
By the time Ghost hit the stage, the sold out venue absolutely erupts. The Nameless Ghouls (almost too many to count) are hitting every note with ferocious intensity, and the crowd – particularly the rather large contingent of teenage girls – were enthralled and enamoured with every lyric, every word, every movement of Papa Emeritus.
Their set went from strength to strength, opening on Kaisarion, sampling songs from seven different releases, weaving through Ghost’s extensive catalogue like one would weave through the free sample section of the Sydney Royal Easter Show’s food pavilion. Rats, Spillways, Cirice, Year Zero, Mummy Dust, the latter of which climaxed with a shower of gold confetti, glittering intensely with every beam of light as it fluttered to the crowd.
The cathedral on the stage towered above the audience, the stained glass windows lit up with an elaborate and ornate vision of Papa Emeritus, morphing into a vision of Satan as Ghost launched into their encore. Kiss The Go-Goat, Dance Macabre, and Square Hammer closed out the nineteen-song set, so intense and captivating that it almost raced by.
Leaving the venue, it’s hard not to notice that the “all-ages” crowd had come out in droves. From teenage girls (most likely stumbling onto Ghost from TikTok), to primary-school aged kids, with industrial strength earmuffs from Bunnings, and huge smiles across their faces.
Ghost have, for a long time, been incredibly divisive in the heavy community. They are the subject of countless arguments claiming their music is ‘not heavy enough’ or ‘not real metal’, and every mention of the band inevitably contains at least one quip of “Ghost is just Scooby Doo chase music”. For us, a large part of what makes metal special is the community. Metal is so often gatekept by the old guard of fans, resistant to change, and critical of anything that was released subsequent to Metallica’s Black Album. But to see so many, of all ages, genders, and backgrounds congregating at the church of Ghost, and witnessing the future of the heavy music community falling in love with live music – that is metal. That is special.
And to all those who call Ghost “Scooby Doo chase music”, you are forgetting one critical thing: Scooby Doo is fucking awesome. And so are Ghost.