If you follow me on any form of social media, you’re probably well aware of how much I adore the band Ghost. I mean, at any given opportunity I will discuss the brilliance of the puppet master, Tobias Forge, then go on a long probably-manic-sounding rant about why he, Tobias, deserves all the recognition in the world. However, since I am involved in majority of the Ghost forums online: tumblr, reddit, instagram, twitter, etc..I was living in this “Ghost bubble” that involved the belief that the entire world has a general understanding of things like “Tobias and the Cardinal are one-in-the-same” ; “Ghost is a satirical band”, and so forth.
That was until I met the “band”, and had to regularly explain to people who the “Creepy man holding me” is, I realized that the general population has no understanding of what/who Ghost is, which I find to be problematic. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to write an in-depth guide on the band.
Ps: I will break this up into sections by album and then wrap up with my thoughts at the end; so it’s easy for anyone that’s just here to read about the albums and history of Ghost to find what they’re looking for without too many of my annoying personal comments, you’re welcome.
Who & What is Ghost?
Ghost is a occult-rock-act that formed 13-years-ago (2006) in the small town of Linköping, Sweden. Contrary to popular belief, Ghost is not a “band”. Ghost is a one-piece act with hired musicians that are typically replaced faster than the frontman character (love you tobe). Ghost is simply Tobias Forge, the frontman for all different eras of Ghost, and former “Mary Goore” of Swedish death metal band Repugnant (also former lead singer of Subvision and bassist of Magna Carta Cartel).
Ghost is most known for their occult/black-metal theatrics and their captivating stage performances — and before black-metal fans start preparing to burn my flat down: NO, Ghost doesn’t produce black metal music. The foundation of Ghost is this: A devil-pope and his servants (the Nameless Ghouls, and now Ghoulettes); that is the recurring theme of all, but one (their latest), albums and eras simplified. The most distinct feature of Ghost is their “uniforms”; The nameless ghouls wear identical masks and garments, while Tobias, concealed his identity under a full prosthetic mask and makeup that would create his demonic popes that have changed with every era of the band, thus far.
- Papa Emeritus I (2008 – 2012)
- Papa Emeritus II (2012 – 2015)
- Papa Emeritus III (2015 – 2018)
- Cardinal Copia (2018 – Current)
Despite the fact that the Nameless Ghouls were supposed to be nameless, fans began appointing nicknames to what is now known as the “original ghouls” (the ones who will later sue Tobias l-o-l).
- Lead Guitar = Fire Ghoul
- Bass = Water Ghoul
- Rythym Guitar = Aether Ghoul (who later was called Omega and “stompy”)
- Keyboards = Air Ghoul
- Drums = Earth Ghoul
The names came from the symbols that were labelled on their costumes; once the “original” lineup of Ghouls were fired from the band (2017); The new set of ghouls also picked up nicknames (which, honestly, I stopped paying attention to)
Up until late 2018, anonymity was the most compelling part of Ghost; a lot of people were initially drawn to Ghost for the mystery that came with this clandestine band singing rhythmic but heavy tunes about Satan and Hell. No one knew who they were, no one knew where they came from, but they couldn’t look away from the “spooky” show. However, a few months ago Tobias “unmasked” himself on a Swedish radio show, and confirmed what all the more intense (*cough* me *cough*) already knew; Tobias Forge IS Ghost. The reason? Well, no one really knows what made him take the plunge, other than Tobias saying that the “mystery” could only stay alive for so long in this day and age of camera phones and instant communication, therefore he would rather do the “outing” than have it be announced elsewhere.
But even I, as a big fan, was confused to how he chose to unravel it. He confirmed his identity on Swedish radio, then did American interviews in costume (but not Ghost costume) and then walked the Grammy’s red carpet as Tobias Forge? People speculate that the expedited progress of him “unravelling the layers” has something to do with that pesky lawsuit by the previous Ghouls (Which I’m not going to talk about, so if you want to read that go on reddit.com/r/ghostbc then search tobias lawsuit and you can find a whole bunch of useless information on that).. But I guess we won’t really know for sure.
Brief Explanation of the Ghost Storyline
For the first three albums, Tobias took on different incarnations and characters of Papa Emeritus. So far we have had a Papa Emeritus I, II & III. With their latest album we have also been introduced to Papa Nihil (aka Papa Zero) who is basically the devil-pope manager (also the Father of all the Papa’s (Which, btw is not played by Tobias).
Papa Emeritus I fronted Ghost from 2008-2012, then in December of 2012 Ghost debuted “Secular Haze”, as well Papa Emeritus II, as announcement for their sophomore album of “Infestissumam”, in their hometown of Linköping. Three years later, in 2015, Papa II introduced the audience to his “younger brother”, Papa Emeritus III, that would takeover the duties of trying to overthrow the Church and Government, as he [Papa II] had been fired for not succeeding in that goal not performing his duty of overthrowing the churches, this was the start of the Meliora era, which is what really made Ghost break into the hard-rock/metal scene.
