Some acts simply have the gift for atmosphere. However you sound, however many effects and affects you can bring to a stage; if you can mix it all together just so, there is little distinction to draw between a bar and an arena. With skill, either can become a hallowed hall. Tribulation have all that skill and more besides, washing Wembley in sickly green mist and hypnotising the lucky few able to get through the turnstiles quick enough to witness them. Tribulation have a grace about them – especially their guitarist Jonathan Hulten, a man of frankly electrifying flexibility – a carved-from-marble quality in their goth-rock melodies and black metal howls that should never blend so well, but on so many songs - ‘Strange Gateways Beckon’, ‘Melancholia’, ‘Nightbound’, ‘The Motherhood of God’ - do exactly that. For many here, they’ll be surely unforgettable.
Sadly an atmosphere indelicately handled can pass away in seconds. The one floating around inside Wembley Arena certainly dissipates when All Them Witches take the stage, and when they take their leave after a rather overgenerous fifty minute set, you find yourself wondering; who put these guys on before Ghost? Who cleared away Tribulation’s coloured lighting and smoking risers, and left a bare stage to be occupied by a trio with unquestionable talent but whose charisma never showed up? All Them Witches and their slow, punishing doom rock are a damn good opening act, and ‘When God Comes Back’ and ‘Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird’ are real crushers, never let it be said otherwise. But as a show, they are so very ordinary. Tribulation said barely a word, All Them Witches seem constantly lost for them. The former act owned the night.
Until Ghost take the stage, that is. While this writer must confess that, ultimately, Tribulation stole the show, Ghost are headlining Wembley Arena for a bloody good reason. There are no bands like Ghost, no bands so playful with their own ludicrous concept and certainly none quite so good at selling it onstage, with songs that far outstrip any mere tunes the Catholic Church can produce (what piece of art from Rome has ever captured the Fall of the Morningstar quite like ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’?). When all of this is unleashed on the Wembley stage, the result is a deafening catechism of a live show, as daft in its earnest as it is utterly wonderful. Ghouls engage in guitar duels, Cardinal Copia goes through three or four costume changes – each tighter than the last - and the blazing keyboard solo on the incomparable ‘Mummy Dust’ nearly burns the place down. The ‘Satanic Big Band’ component – with the group bulked out since the release of ‘Prequelle’ with an additional Ghouls on guitar and keyboard – is an excellent expansion, strengthening older, less developed songs like ‘Satan Prayer’ and ‘Year Zero’ and making the likes of ‘Rats’ and ‘Square Hammer’ sound utterly unstoppable. By the time ‘Danse Macabre’ closes us out in a devilish rainbow of light, Ghost have transformed Wembley Arena into their Devil Church, and every last one of us is a convert.
‘Prequelle’ is out now on Loma Vista