How Ghost — ‘an occult, pop, satanic sort of rock ’n’ roll band’ — conquered metal and the charts
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Onstage at Anaheim’s Honda Center arena, Tobias Forge is not himself.
Instead, he is Papa Emeritus IV, leader of the theatrical Swedish metal band Ghost, singing from behind a latex mask and corpse paint, dressed in religious attire or bat wings.
His persona is of Ghost’s demonic pope, preaching of war and plague like a doom prophet amid heavy guitar riffs and vivid pop melodies. Some lyrics are more prescient than fantasy, from warning of “beliefs contagious, spreading disease” on the 2018 song “Rats” to the band’s new “Impera” album, which decries empire-building in time for Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
Forge says he’s merely an observer of history and “the circularity of things,” as destructive human impulses repeat themselves catastrophically across the centuries. “Flags, pandemics, flus and dictators come and go,” he says cheerfully. “Empires come and go. It’s always in circles, because at the end of the day we are dealing with humans.”
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Forge, 41, is out of costume and sipping coffee at his West Hollywood hotel after a night of hard rock spectacle, with pyro eruptions and a big stage meant to convey threatening Gothic arches and stained glass. Offstage, Forge is less explosive, dressed in a treasured 1988 Candlemass tour T-shirt, his light auburn hair short and swept upward on top. He’s a thoughtful interview and quick with a joke, a family man with a wife and fraternal twins back in Stockholm. The previous night’s concert in Orange County was the final stop of a co-headlining arena tour with the Danish band Volbeat designed as a prelude to the March 11 release of the band’s fifth album, “Impera.”
During rehearsals ahead of the tour, Forge got “a very mild case” of the Omicron virus. Then the eight other touring members of the band tested positive, along with four crew members. “The whole band had it at the same time, so we just had COVID rehearsals,” he says. The tour happened as scheduled, and Ghost will be back in the U.S. later this year.
The band’s last record, 2018’s “Prequelle,” earned a Grammy nomination for rock album and hit No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200. The band counts Metallica and Dave Grohl among its high-profile fans, and attracts a multigenerational rock audience, from kids in baby pope gear all the way up to older fanatics nostalgic for ’70s shock rock.
“Ghost has a diverse audience, which I love to see, especially for metal,” says Sammi Chichester, managing editor of Revolver Magazine, a close observer of the metal scene.
Forge is able to find pop hooks even as he mines his own low expectations for mankind. As a result of that catchiness, Ghost has been controversial among certain extreme-metal tastemakers. “It is a routine topic — metalheads love to argue,” says Chichester with a laugh.
The music tends to be more engaging than depressed, despite the ominous religious imagery.
“The lyrics are not about God. They’re about man,” says Forge. “We are, at the end of the day, an occult, pop, satanic sort of rock ’n’ roll band meant to entertain a group of people who are already down with that stuff.”
Any discussion with Forge quickly reveals him as a pop music obsessive, as he casually references Leonard Cohen, the Bangles and the primitive weirdness of the Shaggs. He’s not your typical high priest of metal. “In my adolescence, I was completely a death metal/black metal person in action and message,” he says. “But I always listened to a lot of other things. And that materialized in whatever music I was writing.”
Ghost was created in 2006 with Forge’s recording of a track called “Stand by Him,” built on a slippery metal riff and roots firmly planted in Scandinavian black metal. The music that followed rarely strayed from a growling metal core but showed surprising flourishes from the beginning, from busy keyboard melodies to delicate acoustic guitar.
The band arrived with a fully formed image that adopted a demonic, bizarro take on the Catholic tradition, accented with Gothic flair and comedy. Forge stood at the microphone in the role of a series of demonic popes called Papa Emeritus (Nos. I-IV), in flamboyant papal attire, with a band of musicians called Nameless Ghouls in silver masks. (The Ghouls now appear in what look like gas masks from a dystopian future.)
Forge, who is the band’s only consistent member, kept his identity hidden behind facepaint and pseudonym until he had to reveal his real name during an unsuccessful 2017 lawsuit by four ex-members of Ghost over back pay.
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“Impera” was recorded last spring and summer, after the original plan to work with an American producer in the U.S. was canceled as the coronavirus crisis dragged on. Instead, Forge reunited with Swedish producer Klas Åhlund (Ghost’s collaborator on 2015’s “Meliora”), and he took his time composing new songs.
