Tobias Forge looks into the bright future of Ghost with measured confidence

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Tobias Forge looks into the bright future of Ghost with measured confidence

ghost new album
(Image: Mikael Eriksson)
Words by Al Belling and Photography by Mikael Eriksson

2022 is officially the of our unholy lord Papa Emeritus the IV, the newest incarnation of Ghost frontman Tobias Forge’s alter-ego

Of course, a new Papa Emeritus means a new Ghost album, which is exactly what the world will receive next month with the release of Impera, the fifth LP from the Swedish metal masters who have gone from (oc)cult following status to arena-filling superstars in less than a decade.

Such is the fervour around Ghost that the band has been able to change their style, sound, and image to greater and greater critical acclaim, with an O2 Arena date in London the first of what is sure to be many milestones on this new album cycle.

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

“Of course, we’re aware that these songs are going to be played in front of a lot of people – we very much had to think of how much these songs will play out in a big boomy hall,” says Forge, who is chatting to us from Denver, Colorado where the band is currently engaged in some pre-album dates.

“We’ve had people afraid to come to the show, and then also people who refuse to get vaccinated who stand outside the venue because they’re not allowed to come in,” laughs Forge, who sounds stunned that, despite the album not being out, “a few thousand” people are still coming to each show.

The tour has been revelatory for Ghost fans, with Forge’s backing band – known as the ‘nameless ghouls’ – debuting a brand new-look, a cyberpunk aesthetic, while new singles ‘Call Me Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Hunter’s Moon’ have been getting their live debuts.

“The people seem to be really happy about it,” he says, but notes a catch – “every time we start a tour, an album cycle, there’s this tremendous amount of fucking push back. Always, always, always.”

Forge is referring to the polarisation around their success, criticism has followed Ghost’s footsteps, ranging from black metal purists to magazine buying mega-fans, turned off by the commercial appeal of the band’s poppy song-craft which channels the spirit of Blue Oyster Cult as opposed to Darkthrone.

“We get a tonne of shit because people miss what we used to do, and then in a few years they’ll miss what we’re doing now.”

“It ends up being the new black anyway – people have to deal with it,” says Forge of the band’s style.

“We get a tonne of shit because people miss what we used to do, and then in a few years they’ll miss what we’re doing now.”

Forge notes that he sees that polarisation around him on the road as well, regardless of what the issue is.

“We’ve had lots of confusion and mixed messages in the world at the moment around dangers and safety, and on the one hand, you have people who are quite anxious for their safety.

“Then on the other side you have those folks who refuse to get vaccinated, they’re all standing outside the venue ‘cos they can’t come in – given the circumstances though, the tour is going really well.” 

It’s this polarisation that Forge notes sets this new album cycle apart, with Impera representing a time of contentment in his life as he watches the world around him capitulate.

ghost new album

“One major difference between this new record and Prequelle is that I was personally in a very wounded state when I wrote Prequelle – I was very wounded and felt attacked, but the world felt like a more stable place.

“Making Impera, the roles were almost completely switched. I felt really content and good with life, but everything around us has fallen out.

“I got the idea to write an album about the concept of empires rising back in 2014 – but I also wanted to first write an album about the plague which was Prequelle, which was written from an ‘I, a mortal and single human being am being attacked by force.’ Impera is exploring the wellbeing of society.

“At the end of the day though, I just want to write songs that are cool and make you feel good – thematic ideas can just be a way to tie together a bunch of different songs that ultimately are for enjoyment.

“I just want to help people shake their asses – or foreheads- or both!”

The danceability of Ghost has been a major trump card for the band, with their satanic Vatican image juxtaposed by bluesy rock riffs and disco-infused pop-rock goodness.

As Forge points out, their success is representative of metal entering a point that rewards bands for going against the grain, noting that it’s something “very close to (his) heart”.

“I always felt proud that when we came out, we had a brief invite into the occult rock thing that was happening at that time, and as soon as things started to move for us we were out of that quickly…we started playing with lots of other bands,” he recalls.

“Once we started touring I felt very alienated because at that point, all these ‘core’ bands with a sentence for a name – they were the shit!

ghost impera

“I envied the massive amount of opportunities they had because they were all new, current, same age…I’ve always felt like the odd kid…I felt we stuck out like a sore thumb.”

This point of difference has set the band apart from the ever-increasing glut of hyped metal acts, with their last record Prequelle taking the band to the precipice of ‘mainstream’ fame.

However, while Forge is quietly confident of the strength of the record, he remains cautious when it comes to attempting to replicate the crossover appeal of Prequelle.

“You should be cognisant of those things but within the limits of writing a good record that expresses what you feel,” he says.

“I envied the massive amount of opportunities [other bands] had because they were all new, current, same age… I’ve always felt like the odd kid… I felt we stuck out like a sore thumb.”

“Back when we wrote ‘Dance Macabre’ for the last record it felt very immediate – same with ‘Square Hammer’.

“But all the time you’ll think ‘this could do this, this could open this potential door’ – but you just have no idea.” 

“If you write a record that really fulfils where you’re at, and someone walks in and says ‘I don’t hear a hit… well maybe that record doesn’t need a hit.

“Commercially, I dare to say that anyone that has experienced any commercial success at all – they know when you write something you can think to yourself ‘this could be a good song to pitch for radio.’

“I had that sense with a few songs here, thinking ‘this could benefit from not being seven minutes long – maybe we should trim it down. You shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t have that sort of radar operating.

“But for every song you have that’s successful, you have ones that you think will open heaps of doors but it might never happen – ‘He Is’ for example, America never went for it, but in Europe, it charted on normal radio!”

Despite Forge’s caution, the stage is set for a massive 2022 for the band, with concert markets reopening and a fanbase eager to install Ghost on the throne of contemporary metal.

And that, Forge concedes, is a reason to smile.

“We’re in the restaurant business – it’s great and it’s fun, but if you get a Michelin star, that’s fantastic…it doesn’t define who you are or what you’re doing, but it really helps.”

Impera will be released March 11 via Loma Vista, you can preorder here. Read the cover story from print edition #319 on page here, or pick up a copy today!