The mastermind behind the Swedish metal band tells us about his ghoulish persona and the band's campaign for world domination
Since their diabolical inception in 2010, Ghost are already on their fourth frontman. The first three vocalists – Papa Emeritus I through III – all met a gruesome untimely end. For 2018's album, Prequelle, Cardinal Copia wrestled control for the next chapter in Ghost's campaign for world domination.
Unlike his papal predecessors, Copia forgoes the skull make-up for a slimmed-down streamlined look enhanced with ghoulish prosthetics. 'I thought it would be interesting because previous ones [singers] have come into the band already risen to full exultation. Whereas on this record I thought it was interesting to meet someone who hadn't yet been anointed to full power,' explains the man behind the mask, the mastermind behind Ghost, Tobias Forge. 'As soon as you step into another character you are definitely liberated to do a lot of things you wouldn't do as yourself.'
Former frontman of Swedish death metal band Repugnant and guitarist with sleaze metal aficionados Crashdïet, Forge wanted to try something new and unexpected. 'It wasn't a bolt of lightning and the whole concept was there,' says Forge. 'It started with a few songs I recorded in 2008 and it dawned on me that this would not be a normal band just dressed in t-shirts and it just grew from there.'
A witches brew of Satanic imagery, heavy classic rock and metal (such as Black Sabbath, KISS and Blue Öyster Cult) forms a strangely upbeat and life-affirming take on devil worship. Ghost have even covered ABBA, the Beatles, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics and Simian Mobile Disco.
'As most things age they have a tendency to grow very conservative and puritan,' says Forge. 'The same thing happened with extreme metal, so many followers of the genre … created dogmatic rules about how it should be and for some reason there's this idea that this kind of music shouldn't be fun – which goes against the whole idea. Venom [widely acknowledged as the first black metal band] was a lot of fun. Even if you skip the subcultural aspects and look at it from a Biblical point of view, the Bible is dominated by a lack of humour, unintellectualism and slavery, suppressing what is human, so obviously the exact opposite should be intellectualism, laughter, fun, being free, living life, thinking, feeling.'
Caked in make-up and dressed as the anti-Pope, backed by his masked Nameless Ghouls, for the first seven years Forge managed to maintain the mystery, despite rampant online speculation. 'Anyone who has ever put on a guitar and played on stage has some sort of exhibitionist streak. So I never chose to be in an anonymous band because I'm shy or didn't want to be a rockstar. However, from the day that I started to enjoy some success with Ghost, being in a masked band, I enjoyed the idea of having both: being in a known band but not personally being known.
credit: Mikael Eriksson
'That was very practical because I do enjoy a lot of very normal things, I like going to bars, going to record stores, without talking to anyone. I like solitude. It was bound to happen anyway, so it doesn't really matter, it's a nice problem to have. I remember when I wasn't in a popular band and I'd rather have it this way,' he laughs.
Unsurprisingly, the theatricality of their live shows is an integral part of the Ghost experience. As Forge and his band head out on their first UK arena tour (christened the Ultimate Tour Named Death with support from All Them Witches and Tribulation), it will be the first time we'll get to revel in the full sets, costume changes, and the fire and brimstone the rest of the world have already witnessed. 'We've never actually done our full show in the UK. The closest we've done is when we headlined Bloodstock  but even that was makeshift, pulling stuff together. This is the full production.'
Ghost fans will also be pleased to hear that new music is on the horizon. 'We do our last European dates in December, then one more date in Mexico City and that's a wrap on this tour. Come January I'll be going into the studio to start writing, so hopefully at the beginning of 2021 there will be a new record out.'