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Revealed: The Man Behind Ghost

"People usually get exposed for doing something wrong..." Back in 2012, people had no idea who the men behind the mask were. Classic Rock revealed the truth – and nobody really cared...

FIRST PUBLISHED IN CLASSIC ROCK #170, MAY 2012.

On a Sunday afternoon in October 2010, Swedish journalist Richard Lagergren received a phone call at his home in Linköping. The caller informed Lagergren that a local band wished to see him and promised that this would be an interview like no other. He accepted the invitation.

Within the hour a car came to collect him. Lagergren was blindfolded, driven out to the countryside and finally led into a disused warehouse. When his blindfold was removed, he found himself face-to-face with a heavily made-up man wearing clerical vestments and a bishop’s mitre, flanked by five robed, hooded monks. This, he was told, was Ghost. Speaking through a microphone, the band’s imposing frontman Papa Emeritus informed Lagergren – who also plays guitar in the band Portrait – that Ghost required him to start spreading the gospel of their satanic ministry to the world. “It was very cinematic, very surreal and very intense,” says Lagergren today. Beyond this, he will divulge no further details of the afternoon. That Portrait share a US label (Metal Blade) with Ghost might explain his reluctance to speak, but there’s also a sense that when discussing Ghost, some things are best left unsaid.

Eighteen months on, the cult of Ghost has grown to the point where the Swedish sextet are arguably the most recognisable new metal band on the planet. Metallica’s James Hetfield and former Pantera singer Phil Anselmo have both declared their love for the fusion of Blue Öyster Cult/Mercyful Fate-inspired retro rock, pop melodicism and occult incantations that make up their debut album, Opus Eponymous. But as the buzz intensified, so did the mystique surrounding them, with the identity of Papa Emeritus and his nameless ghouls remaining shrouded in mystery. That was until one enterprising website noticed that Ghost’s principal songwriter, The Ghoul Writer, was registered with the Swedish Performing Rights Society under his real name: Tobias Forge.

The ex-frontman of death metal act Repugnant and progressive pop band Subvision, Forge still refuses to confirm or deny that he is the brains behind Ghost. In interviews, the band will only acknowledge that the 31-year-old musician from Linköping writes their songs. And, as has been Ghost’s modus operandi, when Classic Rock asks to speak with the band we are given a conference-call number to dial and informed that an unnamed ghoul will make himself available.

Cursed with a cold – “sleeping in a coffin all week will do that to you” – the gentleman on the end of the phone line today speaks in lightly accented English and will not be drawn upon his identity. But even as he gently rails against the “assholes” he feels are intent upon ruining the “fun” of Ghost’s anonymity, it’s evident that Tobias Forge is already looking ahead to the unveiling of the next chapter of his colourful career.

Inspired by an early love of Kiss, Forge formed his first band, sleaze-rock outfit Crashdïet, in 1997 (that band still exists, albeit with no original members). He left soon afterwards to focus on Repugnant, who recorded one unreleased album, Epitome Of Darkness, before splitting (it emerged posthumously in 2006). In 2002, he put together Subvision: one listen to their atmospheric 2006 debut So Far So Noir should remove any doubts as to Forge’s stewardship of Ghost. Not that you’ll get the man himself to acknowledge this.

“Usually people get exposed for doing something wrong, and I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong,” he explains quietly. “We feel that the Ghost show we want to put on will gain something from the audience not knowing who we are.”

Forge admits to being overwhelmed by the response his band received on their US tour earlier this year. James Hetfield showed up to their San Francisco show, and elsewhere the six-piece faced sold-out crowds as diverse as they were enthusiastic, from die-hard metal fans to “cute chicks who looked like they should be waiting for Franz Ferdinand”.

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But the breadth of Ghost’s appeal has prompted questions as to their authenticity, something not helped by Forge’s announcement that “people might take offence if they knew we’re more influenced by the Beach Boys than Witchfinder General”. But he bristles at the suggestion that his band are parodying 70s metal for a hipster audience.

“I never got the ‘hipster’ thing until we toured America,” he admits. “Having grown up in an extreme-metal community I know how it feels to be in love with a music style that comes with a certain way of life, and no one likes to see an intruder piss on their front lawn. But while elements of Ghost have humour – and laughter is a gift from Satan – we’re absolutely not taking the piss out of metal.”

Forge promises that the second Ghost album, due for release in the autumn, will be as “bold and polarising” as Opus Eponymous. And the enigmatic frontman insists that questions over Ghost’s anonymity will become irrelevant.

“Will it be damaging for us to lose our mystique?” he muses. “I don’t care too much. It just takes a picture and a tweet to ‘out’ us. But I think we’ll be okay. I’d like to think that we can continue doing this for a while.”

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