Ghost are the rare band that formed in the past 15 years to graduate to arena headliners. In fact, the Swedish metal act is about to embark on its latest massive tour, playing North American arenas with support from Mastodon and Spiritbox.
The outing kicks off Friday (August 26th) in San Diego, and runs through a September 23rd show in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with tickets available via Ticketmaster. The new run follows up an early 2022 US tour that saw Ghost co-headlining with Volbeat, and playing their first shows since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the concert industry.
Heavy Consequence caught up with Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge (aka Papa Emeritus IV) to discuss the band’s return to the road, their latest album, IMPERA (released in March of this year), and whether the wheels are already in motion for the the next LP.
While the appearance of Papa Emeritus IV and his masked ghouls is quite sinister, Forge unapologetically embraces an arena rock sound on IMPERA, calling to mind ’70s and ’80s acts like Kansas, Styx, and Boston, among others. As Forge tells us, the plan from early on was to sound like “a devil-worshipping Kansas.”
The band is in full promotion cycle for the new album, but Forge reveals to us that he already has a game plan for the next one, and that it will be “very different” from IMPERA.
In advance of Ghost’s outing with Mastodon and Spiritbox, read our interview with Tobias Forge below, and pick up tickets to the tour here.
What was it like playing your first shows in nearly two years at the beginning of 2022 following the concert industry shutdown due to the pandemic?
It didn’t take long to feel completely natural. Like a pirate, I have sea legs. This is what I do, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, this is what I’m built for. I’m used to feeling at home being out on the road and being transient and standing onstage. … We were really scratching our heads about, ‘Is this tour really going to happen? Are we able to even go through with this? Or are we going to stop a week from now, right in the middle, and just have to cancel everything and send the trucks home…because it was so uphill. Everything was all uphill and it felt like something like you weren’t really supposed to do in a way.
One thing that really aided this feeling of doing something right was seeing all the happy faces and also being told repeatedly that some of these people haven’t been outside for two years. Some of them have not come to a restaurant, have not been to a club, they have not been out. They had stayed inside for years and now all of a sudden, they came out for one show. Or some of them didn’t. I have friends who said, “I can’t go to the show because I don’t dare. I don’t have the guts to go to the show,” and some of them just said, “I’m not vaxxed, so I can’t come to the show.” But that’s fine too… we were just seeing a lot of people every night with smiles on their faces saying that they’re happy that they got out.
It’s fitting that Ghost are playing arenas now in North America and beyond, as the new album, IMPERA, very much has an arena rock vibe. Did the size of the venues that the band is now headlining have an impact on the music on IMPERA?
It did play a part, of course. I think any artist that experiences any size upgrade, if you will, if you go from playing 300 people clubs into a theater of 2,000, you will in some way or shape, you will take that into consideration of certain sonic elements. I don’t think that it means that you go from playing grindcore to playing singer-songwriter ballads. It just means that you might clear up a few things that you know, in a big boomy room, this will sound awful. But if you do half notes instead on that one, it’s going to sound more clear. Let’s try to find a good tempo for this song.
I think that I always try to compare this to having a relationship to another person. Unless you’re already on the course where the relationship is meant to torment one or the other, or both, you have a tendency to do what the other person likes and if you do what the other person likes, she or he will return good feelings to you. So you have a tendency to feel around and see where fingers can go and where it’s appreciated ,and if it’s not appreciated in one way but another way, you tend to go the other way. That’s what you do, that’s how you know how to consummate your affection. I think that bands and a crowd do a similar thing. But of course, you have to throw in a little bit of throwing around in there as well, to make it exciting. But that’s part of being an artist is just trying to find that balance all the time. And you have to do it all the time, never take it for granted, you still have to bring home the flowers … and you’re surprised with something unexpected and that’s how you do it with a crowd until the day that you don’t have a crowd anymore.
As for that arena rock sound, on songs like “Kaisarion,” “Spillways,” “Watcher in the Sky,” and “Griftwood,” there seems to be a nod to ‘70s and ’80s acts like Styx, Kansas, Journey, Boston and Foreigner. Is it fair to say those bands are influences on Ghost, especially on IMPERA?