He sketched out a melody for the album’s closer, a nearly seven-minute prog epic called “ Respite on the Spitalfields ,” on the small electric piano in his daughter’s bedroom. “ Twenties ” emerged as a frantic chronicle of greed and oppression, in the form of a “demagogue sect leader speaking down to his followers in utter contempt,” he says. The sneering, catchy ’80s rock of “ Griftwood ” was inspired by former Vice President Mike Pence and leaders who wield the Bible as a means to political power.
The album also arrives as a pair of successful TV series — “ Cobra Kai ” and “Peacemaker” — have reintroduced an earlier generation of pop-metal to the masses, with prominent use of ’80s hits by the likes of Twisted Sister, Faster Pussycat, Hanoi Rocks, Ratt, Mötley Crüe, Scorpions and Def Leppard.
Ghost isn’t a throwback to the hair-metal era but does share a taste for hooks and melodrama. Forge hasn’t seen “Peacemaker” but spent quality downtime at home in Sweden watching “Cobra Kai” with his teenage daughter. “That series is a slam-dunk,” he says of the show, which continues the story of the “Karate Kid” movies. “And the music is great.”
The Ghost mastermind admits to nostalgia for what was commonly known as “album-oriented rock,” the mainstream rock category epitomized by Journey, Foreigner, Boston and other ’70s and ’80s FM radio stars. “I’m a huge fan of AOR bands,” says Forge, describing the genre as “smart divorce rock played by older men with mustaches who have gone through a little bit in their lives.”
Forge was raised in Linköping, Sweden, by a single mother and indoctrinated into rock early, by a brother 13 years older. Before he was 10, Forge was buying English and German rock magazines he couldn’t read, and absorbing as much metal, punk and classic rock as he could.
As a teenager, his tastes grew even darker and more extreme, as he discovered underground metal rising from Europe and America — then turned away from anything new in the genre after 1994, when he sensed things becoming too polished, spoiling the scary lo-fi sound and image he loved.
As Ghost itself grows more sophisticated in its sound and approach, Forge knows some longtime fans wish he would return to the band’s original recipe. Forge understands the feeling, and admits that he’d love nothing more than to produce new albums from bands of his youth so that he could force them back to an earlier sound.
He says he wants to satisfy fans while also challenging them. “I deal with that professionally in one way, and as a fan in another.”
Forge fully appreciates the intense feelings a music fan can have about a recording artist. Evolution is not always welcome.
“That has a lot to do with the type of personalities that are drawn to the world that we’ve been talking about: metal, hardcore, comic books, sci-fi — it’s a retreat, a safe place of order, organization, knowledge. This is the world that you hide in after school. And now there’s someone coming in there trying to … evolve? It’s disruptive.
“It’s not right or wrong. The future is what we don’t know, as much as it hurts.”
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Ghost’s Papa Emeritus reveals his identity at last
Swedish musician Tobias Forge tells the world: “I’m the man behind the mask in Ghost”
Ghost frontman Papa Emeritus has confirmed his real identity for the first time, revealing himself to be Swedish musician Tobias Forge.
In a Swedish radio show , focusing on his life and times, he signed off by saying: “My name is Tobias Forge and I’m the man behind the mask in Ghost.”
It had long been thought that he was indeed the driving force behind the Swedish outfit. Back in 2012, Classic Rock reported that Ghost’s principle songwriter, The Ghoul Writer, was registered with the Swedish Performing Rights Society under his real name, Tobias Forge. The frontman refused to confirm, however, even after he was named in a lawsuit earlier this year. Forge was a member of Swedish glam-metaller Crashdiet (under the name ‘Mary Goore’), the former frontman of death metal act Repugnant and a member of progressive pop band Subdivision .
During the radio show (transcribed on Reddit ) he revealed that one of his first ideas was that the band should go out “with a theatrical image” and that he knew they couldn’t start in small venues with just their friends in the crowd, because it would be impossible to keep their identities a secret.
He devoted much of the show to his elder brother Sebastian, who’d been a leading light in his formative years, and who died suddenly just at the moment Ghost began receiving attention for demo tracks they’d streamed via MySpace in the mid-2000s.
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Forge said to his late sibling: “I sometimes meet some of your idols. Steve Jones interviewed me and he actually liked Ghost. I’ve gotten to know Metallica – I have James’s number and we speak at times. And I’ve just come home from a seven-week tour with Iron Maiden. Did I tell you about the Grammy? I got one of those.
