On their Ultimate Tour Named Death, Ghost is supporting the deluxe package release of their fourth album, a limited deluxe collector’s edition called, Prequelle Exalted with two new songs. The tour is steered away from the major cosmopolitan cities that have fostered Ghost’s growth and focusing on new ground in the smaller cities in middle America and the mainstream. In fact, Ghost are one of the most important musical acts of the last decade but sometimes the music doesn’t seem as important as the philosophy that spawned it.
The performance and presentation of the band is paramount and the way Ghost has laid it out, they’ve gained mythical status over the last decade such that the music can sometimes seem simply like a soundtrack. Faceless costumed “Nameless Ghouls” began the band with a clergyman singing. Obviously their presentation was to shock and that touched a nerve with teens around the world. For the better part of a decade, no one knew who the band members really were until a lawsuit by some former band members forced Tobias Forge to step forward. They alleged that the singer had taken sole ownership of the concept, the music and the money. Long story short: those ghouls are gone and Forge won.
As Ghost’s vocalist, songwriter and all-around mastermind, Forge dreamed up a successive string of satanic popes — Papa Emeritus I, II and III — one for each of the band’s first three albums. The characters appeared onstage in skull makeup and three–cornered papal mitre. A more agile Cardinal Copia now fronts the group making for a more energetic front man that can reach the cheap seats with his showmanship.
Forge wanted a theatrical band meant to reach the masses but even he didn’t realize how big Ghost would get. Working on another musical project, Forge starting writing a song that was very different more suitable to a different band. Ghost was born in 2006, when Forge wrote a song called “Stand by Him.” He’d create the concept of that band with a producer friend and cobble together three songs to put on MySpace.com with the proper imagery. Withing 48 hours, Forge was courting record labels and any other bands he was in took a back seat. Ghost was born and there was a decided demographic that craved for this. But what is Ghost?
Back in 2006, Forge was in his late twenties, married with two infant daughters and working at a call center in Sweden when he started his sixth band, Ghost. His first record as a child? Kiss’ Love Gun. Forge wanted to be the devil bass player and reap the rewards of the lustful female fans on the cover. But being in Sweden, he’d also reap the influences of growing up with a brother that gave him that Kiss album as well as introducing him to punk rock. All the while, Forge was steeped in Sweden’s greatest export, Abba, and then discovering his own penchant for the darker side of life that would bring him to black metal.
Ghost would be more sophisticated and not sound like black metal. Sure, the early songs have more heavy riff rock but it was the concept and presentation of bands like early Kiss, Italy’s Death SS and France’s Deathspell Omega that offered the most inspiration. The aesthetics of black metal were created long before it really existed as a musical genre and the myth and concept of Ghost existed before the band.
For black metal, everything was conceived around a philosophy and all facets were premeditated and sketched out into one grand purpose. While Ghost won a Grammy for best metal performance and while you might have categorized them previously symphonic metal or doom metal — Prequelle confirms they’ve been a pop band all along or at least one with the mindset of appealing to as many people as possible. Ghost for the most part is as metal as Metallica’s Black Album so if you like hard rock theatre that mocks religious institutions, if you like horror movies with a better soundtrack, if you like unending storylines over countless videos crafted lovingly to suprise, delight and shock — you’ll like Ghost. You’ll say ‘c’mon what will they do next, cover Abba?’ They did that years ago. They’ve also covered the Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics, Echo and the Bunnymen as well as Depeche Mode and it’s all good. Tobias Forge has played some wild cards with the entity known as Ghost but each time he’s won the hand.
On the day that I chatted with Forge, the mask is off and the myth of Ghost could be in tatters, but it’s not. We speak of the release of Ghost’s latest single to be included with the deluxe version of Prequelle. The new song, Kiss the Go Goat is nothing like the last album, nothing like from their previous catalog. It’s a hum along pop song about wooing a woman and it’ll reach a new audience for sure. Old fans will revel in the break down that slaps you in the face right before the chorus: “Satan, Lucifer Obsculum Obscenum”. Ah yes, that’s the crux for Ghost.
The other new Ghost song is Mary on a Cross and it sounds more like an ’80s Journey song. Regardless, the metal heads will follow. Well, Ghost fans will follow. Regardless of the musical style, regardless of the lost myth behind the band, a lot of fans are treating it like professional wrestling or Santa Clause. They’re believers and they’ll stick by Tobias Forge and Ghost no matter what. He’s a consummate music fan in general and while his lexicon includes more death metal than me, I’m intrigued to learn more now that the mask is off.
“Keeping the backstage identity of the band clandestine was more of a wish for me to return to to the way I consumed bands in the pre–internet age where you had to figure a lot of it out for yourself,” offers Forge on the recent unmasking of stage persona. “There was a magic surrounding artists and even the biggest bands, when I was a kid in the ’80s there wasn’t a lot of info. There were books on the Beatles or the Doors. I remember when Imagine came out about John Lennon. When I was a kid I watched [The Rolling Stones’] Let's Spend the Night Together and the [Sex Pistols’] Great Rock and Roll Swindle or the Imagine movie about John Lennon and that was a big thing. It was completely different than today where everyone is immersed into the bowels of every artist’s every detail.