In September of 2017, in Gothenburg (Götenborg), Sweden Papa Emeritus III was dragged off stage by two men, the men then escorted Papa Nihil introducing that the next chapter, and current era, will begin…
Fun fact: You can actually visit the dead Papa’s at the “Veneration of Relics” when you purchase Meet and Greet passes for the current tour.
It was not until January of 2018 when we, the fans, learned of the release of Prequelle and were informed by the Clergy (which is basically the Ghost HQ) that we will not see a return of a Papa, at least not yet. In April of 2018, Ghost debuted Cardinal Copia to a private audience at a secret acoustic show, confirming to the fans that Ghost is no longer “controlled” by a Papa. The Cardinal is the first “frontman” and member of the Clergy to not be in the Nihil lineage. The Cardinal was brought in by Sister Imperator, who holds high title in the Clergy (however, still it still hasn’t been revealed what her true purpose is in the Clergy – there has been hints that she is the mum of the Papa Emeritus’), to step in as the frontman of Ghost due to the fact that the Emeritus lineage is now all dead, and Papa Nihil is too old to “hit the stage” so-to-speak.
Papa Nihil is seen to be unsure of the Cardinal, despite the fact that Sister imperator insists that Ghost needs “a new leader with youth, stamina and sexual charisma”, to which Nihil reluctantly agrees to simply because he wants to continue the Ghost mission of spreading the message of Satan.
Conclusively, where the band is right now is: The Cardinal is still fronting Ghost and touring the fourth and latest album Prequelle that was released in 2018. Tobias has recently declared that the fifth album and fifth era of Ghost will still be fronted by the Cardinal, which is rare for Ghost to keep the same character, and this is because Tobias shares that there is a chance that the Cardinal will graduate into a Papa!
The Albums & Their Concepts
This is starting to sound more like a soap-opera than a music act isn’t it? Let’s get to the real reason why this band holds my heart, the music. The music is actually a controversial topic with Ghost, as a lot of “metalheads” tend to reject the idea of letting Ghost sit in the Metal genre; and a lot of elitists like to call Ghost “Scooby-doo chase music”…whatever the hell that even means. Part of the fun of being a fan of this band is that you always get new content; whether it be the music, the characters, the costumes, the plot, etc. To me, Ghost doesn’t fall in a genre and that’s why they are so damn special! One thing forsure is that you can’t judge them by their appearance, and you definitely can never guess what kind of songs they’ll release next.
Opus Eponymous (2010)
Back in 2006, when Tobias was still in his band Subvision (which includes members that will become some of the ‘original’ Nameless Ghouls), he wrote the song “Stand By Him” then got together with former Repugnant bandmate to record the song. By 2008, Tobias, and what would soon be a Nameless Ghoul, written and record “Stand By Him”, “Prime Mover” and “Death Knell”, and it was in this process the two decided to continue this satanically-thematics, but in a “theater band” format due to the fact they felt that their appearances would not be taken seriously with the songs. Using Tobias’ love for horror films, and the traditions of Scandinavian black metal, he came up with the original concept of cloaked members for the “Nameless Ghouls”, while he donned the character of “Papa Emeritus” in Papal regalia and corpse-paint-esque face paint.
Fun fact: Tobias offered the role of front man to several other Swedish musicians, because he wanted a more “behind the scenes” role of writing lyrics and music, and to only play guitar on stage. However, since too many people rejected the idea of being a “devil pope” Tobias had to do it himself, et voila, the rest is history!
March of 2010, Tobias posted the first three Ghost songs (as mentioned previously) to MySpace and in no more than two days, he was approached by record labels and managers! Ghost then proceeded to finish their album in Linköping and released their first single “Elizabeth” in June of 2010, then released Opus Eponymous in October of 2010.
The album reached number 50 Sverigetopplistan (The swedish version billboard charts), and already started to create a lot of buzz with their debut album, as Opus is everything you imagine a band like Ghost to create in terms of music. It’s ominous, heavy, satanic and still manages to get your body grooving with those melodic hooks. Opus, is also the setting stone of Ghost’s concept albums and is the foundation for where we are now in terms of “story line”
Thematically, Opus sets the band up to “unleash” the antichrist into the world, as the objective of the album is the “ritual and conception of the antichrist” and it isn’t until the sophomore album of Infestissumam, where we actually get the antichrist.
In February of 2012, “Special Ghoul” (which is Tobias dressed as a Nameless Ghoul when he does interviews, because the Papas didn’t do interviews) announced that the band has completed writing and recording their second album. As mentioned previously, in December of 2012, in Linköping, Sweden the band played “Secular Haze” and their ABBA cover of “I’m a Marionette” before introducing Papa Emeritus II, announcing that he [Papa II] will be taking over the band as he [Papa I] has been fired from the Clergy.
