For a decade Tobias Forge wore masks. Veiled he was safely anonymous, unknown and free to deliver Ghost’s twisted message with impunity. But things changed.
The band, which had stood behind his nefarious figure for so long splintered. There was mutiny amongst the ranks and the frontman’s identity let slip during legal wrangling April ’17. Strung up and strung out, it seemed like it was all but over.
Yet an unmasked Forge doubled down. Leveraging his status as principal creative force, he exiled Ghost’s rebellious Ghouls. With these dissident bandmates written out, only one remained.
With Tobias once again at the helm, Ghost have reached another Year Zero. Tobias has summoned a new iteration of the group and it’s hitting the road. Once again, Forge casts dark fantasies over the minds of the teeming metal masses. There’s even word of an Australian tour.
What’s more, new record Prequelle will be arriving this June. Its themes are complex but its messages simple. Plague, discord and full-blown metal assaults colour these latest sonics.
Ghost’s fourth establishes that Forge is once again in charge. The nocturnal dictator of nightmare regimes. His vision is dark and, as for what his destiny holds, he’s here to tell.
Music Feeds: Visually and within your music, you explore themes of not only horror but also faith. What is it about religious images and iconography that we find so terrifying?
Tobias Forge: I think that there’s still remnants. You know how we revere art as sometimes supernatural? Certainly back in the day, imagine in the 1400 or 1500s, where people in general, the common people, lived in basically huts. But in the middle of the town you had a big, giant cathedral. It was called ‘A House of God’. In there you could hear music, you could hear choirs singing. It was filled with art depicting supernatural beings and also exalted humans that had risen to sainthood.
And people working there had some sort of lineage with God directly. They were holy. I think that even though today we can break down a church into archaeology and mathematics. We know now that art is basically the product of someone who has trained their talents. It’s actually quite logical.
But I think we still lend a certain degree of magical qualities into art that we don’t understand. That’s what I’m trying to tap into upon making or recreating this religious feel that is Ghost. I just find it magical, interesting, enigmatic and hard to understand. Also add the addition of time [to the initial question]. We have a very hard time of understanding the concept of time, especially when it goes back in time. Nowadays we understand time better because usually because everything that has happened now is filmed. If it’s filmed from different positions and different angles we can understand it. But just go back 20 years in time when that wasn’t as likely. We don’t understand it the same way. It becomes myth.
Time also adds a layer of credibility but also difficulty. It usually serves for the worse because we usually have a tendency to doubt the logic of it. We think there must be something more to it than just the simple explanation. For some reason – I don’t know whether it’s because we want to. We want to believe and to imagine.
MF: I read a good quote the other day, it went something like, “Every modern rock outfit which ever truly made a mark of popular culture somehow had a connection to glam rock.” Pre-Ghost you played in a glam metal band and have in past talked about being inspired by the Detroit Sound. What is it about this music that draws people in?
TF: I’m assuming that it’s particularly because of the escapist qualities of it. At the moment we’re living in a very pre-apocalyptic state of mind. In the Western World at least there seems to be a very overall cynicism over the world coming to its end, so we might as well suck the marrow out of the bones just because it’s sort of about to end. If you ask anyone they wouldn’t say that but overall, it’s very much that sort of attitude because there’s a lot of turmoil going on right now.
There’s these crazy, insane leaders throwing stones at each other and some of them act out on their insanity. And you know when the parents fight the kids have a tendency to be… very reserved. There’s an instability in each and every one of us and I think that something like Ghost is a good vent. You can go into our world and you can pretend something.
I think it’s the same thing even with other less-image orientated bands. I mean I was just thinking about Soundgarden the other day. Every time we saw them play, they always had like nothing onstage. [Laughs] They weren’t kidding around! When I look at my production I’m like, “Fuck!” Next band I’m starting I’m just going to play guitar and we’re going to be a three-piece punk band. It’s going to be so simple, no image whatsoever. We’re going to go around in a van. And it’s gonna be so easy!
Implying everything we do know is actually just the opposite. It’s so hard, so expensive and so difficult all the time just because we have so much production, so many things to do all the time. We have so many people working for us.
Imagine when Soundgarden went around. They had like a carpet on the floor, a little-ass drum kit, a few combo amplifiers and then it was just bare bones. But the thing was there was not a fucking dude or not a fucking girl in that room that wasn’t fantasising about Chris Cornell.
MF: The magnetism.
TF: So yes, it doesn’t matter if a band has an image like Ghost has or let’s say Soundgarden was the perfect example of a band which didn’t have an image – but they did! They did have an image. Chris Cornell represented a lifestyle that people could get lost within. Up until the day he passed away, we were all under the assumption that he was one of the most accomplished human beings ever! A super rich, super handsome rock star. But still with his whole credibility completely intact. Like a superhuman!
That’s what you get lost within and that’s what I’m trying to create. I’m trying to create this superhuman person that you want to be with for some time – that I want to become! I’m trying to create that world that I have always wanted to step in to.
MF: Is that difficult though when you come offstage and you have to go home and make dinner or something like that? Where does it all start and where does it end? That whole classic rock star conundrum…
TF: [A near-pregnant pause] Well I’m… you know unlike someone like Chris Cornell I can take my mask off. I can step out of my character and no one really expects me to be that guy anymore when I’m done. I’m nowhere near as interesting as [Chris Cornell] is or as cool.
And you know what else I should do? [Laughs] Stay off the booze! Because that gets me into that mode, unfortunately. So that’s the trick. I drink coffee instead.
MF: Almost everything you’ve talked about here feels like it’s feeding into the new album so let’s talk about Prequelle. It draws imagery from The Black Death but from the narrative perspective of those who not only endure it but ultimately survive….
MF: It’s an interesting parallel to what has happened with the band, in the sense that you’ve survived a different kind of apocalypse. You’re the last one standing…
TF: Well I mean it was a very therapeutic album. Conceptually I already knew that album number four was going to become a record about The Black Death. I already knew that three-four years ago when I was going to make Meliora. The producer of Meliora, Klas Åhlund, I gave him basically a few options. I told him, “I have two records in mind. One is a futuristic record about the absence of God and one is sort of a medieval record about God’s wrath. Ideally, I want to record both at the same time.”
And he said, “That’s a bad idea.” I agreed that was a bad idea, so I said, “Which one do you want to do?” So he said, “The futuristic album.” Alright so that plays really well into this idea of the album happening before the whole concept of moving in time came in. But the actual record itself with all the lyrical multi-handles was definitely a product of its time, being written in 2017.
It was definitely close to home. It was very therapeutical. It definitely felt like someone was deliberately trying to ruin my life for very wrong reasons as well…
MF: Which I guess brings us to the present. How are you feeling now and where are things going moving forward?
TF: Yeah! Well it resulted in what I think is a very accomplished album. It seems like it’s being regarded as somewhat of a success. I mean so far as the actual ‘product’ goes. Whether or not it will do well from a sales perspective? I have no idea. We usually do okay. I know that the prospect of us touring for a long time. We do really well on the live side and that is essentially my job. So I definitely don’t feel like the loser here!
MF: Are there any plans of coming back down under?
TF: Yes, finally. Finally, we have a plan. I’ve been asking about it, I’ve been working on it for four years, but it has been such an uphill. Ever since the Soundwave Festival disappeared and that whole lack of organisation. What that caused made a big impact on the live scene as you might have noticed.
And that did definitely affect our chances of coming down there as well which annoyed me a lot because I really truly from the bottom of my heart love touring Australia. Finally, now we are looking at something realistic. By the looks of it now we will be there in March next year.