After several decades in the cultural wilderness, Ghost are getting heavy music culture back on track.
It was 2013 that Ghost first stepped onto an Australian stage, playing an early slot at the now-defunct Soundwave festival.
Little more than a cult band from Sweden with an appetite for hooks and the odd Blue Oyster Cult riff, they were essentially “that weird metal band Dave Grohl likes”.
Who knew it would take nine years for them to finally play their first headline show down under, and said show would take place in an arena?
For that - scarcely believable as it is - is what transpired on October 3 in Sydney; after two and a half decades and five increasingly chart-bothering albums, the spooky Swedes finally conquered the Island continent.
Kicking off the evening was one hell of a story of its own: Southeast Desert Metal.
Hailed as the world's most isolated metal band - all the members live in the Arrernte community of Santa Teresa, an hour's drive from Alice Springs - it was special to see this feel-good story of Australian alternative culture make the step up into arenas.
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Of course, this was far from their first rodeo. The group has made a name for themselves over the last five years, bagging tours with the likes of Karnivool and Cosmic Psychos.
An arena is a whole new ballgame, however, and while at times the stage threatened to swallow them up, frontman Chris Wallace was all smiles for the duration of their tight set of traditionally fused power metal.
That the band got an encore (as support!) was the cherry on top for what was surely their biggest outing in the live arena to date.
In contrast to the frost-bitten riffs of the headliners, the mercury pushed well past thirty degrees outside as the time approached for Ghost to arrive.
None of this bothered the horde of fans packed into the floor and lower levels of the Qudos Bank Arena, though. The excitement swelled to a fever pitch as the lights dimmed. The traditional church hymns selected for house music gave way to the opening strains of Imperium, heralding the arrival of vocalist and ringleader Tobias Forge and his gaggle of nameless, speed-punk themed ghouls.
Running onto the stage through the arches that made up the stage set (complete with Ghost-themed stained-glass windows), Forge and Co. exploded into Impera opener Kaisarion, followed by a one-two punch of Rats and From The Pinnacle To The Pit, meeting the riff-versus-dance quota within the first ten minutes.
The tropes of Ghost shows are now legendary, and for their first headliner down under, no skit was spared: the resurrected Papa Nihil bursting forth from a coffin for a tenor sax solo in Miasma, Forge’s transformation from lion tamer to Orthodox priest for Con Clavi, Con Dio, and the usual banter between Forge and his Ghouls - from sarcastic claps during guitar solos to diva-like treatment during songs - all Ghost cliches made appearances.
With a decade and a half to hone their craft - often as festival co-headliners and in arenas and stadiums supporting the likes of Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold (if not as headliners) - Ghost have clearly grown into their arena-band status.
The seven ghouls providing musical support were a delight to watch, displaying a wonderful combination of virtuosity and energy, playing their part in the pantomime to a tee, each matching its devilish master for rockstar energy.
The pace of the show was perfectly executed, too; at just under two hours, Forge and Co. crammed in nineteen classics, with 2022’s Impera and 2018’s Prequelle offering a majority of the setlist, with no dead air allowed.
Of course, with a show this big, a few hiccups are bound to happen; this evening, it was a failing keytar during Mummy Dust and the occasional issues with lighting on the members at key moments in the set.
None of it mattered, though, with the ghouls shrugging off the mishaps and the crowd - not moshing, but passionately singing every word - hung on every last dramatic sweep of Forge’s cloak.
As Square Hammer brought proceedings to a confetti-laden, pyro-filled close, it was hard not to be swept up in the joy of the occasion.
Where most metal bands trade in aggression and bravado, Ghost was all fun, games, and larger-than-life theatre.
After several decades in the cultural wilderness, bands and shows like this are getting heavy music culture back on track.