This is the same time when Ghost faced a lot of backlash from the US, legally. First, they had to temporarily become Ghost B.C. in the US to avoid legal issues. Then, the US release date of Infestissumam had been pushed back due to the fact that no US manufacturing company wanted to press the albums due to the Blasphemous artwork on the deluxe CDs, companies complaining that it was “basically a 16th century Orgy”. Alas, Ghost decided to change the album cover to prevent further delay, and reserved the “deluxe cover” for all European copies and vinyl copies in the US.
Infestissumam is the album that really made Ghost the “touring” band, as the band toured consecutively for two years straight (which is later exprssed by former Ghouls in the law-suit the begining of their discomfort with Tobias’ direcction of the band). It was also with this album, that provided a lot of exposure to big American & English that allowed the band to pick up a large fan-base quite quickly!
In April of 2013 they played Coachella, then in July they played Lolla Chicago; which is actually quite significant considering in 2012 the band Ghost was still in their “scary” and more “intimidating phase”. In late 2013, they opened for Iron Maiden & Slayer, then Avenged Sevenfold & Deftones, and ended 2013 with opening for Alice in Chains in Europe.
In November 2013, Ghost released their cover-heavy EP If You Have Ghost which was produced by Dave Grohl. (Dave has also admitted to drumming for Ghost in costume a few times!)
In terms of Infestissumam’s theme, this is the album in which the antichrist is finally born! The Clergy celebrates and prepares the anticipated movement of unleashing the antichrsit into the world, so they can take over the world. Musically, you can already tell that Ghost started to grow financially, in terms of production value, but you can also hear that Tobias found a footing for Ghost and their sound. He took out a lot of the straight “heavy metal” elements and watered it down with melodic, pop-touches. Which in no means is bad, in fact to me, it’s actually perfect that this is album is a huge shift to their first album becuase it fits the thematics of the “birth of the antichrist” because this album is also the birth of “Ghost as we know it”
In May of 2015, it was announced that Papa Emeritus II was fired for failing as a the role of leading antichrist pope for Ghost, due to not successfully overthrowing Churches of all religions, nor succeeding over the Governments of the world (how ambitious, eh?). While the buzz of the hype was still strong, Ghost released the single “Cirice” as a free download on the band’s official site as a sneak peek for Meliora, which was later released in August of 2015.
Meliora is truly the “breakthrough” album for Ghost in terms of international mainstream success, stage production, and thematic concepts; once Meliora hit the shelves, there was no turning back for Tobias and Ghost, as it truly made Ghost one of the biggest heavy rock bands of the decade. According to Tobias, though, all this success did not come with a cheap price, or a lack of effort. Tobias worked along swedish producer Klas Åhlund who is more well-known for producing pop music. He [Tobias] later reflects that Klas’ pop expertise had been the perfect missing touch that Ghost was missing for crafting the perfect “dark ABBA record” and sound that Ghost is now known to be.
Not only is this album huge in terms of sound, but as well as in theme. Meliora is about the antichrist and succeeding his title of the “almighty one” overthrowing God. As Tobias explained it (as Special Ghoul): “The lyrics deal with the void that happens when there is no god, when there is no one there to help you. But even then, there will always be some f*cker there to give you guidance. And the band is basically portrayed as the religious party that comes in there with a guiding hand. We offer the one place in the world that is spiritual”. He continues with, “ the backdrop that we wanted to paint in front of which we’re playing these songs, is supposed to be, a super-urban, metropolitan, pre-apocalyptic, dystopian futuristic image” which actually also reflects modern society.
To me, this album proved Tobias’ brilliance in mastering a the skill of creating concept album. There is so many little details he thought of, from technicalities of the costumes, to the colour choices of the artwork, connections to their fourth album, that we as fans didn’t even know at the time. Not to mention with having their biggest budget yet, Tobias was able to finally bring his dream of a doomy-clerical-rock album to life, and clearly Tobias vision payed off as the band won a Grammy for Cirice under the category of “Best Metal Performance” in 2016.
Prequelle is the fourth and most recent studio album by Ghost, and is the first album with Tobias’ identity being public information. Since the public “kidnapping” of Papa Emeritus III in 2017 at their Götenborg show, fans had high expectations and anticipation for this record; building a lot of pressure on Tobias, as it is the first album where he could be personally criticized for the work of Ghost.
Tobias had Prequelle planned for years, he apparently started planning this album before Meliora, which is why it [Prequelle] seamlessly connects its predecessor. Prequelle is the plague after the apocalypse, literally. Tobias describes the album as “survival through a tumultuous time of your existence basically being threatened”, which, despite it keeping to the medieval theme of Meliora, it also reflects modern day issues of “the world is in sh*t, so you might as well hand it over to the antichrist”.
