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AAA Music | 24 June 2024

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Ghost & Gojira – Live @ Brixton Academy

| On 27, Mar 2013

Ghost

London, 24th March

An icy chill enveloped the crowd queueing around the hallowed walls of Brixton Academy on that March evening, and not even the sight of the gruesome twosome down front dressed as Pikachu and Eeyore could lift the unseasonable cold. Given the night’s entertainment, the weather could in fact be excusable, if not the only logical way it could have been. This year’s Jagermeister tour (hooray for corporate sponsorship subsidising tickets) boasted not only French death titans Gojira, but the rising stars of satanic riffs, Ghost.

Opening the night were Feed the Rhino, with a fevered blast of hardcore à la Cancer Bats. They tried as hard as they could to fill the stage, and the noise assault of their set couldn’t be doubted, but it felt a bit like they were fighting a losing battle. The crowd remained largely frozen to the spot, apart from a small moshpit in front of centre stage. Their frontman valiantly tried to get the set to its climax, and I felt that given a smaller venue and a more active crowd, their punchy guitar work and savage vocals could really make for an impressive gig and more than a few bruises, however it just wasn’t the right venue for them, and despite the hardcore-metalcore-death metal-doom metal flow of the bill, they still felt a little out of place and very much “the opening act.”

Next up were the London locals The Defiled. I’d seen them around before, hailing from roughly their neck of the woods, although I must say I was impressed by how they’ve improved since last I saw them. They play a certain brand of metalcore than relies a lot on double-kick drumming lifted from death metal, a nifty five-string bass sound, and the ubiquitous clean vocals choruses, but the whole thing is elevated to another level by the fact they use a keyboard in their sound for a rave/techno edge, and by the way that they completely claim the stage. There are moments of guitar shredding and formidable drumming that up the technical ante, but for the most part they rely on energy and the slightly more unusual rave sound to set themselves apart. And what energy! The band didn’t just take over the stage, but swarmed it, seeming to be everywhere at once and managing to remain tight the whole time. The Alice Cooper-inspired stage business with a ballerina and two plague doctors could have been rehearsed a few more times to gel with the music, but it was an interesting move. I never thought I’d see a metalcore Pop Will Eat Itself, but in terms of swagger and genre-blending, that’s the impression I got. They may have fluctuated in terms of technicality and songwriting, but it was easy to see why Nuclear Blast have signed them: the energy and inventiveness suggest ones to watch.

Gojira

Gojira were another thing entirely. They truly are masters of their craft, and threatened to blow every other band out the water. Whereas The Defiled had to provoke the crowd to move, Gojira’s mere sonic presence commanded them to. The band are known as one of the luminaries of modern death metal, and the technical proficiency and brutality of their music is undeniable. Everything pelted along at breakneck speed and with a distorted roar that befitted their namesake. The drumming especially, with its fluid shifting rhythms and inhuman double kick work was a true wonder to behold, but what struck me most is the way they were able to infuse genuine human feeling into it all. Death metal is a genre that has an unfortunate habit of becoming somewhat inhuman in its emphasis on technical proficiency. There are times where you might be completely gobsmacked by the ability of the musicians, but left feeling like you’re watching machines rather than people. Not so with Gojira. They oozed genuine passion and conjured some beautiful moments of melody in the guitars and something truly soulful in the set, all aided by the arthouse projections and stage prop of their emblem: a human head with a tree incorporated into it. I approached the set expecting my ribs cracked. Instead I found myself reeling from the feeling that I’d experienced something profound rise from the sounds of something brutal.

Given this epiphany, Ghost had a high benchmark to reach, and in all honesty, it was the fact their style is so different from Gojira that saved them. The atmosphere built piece by piece, as incense was burned, filling the venue with a sense of the otherworldly, and the stage was kitted out with a Gothic church backdrop, ready for the headliners to make their mark. And a mark was made. Watching Ghost, you are assaulted by about a thousand different conundrums and a hell of a lot of good hooks. On the one hand, they are obviously lifting a lot from doom metal and choral music: the vocals frequently sound as if echoing from some black mass in a far-off cathedral and the guitar sound can plunge to crushing heaviness. And yet the drumkit and keyboard sounds remain firmly rooted in pop/disco, more ABBA than anything. And the hooks are sheer pop gold wrapped in the darkest shrouds. And this mass of contradictions translates to the show itself: the band come on in black cloaks, faces obscured, and the frontman is made up as a skeletal pope demon, complete with robe, mitre, and skull face paint. This inhumanity and anonymity means that, even in the live context, the audience is forced to pay attention solely on the music and atmosphere rather than the personalities of the band, and this pays off.

Ghost might not be as visceral as Gojira, but their power lies in a similar ability to create and command their own world while on stage, and the fact that you will be humming their songs days afterwards is testament to their songwriting ability. And the attention to detail is incredible: they do the whole choreographed guitar-playing, but the frontman’s mock-Italian accent and his movement acutely observed from real Catholic ceremonies were what lifted the stage show. However, it is an act that could never be played 100% ‘straight,’ and they know it. So for all the satanic posturing, there is forever a tongue-in-cheek element, such as the mid-song heckle directed at the audience: “come on, this is a song about fucking!” But once again, you need to admire the band able to write such good music; songs that allow them to pull of what could easily be the world’s most pretentious stage show and band image. And to cap it all off, they used new material for a successful encore, a true testament to their songwriting and their own conviction in what they play.

I know that Ghost won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and they occupy a very specific niche between the serious, the lighthearted, the pop fan, and the “serious muso.” Plenty of people will find it silly, pretentious, too pop, too heavy. But for those of us who find what they’re looking for in Ghost’s baroque blend of the macabre and the playful, or in Gojira’s spiritual-intellectual catharsis, the night was near-perfect.

Katie H-Halinski