Formed in 2006 as the brainchild of Swedish musician Tobias Forge, Ghost’s deft combination of satanic imagery, infectious riffs and theatrical performances have earned them a huge fanbase across the world.
As legacy bands begin to call it a day and the music industry begins to crack under the strain from streaming’s diminishing returns, Ghost’s magic formula has helped them succeed where many bands have failed.
Naysayers may gnash their teeth at the idea of calling these spooky ABBA-alikes a metal band, but their journey to this point in time has been an eventful one. Time and time again, Forge and his Nameless Ghouls have stepped up their game, and it’s only a matter of time before their next move earns them a seat at the big table.
Here, then, are 10 sensational moments which have shaped Ghost’s career.
Papa Emeritus I steps onstage (2010)
It doesn’t harm a band’s chances of getting noticed if they have a memorable image. Indeed, Forge clearly started as he meant to go on, and got people talking about his band before they’d even played a note at their debut show at the 2010 Hammer of Doom Festival in Würzburg, Germany.
Appearing onstage as the undead anti-Pope Papa Emeritus I, Tobias – wielding a smoking thurible – was decked out in vivid papal robes adorned with inverted crucifixes, while his band wore dark cowls and black masks. The sermon had officially begun.
While their groovy paeans to the Dark Lord may not have been to everybody’s taste, those in the thrall of this Luciferian circus were already hooked for life.
Papa I hands over the mitre (2012)
As the Opus Eponymous album cycle drew to a close, Ghost stopped off for a hometown show at Linköping’s Cupolen on December 15, 2012 to play their debut release in full.
Much to everyone’s surprise, as the last notes of Genesis still rang over the speakers, Papa crossed the stage to hand the microphone to another Satanic Pope. Standing proudly with a grand staff topped by the band’s ‘Grucifix’ logo, this was the figure we would soon know as Papa Emeritus II.
Younger, sleeker and more menacing than his wizened predecessor, Papa II made his debut with a new song, Secular Haze. It would be the lead single from their second album Infestissumam – their first for a major – which was officially announced five days later.
Infestissumam and Ghuleh/Zombie Queen (2013)
Generally considered the most divisive moment in Ghost’s otherwise immaculate back catalogue, sophomore effort Infestissumam’s experimental leanings and tonal shifts raised some eyebrows after the uncluttered finesse of Eponymous.
When the band took the brakes off and channeled their full theatrical credentials on two-parter Ghuleh/Zombie Queen, however, it hinted at a future of ridiculous bombast at its best. Beginning as a mournful ode to a lost lover, the song’s majestic 180 into an uptempo Hammond organ break gave us all a seven-minute taste of the choral flourishes and tongue-in-cheek fun that Ghost would make their staple on future albums.
With major label backing, Ghost ceased to be an underground curio. Headlining their own 22-date US tour, as well as topping the bill on the UK’s Jägermeister Tour with Gallic-bred heavyweights Gojira as support, 2013 would be the year Ghost started their transition from a cult concern to genuine metal mainstays.
The Dave Grohl EP (2013)
Even after four years of success, metal purists continued blow a fuse and question Ghost’s credentials, cruelly lambasting their softer-edged sound as nothing more than spooky Scooby Doo music.
Other, lesser bands may have bowed to pressure and perhaps promised interviewers “their heaviest material yet” in the future. But, Ghost are not a band who bend to appease public opinion. Instead, their action was to double down on their accessible sound by returning to their roots.
They teamed up with Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, who produced and appeared on their EP If You Have Ghost, a collection of cover songs by Roky Erickson, ABBA, Depeche Mode and Army of Lovers.
Any other metal band would be raked over the coals for covering Eurovision darlings like ABBA, but their canny decision to diversify their sound would mark the beginning of a journey towards a distinctly broader appeal. It seems that papal infallibility even extends to Papa Emeritus II.
Meliora, the Grammy win and Square Hammer (2015)
2015 album Meliora truly elevated Ghost to the next level, led by a new, and decidedly more limber frontman in the form of Papa III.
Their third album – named after the Latin term for “the pursuit of something better” – tempered the excesses of Infestissumam while striking a perfect balance between the anthemic and the heavy.
Front and centre of this critically-acclaimed album was lead single Cirice; this quintessential distillation of the riff-fronted, sinister and sexy edge of Ghost’s sound earned them a slot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and bagged the band a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.
Not a band to rest on their laurels, the Popestar covers EP followed soon after. The first EP ever to top Billboard’s Top Rock Album chart, it saw the band returning to cover artists like Eurythmics and Echo & The Bunnymen, alongside brand new single Square Hammer. Boasting an irresistible chorus and the most danceable riff Ghost had penned to date, Square Hammer was Ghost’s first full-on radio rock banger, and remains a roaring set-closer to this day.