Tobias went into this album to revolve around the concepts of “death and doom”, which is why the central theme of Prequelle is the Plague and the Black Death, but he said it was important to balance it out with “mortality issues” such as memento mori and “seize the day” because the other half survived. These themes described also manifest personal issues in Tobias’ life at the time of recording Prequelle, as this album was written and recorded while he was in the process of battling a lawsuit back home in sweden with the former Ghouls (and longtime friends). Therefore the theme of “memento mori”, as Tobias put it, isn’t just in regards to the characters he created, but for himself as well.
Despite the album’s two Grammy nominations, this album received mixed reviews all across the board. On average, critics gave this album a 4.5 stars out of 5, whereas fans, on average, gave this album as 3 stars out of 5. Why? Most likely due its pop-centric tones. Previously, Ghost albums had pop-aspects but were still heavily hard-rock. However, this is what Tobias wanted, he wants Ghost to grow as an arena rock band, he wants to sell out stadiums and big tours, and he especially wants the radio-play, which is what he got with singles “rats” and “dance macabre”.
Now that all eye and attention are on Ghost (this is a reference to their song Faith), Tobias had the monetary tools, as well as the, popularity tools, he needed to make Ghost this “hair metal”/”arena rock” band he envisioned Ghost to be 10 years ago back in Linköping, Sweden. It has the perfect mixture of pop, metal, hard-rock and well, even “dark ABBA”, and it proves that Ghost is never what you expect them to be. With prequelle, Ghost embarked on their first ever arena show and even managed to sell out the Globen in Stockholm and played to a vast audience of 14,000 people! (and your girl was obviously at the show).
Moreover, one cannot ignore the the the special touches on this album, that Tobias went the extra length to add. From his daughter Minou Forge singing “ashes” on the opening track of the album, as well as proving the creative thought process that he [Tobias] very attentively created to fit the time-period details, such as Cardinal’s appearance with the bubonic plague symptoms of the “racoon eyes”. Tobias, once again, knoced it out of the park, and personally, I cannot wait to see where he takes Ghost next.
Conclusion & My Experience Meeting ‘Ghost’
Conclusively, it’s safe to say how much of a clever man Tobias Forge is, and how hard he worked to build this empire that is Ghost. Although I have only been a fan for 3 years, I became quickly sucked in to the world of Ghost that I opened this article with.
Ghost, and their music, has truly been my saving grace since the first day I stumbled across the video of their acoustic performance of “Jiglo Har Megiddo” at siriusxm, back in 2015. Emmersing myself in this universe Tobias has built has truly been a safe outlet and escape for some major struggles I deal with on a daily basis; which conveniently, is the main purpose of Ghost and its themes. Tobias wanted to create music, and a show, where people could gather for ~3 hours and forget the crazy f*cked up world that was waiting for everyone outside the venue.
Since discovering Ghost, all I’ve wanted is to be able to experience this “escape” of a show, however, Ghost hasn’t been to the Northwest since 2014, and I therefore hadn’t had a chance to see them live. Well , that was until I decided to say f*ck it and planned a trip to Stockholm to watch Ghost perform their biggest show to date, it was also their first show in Sweden in a while, and it was honestly the most wonderful experience of my life.
Not only did I get the opportunity to watch Ghost and be in the second row, I got to meet the Cardinal, aka the man who inspires me on a daily basis to keep writing (this is reference to how Tobias kept working at a Swedish phone company to be able to support his wife and kids, all the while working on Ghost, in hopes that one day Ghost would take off). Meeting the Cardinal/Tobias is all thanks to you guys, team interwebs, I got to meet the brilliant man (in character) and tell him all about how much he inspires me, and I even got to plug my blog to him.
To make this short and sweet: Tobias, aka the Cardinal, was the most humble and attentive musician I’ve yet to meet. I lost count of the amount of times he said “thank you for commuting all the way to Stockholm”, he grabbed my hands and made sure to listen to every word I was saying, and when I gave him my business card to tell him that he inspired me to keep my outlandish dream of being a music writer alive, he apologize perfusively for not being able to read it properly (due to his mask and contacts). He hugged me twice and gave me multiple squeezes out of sincerty, he then promised the he would see me soon in my hometown.
Lo-and-Behold the promise has been kept and I will be seeing Ghost again this September, although not meet and greet again because I couldn’t afford it, I’ll be doing VIP GA and I will be bringing a big sign that says “thank you”.
There are not enough thank you’s that could be typed by my fingers or spoken from my lips for the man that is Tobias Forge. I am so grateful for his music and his dedication to his craft.
I hope this post was informative on the technicalities, but also on why I think Ghost is such a great band that deserves all the recognition and more.
Until next time Interwebs 🕸
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