Within nine years of releasing its debut album, Opus Eponymous, hard-rock act Ghost has become prominent among metal fans for its theatrical style. Propelled by its architect Tobias Forge -- the singer, songwriter and creative force behind the band known for its catchy guitar riffs and lush harmonies -- the Swedish outfit can trace a direct lineage to ’70s shock rock.
“Kiss and Alice Cooper have had an enormous impact on me, ever since I was a tiny tad bigger than an infant. I like Blue Oyster Cult, but they were never as big of an influence as people think they were because they never had the significance for me as Kiss or Alice Cooper had,” says Forge. “It’s more a matter of [Ghost] being melodic rock but with a lot of multi-harmonized vocals that makes it sound like BOC.”
Ghost’s fourth and latest album, 2018’s Prequelle -- of which Forge says, “I’m very pleased with the result... It was, thus far, our best, most accomplished record” -- is loosely based on the Black Plague of 14th-century Europe. The singles “Rats” and “Dance Macabre” held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart for seven and two weeks, respectively, while latest single “Faith” has reached No. 8. Prequelle has moved 191,000 album equivalent units (according to Nielsen Music), reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and earned Grammy Award nominations for best rock album and best rock song (for “Rats”) this year. (Ghost previously won best metal performance in 2016, for “Cirice.”)
Part of the band’s appeal is its appearance. Ghost’s other members wear masks concealing their identities and are referred to as Nameless Ghouls. Forge originally assumed the stage persona of Papa Emiritus, a demonic anti-pope, and currently performs as Cardinal Copia. Its “Satanic” leanings, both lyrically (with song titles like “Satan Prayer” and “Depth of Satan’s Eyes”) and visually (Forge wears vestments that feature upside down crosses), also have attracted attention. Forge explains, “For me, it is very personal and important, but I struggle to define the differences between the pop-cultural Satan and the actual one, if you want to say it that way, because that’s even harder to define.”
He notes that since the 1960s, Satanism “has become a fun little thing for 20-somethings to play with. It has very much been embraced as a symbol of liberation, rather than a symbol of actual tyranny and evil.” Noting that it’s “a very complex issue” that can’t be thoroughly covered in a brief interview, he says with a laugh, “The pop-cultural Satan has an amazing importance for me, and that’s because I’m a born rebel and a natural ‘opposer,’ in that I oppose shit.”
When asked if there can be Satan without God, the singer goes deeper, saying, “The Satan that we are most commonly referring to in the Western world is obviously a product of Christianity. Within the confines and context of Christianity, no. They cannot exist without the other. That’s the problem with the entire concept of Satanism because, depending on who you’re talking to -- if you’re talking to a Bible thumper, Satan exists within the bras of women, and Satan exists within the confines of rock’n’roll music and drugs and everything that would be considered quote ‘bad’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘harmful.’ And I think that in rock ’n’ roll and in pop culture, that is the thing that most people cling to.
“Satan as a symbol or symbolic role model represents liberation and free thought and fun,” he continues, laughing. “Intellectualism as opposed to regression and stupidity. But if you’re talking about Satan as the main peddler and the prime motor for evil -- if I look at the world and I see evil, I think of ISIS and I think that’s pure evil, and that has nothing to do with a pop-cultural horned-goat half-man called Satan. So you really, really, really have to understand that the ‘Satan’ that has been embraced by artists in film, music, poetry and art going back centuries was made to scare people.”
Further testament to Ghost’s success is its current supporting slot on Metallica’s European tour that runs until Aug. 25. That will be followed by its own arena tour that will start in Bakersfield, Calif., on Sept. 13.
“It’s our first consecutive American arena headlining tour, which is an affirmation of a job well done, I guess,” the singer says humbly. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing theaters -- I love playing theaters as well, which we’ve done a lot -- but the one thing about theaters is that they are often seated, and I really, really don’t like seats because it disrupts the flow and the energy of the crowd.”
Arenas are his favorite performing, forum because “the people who are standing in the front on the floor are the ones who cause the energy.” Plus, there are fewer production restrictions, so the band “can bring the bombs everywhere, and you can do fire, you can do confetti, you can do this and that and the other, and it just looks huge and sounds good.”
Forge observes that the upcoming tour will be the first time Ghost has taken identical production to every venue that it will play. “In the past, even the last American tour we did last fall, where we played all over the place, including The Forum in L.A., we played a lot of theaters, and some nights we didn’t use pyro at all,” he explains. “Some nights we couldn’t use this gag at all, or couldn’t do this, that and the other, just because there were restrictions … If you come and see us — and we’re not playing a lot of the bigger cities on this tour because we’ve already played them — you’re going to get the same show in Seattle as if you came to see us in Fargo [N.D.]. And I’m very proud of that.”
While Forge is excited about the fall tour, he’s already looking forward to entering the studio in January to start making the fifth record. “There are a lot of things making Prequelle and all the other records I’m thinking about: Some things I’m looking to perfect, and some things I’m looking not to repeat. Some things I think we just missed the mark on. And those are the ambitions I go into with every record and this time as well.”
He adds, “I don’t want to rush. I want to go forward and achieve as many things as possible. I’m always thinking ahead. One day this will all be over, and I’ll have plenty of time to sit and wonder what happened,” he says, laughing.