The lawsuit (2017)
Up until this point, notwithstanding a huge degree of speculation and online snooping, Ghost had remained an anonymous proposition behind the front of Papa(s) Emeritus and The Nameless Ghouls.
Sadly, this degree of mystery all but vanished in 2017, as former Ghouls took Tobias to court over unpaid royalties, alleging he was trying to turn the band into a solo project.
With the court papers now confirming the long held suspicion that Tobias had been fronting the band all these years, he responded in typically unapologetic Ghost fashion. An official response stated that the musicians “neither contributed capital investments” and, more scathingly, “all musicians formally and presently engaged in Ghost are considered musicians for hire”.
On a more personal level, the frontman himself stated: “I started it in 2006, and no-one that was ever in the band in 2016 was even on the first record. Call it solo, if you want to, but I call it a project”.
Papa Nihil and the messages from the clergy (2017)
With the Meliora cycle winding down, fans waited with bated breath to see how the band’s story would unfold, and in particular, how much time was left on the clock for the third Papa singing for his supper.
Sure enough, during the final date of the Popestar tour – Gothenburg’s Liseberg on September 30, 2017 – Papa III was unceremoniously dragged offstage as the frail and ancient Papa Nihil stepped up to the microphone and cryptically announced that “the Middle Ages have begun”.
The Ghost camp would later be busy on YouTube with a series of hilariously daft videos exploring the lore and history of The Papas, explaining just who the hell Nihil is, and introducing Sister Imperator, the head of The Clergy governing the church of Ghost.
Knowing how ravenous fans were for news of the next Papa, Tobias caused a minor frenzy when it was revealed to be not Papa IV, but Cardinal Copia, who would front the band. The clear chagrin on the face of Papa Nihil in the video, and the Cardinal’s relaxed indifference to ecclesiastical protocol, showed that this would indeed be a new era for Ghost, as this ‘new’ face graced the covers of music publications across the world.
Prequelle, Miasma and that sax solo (2018)
With an unexpected frontman established (and the ‘previous’ three embalmed on YouTube), Ghost dialled up the groove on fourth album Prequelle. Taking a cue from the Cardinal’s swinging hips, the album includes some of Ghost’s most infectious songs to date, and another contender for most deliciously excessive song from their back catalogue.
The entirely instrumental Miasma builds slowly across its first three minutes, before exploding into a high tempo rollercoaster of guitars, keys, a cheeky nod to Michael Jackson’s Beat It riff and even a blistering saxophone solo by Papa Nihil himself. Gloriously executed and slickly-produced, even without their iconic frontman, Ghost could truly bring it.
The epic track, and everything surrounding it, clearly struck a chord with the metal community, as Prequelle would peak in the Top 5 in nine countries, be nominated for Best Rock Album at both the Grammys and Swedish Grammis, and win Album of the Year from Metal Hammer, Revolver, and Kerrang!.
Four albums in, Ghost continued to confound expectation, and reaped the rewards to prove it.
A Pale Tour Named Death (2018)
Having previously toured the world with five Ghouls, the opulence of Prequelle demanded an equally excessive show. Kicking off at London’s Royal Albert Hall in September 2018, A Pale Tour Named Death showed off the new extended line-up of Nameless Ghouls with the addition of a third guitarist, two new keyboard/backing vocalists and, of course, Papa Nihil on saxophone.
Across 137 performances, Ghost wowed arena crowds with compelling theatrics and daftness in equal measure, with a set full of solo battles, costume changes and, most hilariously, Cardinal Copia arriving onstage on a children’s tricycle, like an infant Rob Halford.
As well as promoting the new album, the tour would allow the band to rub shoulders with heavy metal royalty, as they would accompany Metallica across Europe during the summer of 2019. The signs for their tour invitation were there, as James Hetfield was pictured wearing Ghost t-shirt and filmed jamming the iconic Cirice riff in the band’s tuning room.
With touring activity winding down in Mexico City in March 2020, this tour would mark the ‘death’ of Papa Nihil – just after he’d honked his final sax solo, no less – before Copia was surrounded by ghostly nuns, and draped in the finery of Papa Emeritus IV.
With the pandemic causing many band’s recording and production schedules to grind to a halt, Ghost didn’t get off lightly either; COVID-19 restrictions led to the longest gap in full-length releases during their career.
Good things come to those who wait, however, as Impera saw the band go full OTT stadium rock from the opening title track through to the closing strains of Respite on the Spitalfields.
Where the response to Prequelle had been impressive, Impera’s reception has been nothing short of stratospheric. Peaking at Number 1 in Austria, Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden as well as the UK and the US rock charts, Impera would also chart in the top five in a further eight countries and hit Number 2 in US and UK mainstream charts.
With the shackles of the COVID-19 restrictions now (mostly) removed, Ghost have hit the road with Imperatour, playing arenas across the US and Europe, with the latest leg even including Mastodon as support. Ghost truly are reaping the rewards of years of hard work, and only Lucifer knows where they go from here.
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