“Mother is very proud and tells everyone who I am, even if it’s supposed to be a secret. But fuck that now, I suppose.”
He also confirmed that Ghost were preparing to record a new album and expected to begin an 18-month world tour early next year.
Revealed: The Man Behind Ghost
Ghost Ghoul ready to be unmasked
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Not only is one-time online news editor Martin an established rock journalist and drummer, but he’s also penned several books on music history, including SAHB Story: The Tale of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band , a band he once managed, and the best-selling Apollo Memories about the history of the legendary and infamous Glasgow Apollo. Martin has written for Classic Rock and Prog and at one time had written more articles for Louder than anyone else (we think he's second now). He’s appeared on TV and when not delving intro all things music, can be found travelling along the UK’s vast canal network.
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GHOST Introduces PAPA EMERITUS IV At Final Concert Of 'Prequelle' Album Cycle: Video, Photos
At the final concert of GHOST 's "Prequelle" album cycle earlier tonight (Tuesday, March 3) in Mexico City, the band introduced the new character who will front the act for its next LP phase: Papa Emeritus IV .
During the saxophone solo in the song "Miasma" , Papa Nihil — an ancestor to all other Papas — collapsed and a large group sisters came out around Cardinal Copia and transformed him into the new Papa .
Video footage and photos of the big reveal can be seen below. (Photo above courtesy of Summa Inferno )
After the show, GHOST shared a few photos on its official Instagram and included the following message: "Gracias México City for your hospitality and warmth. We couldn't pick a better place to witness the anointment of Cardinal Copia to Papa Emeritus IV . Papa and the ghouls are incredibly thankful for all your wonderful gifts. Looking forward to seeing all of you in 2021. #papaemeritusiv #namelessghouls #namelessghoulettes"
GHOST mastermind Tobias Forge performed as a "new" Papa Emeritus on each of the band's first three LPs, with each version of Papa replacing the one that came before it. Papa Emeritus III was retired in favor of Cardinal Copia before the release of 2018's "Prequelle" album.
Last October, Forge confirmed to U.K.'s Kerrang! magazine that there would be a new character fronting GHOST by the time the group's next LP sees the light of day. Forge said: "I just know that person will have the name Papa Emeritus IV . It will be the fourth Papa Emeritus . But who that is, we don't know yet."
Back in September, Tobias told Illinois's Herald-Whig that GHOST will do "absolutely zero" touring in 2020 as he turns his attention to the band's next studio album. A couple of months later, he revealed to Finland's Kaaos TV that he would record one new song in January before getting to work on GHOST 's fifth album.
Forge did not indicate where the standalone song will surface, but he added that he'll continue writing through May, with plans to enter the studio on June 1. He remarked: "Hopefully then we're gonna start recording the drums for all these 15 songs — something like that — I'm gonna write. Some of them are written, some of them are in bits and pieces, and some of them I don't know yet."
The musician, who plays most instruments on GHOST 's albums except drums, added that he wants to create songs meant to be played in large venues, saying: "Making a new fifth album means that I'm gonna continue writing songs that will sound great on [an arena stage]."
The new GHOST album will be out in early 2021.
The Pulse Of Radio asked Forge if he's okay with having his life planned out years in advance. "I prefer it that way," he said. "When I had no plans whatsoever, I didn't get anything done. And I'm sure that one day when we're not in demand and all of this might be over, I'll have plenty of time to think about that."
"Prequelle" debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and features the chart-topping singles "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" .
In December 2018, GHOST nabbed two Grammy nominations, "Best Rock Album" for "Prequelle" and "Best Rock Song" for "Rats" .
Four years ago, GHOST became the first Swedish rock band ever to win a Grammy — 2016's "Best Metal Performance" for the song "Cirice" .