Absolutely, and they always have been. I remember early on when we were still promoting our music on MySpace and there was this [field] that you had to fill in, “What do you sound like?” For some time it actually said, “like a devil-worshipping Kansas.” My vision of what I wanted Ghost to sound like was going to be a ‘70s metal band or a band that didn’t know that they were a metal band that had never heard ’80s metal. But they were grown up enough to tune their guitars and sing well, as opposed to a punk band or a lo-fi garage rock band. So we were very inspired by AOR [album-oriented rock], I wanted it to be a Boston, Foreigner, sort of that band, but with darker ambiance. … It’s easy to make fun of the fact that AOR musicians are always grown-up men with a lot of hair on their chests and mustaches — they’re grown. Which is not as really as appealing as … black metal, which I find more cool. But I love [AOR] music — divorce rock, adult reoriented rock.
Can you talk about the overall theme of IMPERA, and how the song “Twenties” fits in within that theme?
The record is loosely based on the machinery of the empire and its sort of self-destruction mechanisms. And why they ultimately all sort of crumble, at least in one form or another … and part of that is because of the demigods. Usually, and almost always it’s because of someone who has that sort of attitude towards their followers. [The song] “Twenties” is about a demigod speaking with utmost disgust to his own followers, but still trying to trick his followers about them having something in common and a shared goal. So it’s a very deceitful song about trickery.
The album closes with “Respite on the Spitalfields.” Can you discuss that song and the decision to end the album with that track?
Visually, I chose to represent this idea of the empire by painting a picture of the Victorian industrial empire of the late 1800s, basically. Also because it’s visually interesting, there are other elements of it that resembles what we’re experiencing now, with industrialists and making people superfluous and a very dog-eat-dog soft of world. But you also have a ton of goth in there because you have Jack the Ripper and Dracula and it’s very pleasing if you’re doing what I’m working with. It’s a time period that gives a lot. I’m very fascinated with Jack the Ripper, as many are, and one aspect of his reign of terror is that it stretched farther than the “canonical five.” I’m pretty sure that he killed more people than that.
Also, the idea of a Jack the Ripper being out there obviously stretched way longer than he was active because people knew that he was never apprehended, so they didn’t know if he was gone or not. Somewhere he is lurking amongst us, probably. And can reappear at any time, so whatever security we might feeling now in the aftermath of his doings, they were never clear, they were never given a thumbs up. It just sort of stopped or didn’t happen again so there was that, that was what I was referring to the respite on the spitalfields — that it’s not really calm, it’s just a pause. That you don’t know when it’s going to end. There’s something growing, there’s a rot growing somewhere in the house but you don’t know if it’s gone or not, like cancer that you don’t know if it metastasized inside your body. It’s an elegy about that but leaving with the hope that the cancer can be eradicated and hopefully it’ll meet its demise and then we will all feel better. Even the ones that might not like it will eventually feel better.
It seems with Ghost that you always have the next album planned out far in advance. Is it fair to say that you have already mapped out the follow-up to IMPERA?
I have an album in my head right now that I think is going to be different from the one I just made. Both Prequelle and IMPERA were ideas that I had since six, seven years back. They were so different from each other in the sense that the “plague album,” as I call it, was about the little person’s annihilation on almost more of like a carnal or a God’s wrath point of view, whereas the “imperial record” was more of a structural demise of the mechanics of society. So they felt like two different things and the idea that I have for the next record is also a different thing from that. It’s just a way for me to compartmentalize the ideas of finding new ways to inspire me lyrically and conceptually.
At the end of the day, it’s just rock ’n’ roll records, 40 minutes of rock music, so it’s just a way to make it interesting for me to work with, and then as a result of that, luckily for a few times now, we’ve been able to put that together and compile it in a way that has a lot of our fans also finding it interesting to dive into. I think that it was just luck that we just happened to release it in a matter where it seems a little clairvoyant. But these are old subjects … everything’s cyclical, that’s the thing, everything just goes in circles so it’s not very hard to be clairvoyant, you can just look back on time and sort of alter it a little, draw on, or shave off a mustache and you have a future asshole who will do something similar to something else a hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, three hundred years ago. it’s always the same, it’s very repetitive.