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Papal regalia, stage rituals and razzle-dazzle rock ‘n’ roll: why Ghost are the world’s greatest satanic band

“We’re trying to stage a religious event, with all the bombastic nature of a mass but without the guilt,” Tobias Forge, the enigmatic frontman of Swedish metal band Ghost, explains of a typical gig. “We want you to feel good when you leave.”

Ghost has been doing this pretty well for well over a decade. Spreading their happy gospel far and wide, they are currently in the midst of a massive global arena tour and have just graced the covers of heavy metal bibles Kerrang! and metal hammer. They will be released in a few days impera, their extravagant fifth album. They’re both very tall and very weird – fans of ultra-Gothic face paint, expensive-looking masks, and dressing up like the Pope. A recipe for cult success maybe, but how did Ghost become so popular?

Let’s go back to the beginning. This eight-piece metal band formed in 2006 in the small, lakeside cathedral town of Linköping in southern Sweden. Theater enthusiast and songwriter Tobias Forge had been struggling in local glam and death metal bands since the mid-90s, but had long dreamed of being a part of something bigger.

What he developed was the airtight concept of anonymous musicians in papal regalia, extravagant Iron Maiden-style stage shows and classic, rocking, AOR-inspired gothic metal. Forge’s goal was to bring the glamor of Alice Cooper and Kiss into the 21st century with softly sung lyrics that target organized religion and political corruption. In 2008 he released three songs on MySpace. Within a year they were signed.

Since then, Ghost (originally known as Ghost BC in the US) have released four critically acclaimed albums, won two Grammys and toured the world with Guns N’ Roses and Alice In Chains. They even sold out the Royal Albert Hall. They have plenty of Rockstar fans – including Dave Grohl, who produced an EP in 2013 – but their main asset is the dedicated following they’ve nurtured locally, which includes hardcore kids, veteran rockers and emo teens.

It would be difficult to pinpoint a typical Ghost follower due to the impressively wide range of fans they attract. You could say it’s a broad church. “Stylistically, there’s the metalheads and the not-so-metalheads and the pop girls,” says Forge. “You like war of stars, they like comics, they like horror movies. They like rock music with a little nostalgia for the 70’s and 80’s.”

Ghost’s frontman and master of ceremonies is currently in between performances. The band played a sold out show in Cincinnati last night and Forge is gearing up for Milwaukie in a few hours. Following their epic American crusade, there are a number of shows across the UK and Europe – including the 20,000 capacity O2 Arena – to continue sharing the luscious sounds impera.

Its 12 tracks don’t stray too far from the extravagant metal of their previous albums, filled with gritty singalongs and vintage songwriting that sounds like rock never made it into the ’90s. When it comes to inspiration, Forge reviews artists as diverse as US punk pioneers Bad Religion, singer-songwriter Tori Amos and Danish heavy metallers King Diamond. It’s a combination that makes Ghost truly different from all of its contemporaries and impera is the sound of a band at their musical peak. Try the gothic groove of the single “Call Me Little Sunshine” – a highlight on an album packed with it. Not only will it please old fans, it’s the perfect starting point for the curious and uninitiated.

Mass appeal: the band Ghost

(Universal Music Group)

“We’re in a kind of Victorian industrialism on this record,” says Forge, explaining the concept behind the new LP. “It’s the late 18th century and there’s no city that embodies that more than London, so that’s where it’s set.”

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In January, the band projected huge, eerie images onto landmarks around the capital, including St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, to promote the record. Forge quotes Tim Burtons Batman and Bram Stokers Dracula as inspirations for the semi-fantasy world of imperawhile the closing track “Respite on the Spitalfields” is a tale of camaraderie and fear in the days of Jack the Ripper.

“It’s not only a visually appealing and interesting era, but it’s similar to today in the sense that the world also went through a major industrial revolution,” explains Forge, drawing in this historian. “People got laid off, but there were a lot of other jobs back then. These days, for every invention, for every app some asshole comes up with, there are so many people that are made completely redundant. This is not good for humanity.”

Speaking of layoffs, Ghost has gone through four incarnations of Forge’s frontman character over the years. First he was Papa Emeritus I dressed like an evil Pope with skeletal black and white makeup, then he became Papa Emeritus II, before Papa Emeritus III and Papa Nihil Each character is dramatically killed or replaced at the end of each album campaign, where the new character anticipates and teases the theme of the next record. impera is the first to see Forge perform as Cardinal Copia aka Papa Emeritus IV, complete with jeweled robes and immaculate body paint.

For the first 11 years of the band’s career, Forge was an anonymous and unnamed frontman, further adding to Ghost’s mystery. But his anonymity was ended abruptly in 2017 when four ex-Ghost bandmates tried to sue him for allegedly cheating them out of their share of the profits. Forge claims they “didn’t have a legal contract” and were paid as session musicians. He won the case, but in the process lost the mystique he had meticulously cultivated for over a decade. In 2019, he was quoted as having “slightly mixed feelings” about the exposure. Now he hardly thinks about it anymore. The unexpected big reveal had little in the way of Ghost’s hold on her fans’ imaginations — if any, it seems to have garnered them even more attention.

Rock n Regalia: Ghost in 2021

(Universal Music Group)

The fans – known as “ghouls” for women and “ghouls” for men – can often be seen performing in homemade, spirit-inspired clothing; flowing robes, painted faces and ceremonial masks. I ask Forge about his vision and intentions for the live shows, known in the community as “Rituals”.

“Well, it’s theatrical. We’re kind of the opposite of Pearl Jam in that way,” he laughs. The dark side of divinity fuels Forge’s creativity. “I’ve always had an intense relationship with organized, linear religion, let’s put it that way. I’m very fascinated by the art and its history, but maybe not so much by the rules and the guilt and the guilt.”

Ghost’s flirtation with religion has caused some bumps in the road. In 2018, a Christian group prayed before a performance in Texas, accusing Ghost of “bringing glory to Satan” and their second album infestissumam was delayed because manufacturers refused to print their “blasphemous” artwork. I ask Forge if that kind of reaction is a problem as they move further into the rock mainstream. “A lot of it [Christian backlash] kind of disappeared after the 80s,” he shrugs. “They had the crazies or the pastors on TV coming out and saying, ‘Don’t go to Ozzy Osbourne! He is the devil’s advocate!’ But all that led to it was that the show sold out and maybe 500,000 more records were sold. After that, they learned their lesson.”

I ask if Forge identifies as a Satanist and without hesitation he opens up. “You know, Christianity is to blame for so much evil. And you have Isis, you know. It’s all in the name of God, right?” He goes on to say that modern-day Satanism is probably the closest thing to his own belief system. “Pop culture satanism is all about humanity. It’s about being able to express yourself and having the ability to do so. We’re bloody humanists.” He goes on to say that he’s been invited to televised debates with various religious leaders, but always politely declines. “At the end of the day, I’m an entertainer,” he explains. “We are here to make people happy, our goal is not to make [religious people] furious.”

It’s true that the world of Ghost is fun. There’s a playfulness to their on-stage theatrics, catchy choruses and shock ‘n’ roll celebrations. With the major players in popular music endlessly sharing personal content on social media, mystery and myth seem hard to come by. But Ghost have resurrected rock’s mysterious and exciting distant past; the epitome of well-executed creative vision, a riveted cult following, and the longevity and success that goes with both.

impera will be released on March 11th

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/ghost-band-interview-impera-b2026619.html Papal regalia, stage rituals and razzle-dazzle rock ‘n’ roll: why Ghost are the world’s greatest satanic band

Tom Vazquez

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