by Brandon Schulz
On August 27th, 2022, The Impera Tour made its way through Tucson, Arizona. I have had the amazing privilege of seeing Ghost perform live 4 times previous to this, but this was bigger and better than I had ever seen before. Accompanying Ghost on this North American tour is prog metal heavyweights Mastodon, and the quick-rising metalcore stars Spiritbox. When I first heard Ghost back in 2015, I wasn’t sure if I liked them or not, but as time went on, I came to be infatuated with their music. I ended up buying every album, I saw them almost every time they came through my area, and I loved every performance. One thing I loved about attending their concerts was seeing how dedicated their fanbase was (myself included). People dressed as nuns, Papa Emeritus, Cardinal Copia, and Nameless Ghouls, I don’t think I have ever seen a fanbase go so wild for a band, and this tour was no different, so let’s get into it!
When I got to the Tucson Convention Center the lines for the front doors were already winding around street corners and down sidewalks that surrounded the venue. There were countless people dressed in all black, fans with painted faces, and dressed in nuns’ habits and gowns. You could feel the excitement in the air, and we weren’t even inside yet, but this was a Ghost concert dammit! Should I have really expected any less? I went to the box office to grab my credentials and then made my way inside. The lines for the Meet and Greet were already starting to file into the VIP entrance. This is where you found the real hardcore fans. About 90% of these fans were dressed up in some way or another. I got a little peek from a friend as to what the meet and greet was like and honestly, it seems like it is absolutely worth the extra money! I stopped by the merch table to grab an awesome tour shirt, and then made my way into the venue proper. When I walked in, I was hit with a wall of haze, never in my life have I seen a venue so filled with smoke from the smoke machines, but I loved the vibe it was already giving off. This mystical feeling…like what we were about to experience was coming straight from the depths of hell itself.
The lights went down, and Spiritbox took the stage with an energy I wasn’t expecting. From the second they stepped out it was on! Spiritbox is a fairly new female fronted, Canadian heavy metal band and they are truly the definition of “rising stars”. This band released their first LP only last year and already won awards for 2021’s Best International Breakthrough Band, and Music Video of the Year. Singer, Courtney LaPlante, put on an unbelievable performance. Going flawlessly from euphonious melodies to downright nasty and intense screams. This band made me want to let my hair down and climb into the mosh pit. From beginning to end, Spiritbox owned that stage and gave the fans a show they’ll never forget. While their set was short, only about 6 or 7 songs, they played some of their most beloved like “Circle with Me”, “Hurt You”, and “Hysteria”. I have no doubt that this band will be heading out on their own headlining tour soon. Keep an eye out for Spiritbox when they hit the road because they put on one hell of a performance.
There was a very short intermission between bands, the efficacy of the stage crew was like watching a well-choreographed performance in and of itself. The next to take the stage were the prog metal legends Mastodon. This band has been cranking out their unique blend of odd time signatures, and complex Phrygian based guitar riffs, for the last 22 years. Mastodon has been known to mix elements from groove metal, alternative rock, sludge and stoner metal, and psychedelic rock. A lot of this comes from the brilliant mind of guitarist Bill Kelliher, who has spoken about his unique approach to guitar in the past saying: “Guitar is less intimidating when you can see patterns – that’s what scales are for.” Mastodon is also unique in the sense that one of their lead singers, Brann Dailor, is also the drummer. I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of coordination one must have to be able to play the drums for a prog-metal band, while simultaneously singing and carrying a tune. While the band played, a set of massive LED panels displaying psychedelic imagery that seemingly matched the songs being played. Seeing Mastodon live is what I would call more of an “experience” than a concert. This was an act that demanded your attention. Once that attention was properly directed, you were done for. There was no looking away! They played a set that consisted of some of their best songs, including “Megalodon”, “Teardrinker”, and “Mother Puncher”. This was one hell of a performance, but the one coming up next was one that really can’t be beat.
I want to start out by noting the setup. The drums sat about 15’ above the stage on a riser with a wraparound staircase. On either side of this massive staircase were four (two on each side) smaller risers that would play host to Nameless Ghouls and Ghoulettes on keyboards and background vocals. Behind all the platforms were the tops of stone structures, as if the band was playing atop a church, and in the very back, three massive stained-glass windows that featured images of Papa Emeritus. As the stage setup was being completed a massive curtain was raised to the ceiling and then the lights went down. A backlight shown from behind the curtain and the silhouettes of three Nameless Ghouls appeared. Then, the intro to “Kaisarion” began to play and at the first hit of the cymbals they executed a flawless Kabuki Drop and the three Nameless Ghouls strode to the front of the runway. At this moment, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. This was one of those “Keep your hands, and feet inside the vehicle at all times because this is going to be one hell of a ride” moments.
The Ghouls walked away as Papa Emeritus IV made his way down the steps in front of the drum kit. If there is one thing that I can say about singer Tobias Forge, it would be that this man is a born showman. This isn’t something that can be taught, this is something that someone is gifted with from birth. This man knows exactly how to pull you in and keep you enthralled for every second he is in your presence. He is responsible for the creation of the ghost universe. Each and every character, from Papa Nihil to Cardinal Copia, From the Nameless Ghouls to Papa Emeritus IV, a product of his imagination. Tobias Forge is a mastermind when it comes to the performance arts. His lyrics are not only devilishly seductive, but his vocals are flawless live. There were approximately five different costume changes and with each one, a different set of songs to fit that outfit.
This entire performance was unbelievable. There were flamethrowers, spark showers, confetti cannons, and so much more. Every song had its own act to accompany it. In between songs, while Forge was dressed in a new outfit backstage, The Nameless Ghouls played their parts and performed for the crowd, dueling guitars, showcasing their talents, getting the crowd riled up, it was amazing. At one point Papa Nihil was brought out in his glass coffin and resurrected using a defibrillator. As sparks shot forth from the corpse, he suddenly lurched forward to strangle his revivor, but at the last second was handed his saxophone just in time to perform his solo during the song “Miasma”. As the song ended Papa 0 climbed back into his coffin and he was rolled offstage.
All this aside; the theatrics, the costumes, the back stories, the performance. The feeling of camaraderie, of belonging, of acceptance. This is the number one aspect of a Ghost concert that really drives all the rest home and lodges its way into your soul. These shows might be where you meet your next best friend, or even the love of your life. It is a place where people can feel safe to be unabashedly themselves. Ghost has always been an outspoken proponent for the LGBTQ community, trans, and women’s rights. They have been there for those who feel like outsiders, the black sheep, the downtrodden, and the outcasts. They allow social pariahs to find not only solace, but friendship and community at their shows. Ghost has garnered a massive cult following over the years and every day it grows by leaps and bounds. They have many more stops on the North American leg of their ImperaTour and if they are coming to a town near you, I highly recommend seeing them. There are people who follow them all over the world, attending as many Ghost concerts as they possibly can. If that doesn’t speak to the quality performance that this band puts forth, I don’t know what does. We went two whole years without concerts, you never know what the next year will hold…get out there and see these phenomenal bands while you still have the chance!