Photo above courtesy of Summa Inferno
View this post on Instagram Gracias México City for your hospitality and warmth. We couldn’t pick a better place to witness the anointment of Cardinal Copia to Papa Emeritus IV. Papa and the ghouls are incredibly thankful for all your wonderful gifts. Looking forward to seeing all of you in 2021. #papaemeritusiv #namelessghouls #namelessghoulettes A post shared by The Band Ghost (@thebandghost) on Mar 3, 2020 at 10:21pm PST
Un mejor vistazo al nuevo Papa Emeritus IV de Ghost que hizo su debut está noche en México 🖤🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/rDJwOuCS5n — Summa Inferno (@summainferno) March 4, 2020
Adiós al Cardenal! Volvió el Papa! #CardinalCopia #PapaEmeritus #Ghost #GhostMexico pic.twitter.com/Q1tDi6MnA7 — Omar Pérez (@lpgomar) March 4, 2020
Drunk T just dug up another shot of Papa IV at the Ghost show in Mexico. Posted by Metal Yeahhhhh on Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Papa Emeritus IV is insane 😍🔥🇲🇽 By @/meowwwl on Instagram pic.twitter.com/i7xuSWFowz — Ghost Charts 🐐 (@ChartsGhost) March 4, 2020
Today, My beautiful Cardinal Copia became Papa IV at the Mexico Ritual. I'm fucking crying you guys. #thebandghost #ghost #papaiv #papacopia #cardinalcopia #longmayhereign pic.twitter.com/KflPBUrSWS — Monsteress (@monsteresss) March 4, 2020
@GhostBcFans @Ghost_Mexico @GhostBcOfficial NEW PAPA pic.twitter.com/SzDAhTRaa4 — 𝔉𝔯𝔞𝔡 🌿 (@FernandoCV99) March 4, 2020
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Ghost’s Papa Emeritus IV Throws First Pitch at White Sox Game: Watch
By Rob Arcand
Ghost frontman Papa Emeritus IV threw out the first pitch today (September 22) at the White Sox game in Chicago. The band is currently on tour after releasing its fifth studio album, Impera , in March, and after performing Wednesday night in Peoria, Illinois, the vocalist found himself at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, where the White Sox played the Cleveland Guardians. Watch video of Papa Emeritus IV’s pitch below.
Impera isn’t the only recent success that Ghost have been celebrating. Earlier this week, the band’s 2019 song “Mary on a Cross” skyrocketed onto the Billboard Hot 100 after gaining traction on TikTok in original and edited versions. While six of the band’s albums have made it onto the Billboard 200 albums chart, “Mary on a Cross” is Ghost’s first entry on the Billboard Hot 100.
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Papa Emeritus II
- View history
- 1 Appearance
- 5 References
Appearance [ ]
Papa Emeritus II is the first Papa to have a mask custom-made for him, a process that would be repeated for all future Papas. Like the Papa before him , his mask depicts a bald elderly man with skull paint, although this time around both mask and skull paint are more realistic. On-stage, he wears a dark chasuble with green lining, with an accompanying Mitre. Both the chasuble and mitre have the Grucifix symbol embroidered onto it. Papa II also has a crozier with the Grucifix symbol on top.
He is the first Papa to have more than one outfit, although this second outfit is never seen on-stage, and only in Papaganda , live sessions, and some photoshoots. In this second outfit, Papa II wears a suit-jacket on top of a vest, alongside sunglasses (most likely to hide the eye holes of the mask). He is also bare-faced and, contradictory to his on-stage appearance, has a mustache.
History [ ]
Papa II made his live debut on December 15, 2012 at a special show in the band's hometown of Linköping, Sweden.  After Papa I passed the mic down to him, Papa II debuted a new song with the band called Secular Haze .
Papa I passing the mic down to Papa II
Papa II is also the first papa to appear without facepaint. During the Year Zero video, the Papaganda videos, and the studio sessions at Music Feeds Studio he wore a version of the mask without facepaint. He wore sunglasses to hide the eye cuts.
Papa II has been described as "a miserable, wounded, and bitter old man".  Some ghouls described him in interviews as being a "narcissist" and an "asshole". He was fired from the clergy due to not performing his duties in overthrowing churches and governments. On June 3, 2015, at a special hometown show in Linköping, Sweden, he was replaced by his "younger brother of three months", Papa Emeritus III.
In March 2018, he along with his brothers Papa Emeritus I and Papa Emeritus III were killed by their father Papa Nihil , Sister Imperator , and the clergy. They were embalmed and put on display on the Prequelle tour cycle as part of the Veneration of Relics .
Gallery [ ]
- Like all Papas, he is played by frontman and founding member Tobias Forge.
References [ ]
- ↑ Ghost - Secular Haze (Live in Linköping) - Youtube
- ↑ Ghost's Papa Emeritus II Unmasked In 'Papaganda' Series - Loudwire
- 1 Nameless Ghouls
- 2 Papa Emeritus IV
- 3 Nameless Ghoul (Sodo)