Written by Eric Sperrazza
Photographs by Ester Segarra and Jimmy Hubbard
“Hey, Boys & Ghouls! Are you ready to raise the dead?” said the late Lux Interior of The Cramps on a 1995 Halloween episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.
Yes, rock music has been no stranger to macabre-themed content. Along with The Cramps, my childhood was peppered with bands whose songs and stage shows were a tongue-in-cheek amalgam with a darkly B-rated Horror Show vibe. From Alice Cooper, KISS, The Damned, and The Misfits to Gwar, Slipknot, and Rob Zombie, it seemed that rock & roll was the perfect place for Halloween to exist year-round.
In the 80s, the great ‘satanic panic’ of Heavy Metal spawned from conservative religious sects had bands leaning into devilish language and imagery as “music to piss off the squares to” became a selling point for albums and merchandise (See any Iron Maiden album cover by comparison to the college credits in history & mythology you earn by listening to a single record!).
However, in a day and age where the internet provides shock and spook with a touch of a key, it lends to a music scene that has “seen it all.” So, imagine my surprise when I heard the band Ghost while finagling the radio dial one day. Their sound is a vintage early 80’s hard rock, akin to The Scorpions, REO Speedwagon, and Def Leppard; however, the lyrics seemed more fitting for a Death Metal band. I was confused and intrigued but thoroughly entertained! I could not foresee the rabbit hole the band would drag me down with its album themes, stage shows, and media content, a venerable realm of fictitious characters, and long-running storylines. Some bands have concept albums, but the entirety of Ghost is beyond that. There is lore, character development, and imagery like nothing I had experienced before. So, as we prepare for Ghost performing this summer at The Freedom Mortgage Pavilion on the Camden Waterfront, let’s take a deep dive into every dark corner and a modicum of the band and allow this to serve as a ‘Rosetta Stone’ for new fans who, like me, are still trying to wrap their brains around what it is they are listening to.
Ghost is the brainchild of Swedish musician and songwriter Tobias Forge. An artist with experience in a full spectrum of genres, Forge fronted everything from Glam and Punk Rock bands to the more recent Alternative Rock act, Magna Carta Cartel. Forge has cited various inspirations for the band’s image and music. In interviews, he has mentioned being influenced by classic rock bands such as Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, and Kiss, as well as horror movies and the occult. But the crux of Ghost was birthed from his catholic upbringing. The stories and imagery in his childhood church and the regalia of it all terrified Forge as a young child. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he said: “I grew up with a lot of stories about exorcisms, and the devil, and angels, and all of that. And I think that’s probably where some of the darker elements of my music come from.”
Forge has described Ghost as a “theatrical rock band” that aims to offer a unique and entertaining experience to its fans with an importance to the band’s image and live performances, which includes elaborate costumes, sets, and props, as well as the use of various characters and personas. Forge has also spoken about his interest in creating a larger-than-life mythos for Ghost, with a focus on showmanship and storytelling. He has described the band’s music as “melodic rock with a pop sensibility,” with a focus on catchy hooks and melodies. Regarding the band’s lyrical themes, Forge has explored topics such as death, Satanism, and the macabre, often with tongue-in-cheek humor. Overall, Ghost’s music and image create a unique and immersive experience for fans, focusing on theatricality, storytelling, and rock anthems that have you singing the hooks in your head all day.
Ghost’s early years were shrouded in mystery, as the band members wore masks and used pseudonyms to hide their identities. Forge, who goes by the name Papa Emeritus, is always portrayed wearing a skull mask and a cardinal’s hat. The rest of the band members, known as the Nameless Ghouls, wear identical masks and robes, making it impossible to identify them individually.
Initially, Forge did not want to be recognized at all. His original idea was to have a “different” Papa Emeritus for every album and subsequent tour. Using face prosthetics and variations on his makeup, as Papa changed, so did the story of the albums and even the uniforms of the Nameless Ghouls band onstage. During a 2017 court filing over royalties, fans discovered that each different Papa was the same – Tobias Forge. As for the Nameless Ghouls, musicians from all walks of life have been cited as being a part of Ghost. Clever fans have connected the dots to former members of Magna Carta Cartel, Ugly Kid Joe, and even the tribute band Lez Zeppelin.
