Written and Photographed by Eric Sperrazza
Earlier this year, I compiled a venerable omnibus on the history and lore of the band Ghost (You can read it here: ). Down within the rabbit hole of the macabre and sometimes silly content that Ghost leaves like breadcrumb trails for fans lies a wildly creative and ongoing story of a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like clergy and their various “Papas.” Through my deep dive into Ghost, I learned that if you listen to the band because you like the catchy pop-rock singles, you will rightfully enjoy yourself at a live show. But if you follow the band’s running mythos, you would be given all the fan service, seeing them perform live!
On August 25th, Ghost was scheduled to perform at the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion on the Camden, N.J. Waterfront with their 2023 RE-IMPERATOUR. After spending the spring researching and putting pieces together of Ghost’s story like I was trying to solve the mystery of “The Shooter on the Grassy Knoll,” I could not pass on the opportunity to see the spectacle live.
I spent many great shows at the arena on the Camden Waterfront. I vividly remember seeing some of my favorite bands with a seat high above on the lawn among close friends and fellow musicophiles, all we could afford, being young and broke. It felt ironic and serendipitous, all at once, that I would be back professionally and sharing the joy of what was happening on that hot summer stage with new friends and musicophiles. The first thing I did see on that stage was something that should be, nay, needs to be shared with the masses. The opener, Amon Amarth!
The band hails from Stockholm County, Sweden, and insists they are melodic Death Metal, but there is no doubt they are unequivocally Viking Metal. Where would I come to such a conclusion? Barring the fact that the entirety of the content of their songs deals in Viking culture and mythology, the stage set was a giant gold Viking helmet adorned on either side by inflatable stone-looking statues of Vikings. If that was not enough to fit this band into the Nordic genre, take the fact that there were two men dressed as Vikings, swinging weapons before the crowd on either side of the stage. They did this down the set list through songs like “Ravens Flight” and “Deceiver of the Gods.” But when the band began to play “The Way of Vikings,” these two live and armed men battled on the center of the stage, much to the thrill of almost everyone in attendance. During the song “Put Your Back Into The Oar,” Hegg (lead vocalist) got the whole audience to “row” in unison as if we were launching a warship full of Berzerkers out to sea. If that wasn’t enough of a show, an inflatable serpent appeared from the side of the curtain, only for “Mjolnir,” Thor’s mighty hammer, to come down into the hands of Hegg to battle with the monster. So, in closing, one of the most entertaining stage shows I have ever seen, but don’t sell me on the fact they are not Viking Metal. I’m not buying.
After a 30-minute intermission, the lights went dark, and the sounds of an eerie soul-stirring choir began to creep through the arena and up onto the lawn. And, as if having the audience leaning into the terrifying harmony was purposeful, with a thunderous boom that would’ve startled even the toughest of Vikings in the back, the curtain fell to reveal the renowned band of Nameless Ghouls. High-stepping from the back and tearing into the song, “Kaisarion” was the one-and-only devilishly flamboyant and inimitable Papa Emeritus IV!
As the Nameless Ghouls thrashed about, Papa sashayed from corner to corner on stage, one foot upon the stage monitoring systems and leaning toward the crowd with impetus. They collectively began a nineteen-song set list that dove into every chapter in the story of Ghost thus far.
Ghost gave the packed ticketholders in the sold-out seats and, shoulder-to-shoulder on the lawn, a cavalcade of their hits. From “Spillways to ” “Rats” and “Cirice,” The Fourth Papa of the band moved about, working the crowd in his lavish suit, like interpretive dance to the music around him. That was until the band performed the single, “Call Me Little Sunshine,” to which Emeritus crept from the back of the stage to his microphone in full papal regalia. At one point, a glass coffin was rolled onto the stage, to which two stage hands opened and resuscitated the late Papa Nihil (The first Papa in the story of Gost.) with defibrillators—out jumped a revived Nihil for a saxophone solo, only to gently fall back into his coffin and be rolled away.
The band went on performing, touching on their TikTok-trending smash, “Mary on a Cross.” Before finishing the regular set with “Respite on the Spitalfields,” Emeritus the Fourth waxed on about the band’s many visits to Philadelphia, highlighting the great Union Transfer on Spring Garden with fondness. After a failed attempt at telling us all to go home, Papa agreed to three more songs, finishing with “Kiss The Go-Goat” and the Smashes, “Square Hammer,” and “Dance Macabre.” With a swarm of confetti swirling & sparkling from the house lights, it was as if we had just witnessed magic, and with a poof of smoke, the entertainers disappeared, leaving twinkling dust in their wake.
Walking through the crowd and back to the parking lots, I had the opportunity to size up the fans in attendance. There were Ghost t-shirts as far as the eye could see and many in makeup. For every Papa Emeritus cosplay, there were just as many undead nuns and even folks dressed as The Nameless Ghouls. It felt like I was leaving a Misfits or KISS show. It felt like the kid in me was at a dark rock & roll circus once more, and that was what seeing the show live rounds out for the fan. The music is nostalgic, for sure. But the show is a homecoming to many Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers and the next generation’s first opportunity to be enveloped in the fandom of a larger-than-life band.
As for the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion, I was excited to see the venue, especially with the recent sponsorship change from BB&T. However, it didn’t feel renewed or rejuvenated. It felt old, unkept, and stale. It was as if the first time they painted and cleaned up spilled beer in the arena was the last time they painted and cleaned up spilled beer. The letdown didn’t end with the darkness of the venue. The staff seemed exasperated and put off to assist, even though the event was beginning. Worst of all, the Live Nation security presence needed to be in tune with the band security, creating confusion and confrontation. It was glaringly apparent that the new name on the sign was merely a silk bonnet on a pig.
The kid in all of us left joyful and content, happy with the memories we made and eclipsing any of the pitfalls of our surroundings. Isn’t that the promise of rock and roll from the very beginning, anyway?