Published May 31, 2018For the majority of the band's existence, the members of Ghost remained anonymous. The Swedish shock-rock project was fronted by Papa Emeritus, a skeletal-looking pope figure, and backed by a rotating cast of "nameless ghouls" who hid their identities behind masks. In 2017, the curtain was pulled back when ringleader Tobias Forge was sued by four of his former band members, who claimed they were cheated out of their share of royalties for touring and album sales.
Forge tells Exclaim! that he's more selective now about the way he decides who plays the parts of the nameless ghouls.
"The actual legal process itself hasn't decided that, but the events that led up to it definitely have affected my way of choosing who to ask. Nowadays, I have definitely been very, very adamant of hiring people because of their ability, rather than their proximity," explains Forge.
With each album, Ghost have ushered in a new Papa Emeritus to front the band, but since the outing of some of the band members, they have "killed" the three former frontmen and found a new leader, Cardinal Copia, for their fourth record Prequelle. Forge says that if Cardinal Copia proves himself worthy, he could potentially take on the role of Papa Emeritus IV.
"A lot about the new record — but also throughout all of our records, and the whole concept — is about the concept of mortality and the concept of passing the torch," says Forge. "After Papa IV, there must be a Papa V. There's always someone coming after you. You are not eternal. You're not immortal. That is not to say there is not an afterlife — I'm just saying that everybody has to pass the torch forward."
Prequelle is centred around the idea of surviving through a catastrophic event such as the Black Death, and while it lies in medieval themes, Forge says the record relates closely to today's world.
"There have been tons of black metal records written about the death aspect of the Black Death. Half of the European population was wiped out, but half of the population did not die. This record is more about surviving through an ordeal like the Black Death."
Forge carefully plans each step of Ghost and describes himself as a "stickler for control." He began collecting snippets of music for Prequelle while completing the band's last album, and even now, the musician is preparing ideas and gathering material for their next record.
"Some of them amount to more fully fleshed-out songs and by the time that I know I'm going to hit the studio again, in probably January 2020, by then the pile will be relatively large," says Forge. "Sometimes I know the theme years in advance; I mean, I knew even before Meliora that I wanted to make this record, but that didn't mean that the whole record was written."
Ghost's live performances play out more like a theatre performance than a typical rock or metal show. The band's on-stage theatrics look and sound like a satanic church service, including things such as faux stained glass murals, nuns who walk amongst the crowd, and fans joining together to chant lyrics that sound like anti-Catholic scripture.
Forge explains the major problem he has experienced with the band's live set is an inconsistent range of what they are allowed to do on stage. The musician says he would like to eventually perform exclusively in arenas.
"It's the same thing every night, and you can deliver the same thing to people regardless if you're in L.A. or Paris or the outskirts of another small market somewhere. That's the one really annoying thing, when you're playing the venues underneath that, because that's when you have to change things every day," explains Forge.
Being a massive fan of KISS and other classic rock bands, Forge discusses the idea of legacy rock acts carrying on without their original members. While he is not pleased with the idea of any classic bands continuing after their founding members have moved on, he says music lovers should reconsider how they talk about those band's futures.
"If I have great grandkids and they want to go see the Alice Cooper show, but it's technically not Vincent Furnier, who am I to spit on that just because it's not my Alice Cooper? How else are we going to hear those songs being played live? We can say from our perspective that those are cover bands, but they won't know any better," says Forge.
Comparisons have been drawn between Ghost and KISS for a number of reasons, most prominently for their use of makeup and that both bands stayed anonymous in the early stages of their careers. Although he is unsure of how it would happen, Forge says there is a chance Ghost could carry on without him leading the band one day.
"Maybe if I work hard for the rest of my life, Ghost might be something worth carrying into the future without me, but does that mean that it's being continuously worked upon? I don't know," says Forge. "There seems to be plenty of inspiration for the project to live on in some way or form, but I don't know and luckily I don't think I'll have to make a decision on that."
Prequelle is out June 1 on Loma Vista.