In addition to their music, Ghost has also developed a complex and intriguing mythology around their image and lore. Each band member is associated with a particular persona, with Papa Emeritus being the most well-known. Other characters include Sister Imperator, who serves as the band’s “mastermind” and communicates with fans through videos and social media posts. The Papa, for each new tour, carries with him new backstories, interactions with supporting characters, and new themes to their songs.
Breaking down Tobias Forge’s alter egos in Ghost –
Papa Emeritus I – The first lead singer of Ghost, portrayed as an older, bearded man wearing a skull mask and a miter. He appeared on the band’s first album, Opus Eponymous, and in the music video for “Secular Haze.”
Papa Emeritus II – The second lead singer of Ghost, portrayed as a younger version of Papa Emeritus I with a black mask and miter. He appeared on the band’s second album, Infestissumam, and in the music video for “Year Zero.”
Papa Emeritus III – The third lead singer of Ghost, portrayed as an even younger version of Papa Emeritus with a white mask and miter. He appeared on the band’s third album, Meliora, and in the music video for “Cirice.”
Papa Nihil – The next Papa Emeritus, also known as Papa Emeritus Zero, is portrayed as an old, frail man with a white skull mask and miter. He appeared in the music video for “Rats.”
Cardinal Copia – Portrayed as a more flamboyant and energetic character than his predecessors. He wears a black and silver outfit with a red scarf and white skull makeup on his face. He first appeared on the band’s fourth album, Prequelle, and in the music video for “Rats.”
Papa Emeritus IV – The current Papa, formerly Cardinal Copia, was officially anointed and has been the longest-running lead singer avatar. Seen in videos like “Spillways.”
In the realm of Ghost, a host of recurring supporting characters enrich the band’s narrative and performances. Among them, Sister Imperator assumes the role of a wise and aged nun, serving as a guiding mentor to the band members. Offering her counsel and guidance, she appears in various videos and live shows. Another notable character, Papa Nihil, takes the stage as the band’s former frontman and the father of Cardinal Copia. Portrayed as an older man with a cane, Papa Nihil regales the audience with tales of the band’s past. On the other hand, the Nameless Ghouls maintain an air of mystery and anonymity as the anonymous musicians accompany the lead singer. Clad in identical costumes and masks, they add to the enigmatic allure of the band. The Ghuleh, a seductive and dangerous female character, makes her presence felt in various GHOST songs and videos, contributing to the band’s theatricality. Additionally, the Ghoulettes, female backup singers, join the lead singer on certain songs, donning matching costumes and masks, enhancing the visual spectacle of the band’s electrifying live performances. These supporting characters collectively bring depth and visual intrigue to the immersive world of GHOST.
Above all, these characters are the true architects within the stories; The Clergy. Never truly seen, The Clergy are responsible for anointing new Papas and handling all of Ghost’s social media as every post on Youtube, Instagram, and the like always starts the same way, “A Message from The Clergy…”
In just a short time from their 2010 debut release of Opus Eponymous into the world, the band’s nostalgic sound and wildly entertaining & creative ethos they immerse their fans in have made Ghost t-shirts ubiquitous worldwide. Their videos and multimedia shorts have tied together stories, engaged fans, and kept them wanting more. In fact, Loudwire Magazine named Tobias Forge as the Metal Artist of the Decade in 2019.
All the band’s success is not without nay-sayers. Heavy Metal purists have lashed out at Ghost for cosplaying in a sandbox of Metal without the authenticity of bands like Slayer or Judas Priest. However, those critics need to look deeper into what Ghost is. A fun submersion into an undead circus of pop rock. A love letter to our collective youth and the torchbearers of the next generation of Alice Cooper and KISS. If you get it, you will find yourself more than thoroughly entertained. If you try and compare a Ghost LP to Sepultura, you will surely find yourself wanting.
Either way, Tobias Forge and Ghost press on with appearances in Iron Maiden’s RPG game, Legacy of the Beast, their own soon-to-be-released game, merchandise, new albums, and undoubtedly new Papas and stories to come. Those that see Ghost, and more appropriately Tobias Forge, for the genius creativity in storytelling in the modern era, the stage shows. The sound of the plucks on the heartstrings of Gen-X’ers, millions of fans globally, are here for all of it and waiting with bated breath for the next theme, the show, and the next anointing!
Tickets are still available to see Ghost with the opening act, Amon Amarth, on August 25th at the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey.
To purchase Ghost’s new album, Phantomime, Click here.
Follow Ghost online