The Nine Lives of Ghost’s Unmasked Metal Mastermind

Tobias Forge reflects on the end of the world and his macabre theory that it's already happened.

For nearly a decade, Ghost frontman Tobias Forge successfully obscured his real identity from the commercial limelight. As Papa Emeritus’ I, II, and III—pope-like entities from the same fictional bloodline—Forge found conduits in which he could angelically sing grim lyrics over his band’s signature style of metal.

When Ghost teamed up with pop-music producer Klahs Ahlund, who previously worked with the likes of Madonna, Katy Perry and Britney Spears, the band unleashed the pseudo-gothic heavy metal opera, Meliora, in 2015. Meliora jolted the band into a new echelon within their genre, misting a crisp, catchy aura into their blackened sound. Not only did the band grow in popularity, but Forge’s character at the time, the illustrious Papa Emeritus III, had become somewhat of a sex symbol in the dark-alternative community.

“I think people are attracted to my characters for the same reasons I got attracted to the cats in the musical Cats when I was 12 and in London,” Forge says while walking down a busy road in his home-country of Sweden. “The character could be whoever you’d like them to be, all I saw was the shape of a woman. Anytime there’s something hidden, everything else is left to interpretation. I think that serves the excitement for anyone seeing Ghost. You don’t have to think too much about our hair colour or how we smell. You can imagine whatever qualities you’d like.”

Unfortunately, fame’s complications led to a lawsuit filed on Forge by Ghost’s instrumentalists, previously only known as the band’s ‘Nameless Ghouls.’ Although the lawsuit was dismissed by courts as a consequence of the ordeal, Forge’s anonymity as the singer of Ghost was relinquished to the public in 2017.

“When we talk about the end of the world, I think we have a tendency to forget that it’s already happened.”

Forge released a new Ghost album, Prequelle, with new members in 2018. Musically, the album continues the catchy, arena-rock direction explored in their previous album. Again, Forge collaborated with pop-music artists, a decision Forge says “mixes things up,” keeping them fresh.

Thematically, the album touches on grim themes like the Plague and Black Death. Forge calls these subjects metaphors for the end of the world. Not only in a physical sense, but an emotional and personal one as well: internal decomposition caused by trauma, as well as the tensions and deconstruct of modern society.

“The end of the world happens to different people all the time, and different societies all the time,” Forge says. “When we talk about the end of the world, I think we have a tendency to forget that it’s already happened. And it will happen in the future as well. It’s frightening, but also very morbidly fascinating. Having my identity revealed, that alone was not painful. The process that led to it was painful because I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Prior to Prequelle, Forge would introduce a new Papa Emeritus character every time Ghost would release an album, each ‘Papa’ more evolved than the last. For this album, Forge decided to kill off the Papa Emeritus lineage and introduce a new character, the vampiristic and flawed Cardinal Copia.

“We needed to see something new. We had previously never seen anyone ‘becoming.’ Papa Emeritus already reached maximum exaltation,” Forge says about the demise of his character Papa. “There was no trajectory. Now we can see someone who has not risen yet. Someone who is not perfected yet. My characters as much me as they are others. Characters that I don’t want to be, or wish I could have been.”

The musician continues, divulging his latest persona’s essence. “Cardinal Copia has an amplified coolness and slickness that you can’t really have in real life, especially not in a person like myself. I wouldn’t be comfortable enough to sort of behave as ridiculous as Cardinal Copia. I can’t really explain it, but he is a lot of things that I am not.”

Despite his true identity being outed by the public, Forge managed to keep the bands mystique in tact. Ghost’s fanbase is fully on board with the act and their underworldly characters. Their popularity continues to grow and their shows and overall atmosphere are becoming more theatrical in nature.

On separating himself from his beloved characters, Forge concludes, “Let’s be real. I think Ghost is still way more known than I will ever be. I’m very happy that is the case because, unlike most artists, I can just walk out of my character. Most artists can’t because the difference between them and the person on stage isn’t visually clear — people expect them to be that person all the time. No one is really expecting me to be like my character. I can actually step out of him.”

This story was originally published in the September 2019 print edition of BeatRoute Magazine.