“I grew up in a time where you had to use your imagination and I felt I wanted to create one entertainment entity that gets that,” Forge adds with an emphasis on the word entertainment. “Obviously, I had no idea at the time that there would be such an interest in the band so keeping things under wraps and anonymous doesn’t go over with being commercially successful and big. I think there is still a way for Ghost to keep on track when it comes to the presentation of the band. I represent the band as a commentator and director, that will never overshadow what we do aesthetically as a band. I don’t feel worried about it now. It’s done now and the fact that it’s over and we’re still here. We’re still playing.”
Not only is Ghost simply still here. From the small clubs to theatres to opening for Iron Maiden and Metallica in arenas, Ghosts presence and fan base is nothing but big — and growing by the day. Now on their headline arena tour for Prequelle, an album that calmed fans with the hard rocking first single, “Rats”, Ghost fans had to really be open minded to accept a song like the second single “Dance Macabre” — a song that is a slick dance pop song, albeit with the old Satan imagery in the lyrics. Musically, this isn’t metal and it seems like a real challenge to the fans. This is theatrical hard rock at best and while the jaded critics might want to laugh it off, you can’t help but be intrigued at the musicality of it all and what Forge is doing.
“I like a lot of different styles although most of it would be rock or pop oriented,” says Forge. “I like a lot of jazz and classical music and soundtrack music and that doesn’t have to follow the metronomic format that most rock music does. I take influence from all of those influences and that probably contributes to the unorthodox stylistic fusion that those can appear as being.
“In my adolescence and teenage years, well, I’m still an avid collector,” adds Forge. “I’m still an aficionado of extreme metal and that was my upbringing. I know there is a puritan guarding mentality of what is metal and what is not. In fairness to the metal guardians, I’ve avoided calling us such a metal band and from a puritan view, we are not. I’ve always said that we’re a rock band. We’re a shock rock band if you want to be super specific. I listen to a lot of music and extreme metal is a part of that — it’s the same way that you might hear metal bits in Queen. But on the other hand, you’ll hear a lot of different things in Black Sabbath. A lot of those puritan thumpers in metal have chosen not to see that. It’s very selective thing. Black Sabbath is metal but they have soul, funk and they were really playful expecially on my favorite records like Savatage or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Vol. 4. They were so playful and that’s the mentality and attitude that I’m trying to embrace. I want it to be playful, open and yet with some direction. I believe if you want to push the envelope, you have to mix it up in some way or another. If you end up being just one way, frozen in time, I think you will end up with a very sterile non-fertile stalemate.”
The myth drew a lot of people in. The wealth of story telling developed through YouTube is extensive and has made fans invest themselves into the imaginative world of a real music lover and obvious horror movie fan. Forge is making music and changing the way people are looking at popular music complete with inverted crosses, incense and satanic talk. It’s hard to not like what they’re doing and get enveloped in it not unlike younger fans being enthralled by Billie Eilish’s “All the Good Girls Go to Hell”, which may be mining a similar rock
But Ghost also is about humour. Forge calls it a humanist element to the band. Ghost is about entertainment and fun. On stage, you can’t help but find the self–evident humour embodied with a Swedish man speaking English in an Italian accent. The real Tobias Forge is thoughtful, heartfelt and genuine. And when we discuss Satan, it’s about an intellectual, even pop culture reference to Satan from Forge’s point of view. In all of his earnestness discussing the method and myth of Ghost, Forge can’t stifle a laugh when I have to ask about all of the Satanism, saying “I don’t listen to Stryper because all of their songs are about the baby Jesus” and he responds about the entertainment value that defines Ghost.
“Rock and roll music is equal to that humour, it is comedy despite a lot of the music being dark and embracing the dark side and ultimately the devil,” says Forge. “It’s interesting that there are factions of the metal scene in the puritanically way, and I’m using that term puritan in a bad way because that comes from my experience [with puritan bible thumpers]. Religion is for closed minded people. The devil represents rebellion and laughter and free thinking. Rock and roll has been about all of those things as well as liberation and freedom as well as the lighter side of things. A lot of the death metal I love from the ’80s is comedic. You’ve got the more refined things that aren’t comedic like Morbid Angel but you listen to Repulsion or bands from Sweden like Treblinka and they were very humorous all the time. There’s a lot o humor in those old Black Sabbath lyrics. If anyone doesn’t understand this genre — I say that loosely as the genre has different branches — this genre has always been driven by rebellious kids having fun. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand this fucking musical style. You’re wrong.
"Satan is way easier to comprehend from a pop reference sense,” adds Forge. “From a biblical point of view, the devil represents evil, the opposite of good. But to me in real life, Satan represents what’s good. ISIS is evil but what they do is in the name of their god. The church has done a lot of evil things in the name of God. They raped children. They oppress people. They make people feel like shit and feel guilty about being teenagers. The devil has never done that. As soon as you start involving the devil from the bible point of view, it becomes confusing. For the last fifty years of rock music, the devil has been a figure of freedom, individuality, intellectualism and fun. And to me, that’s what Ghost is.”
Ghost play FirstOntario Centre with Nothing More on Thursday October 17 at 7:30pm. Tickets at ticketmaster.ca