When Ghost’s Opus Eponymous was released on October 18, 2010, few expected this strange band from Linköping, Sweden to become one of the biggest success stories of the subsequent decade. But that’s precisely what happened to these masked occult metallers.
In the brand new issue of Metal Hammer (opens in new tab), Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge looks back on the birth of the band and the making of their debut album. Here are 10 things we learned about Opus Eponymous along the way.
1 Ghost were originally just one of several projects Tobias was involved in
Tobias had played in numerous bands since his teens, including alt-rockers Magna Carta Cartel, hair metal revivalists Crashdiet, indie-rock outfit Subvision and death metal malcontents Repugnant. The latter two were still going concerns when he began writing songs for what would become Ghost in the late 2000s. “Between 19 and 29, I was a very unsuccessful musician,” says Tobias. “I was at a point of desperation, one year into parenthood, facing the fact that, fuck, we need more money. So I decided to do something.”
2. Tobias was working in a call centre when he conceived the concept behind Ghost
While Ghost were taking shape in their frontman’s head, he still had to help to pay the bills and put food on the table. So he took a job working for a Swedish mobile phone company. “It’s so ludicrous, because I know nothing about telephones or computers,” he says. “I just mastered the art of bullshitting.”
While he was there, he began sketching out songs, concepts and the Ghost logo while on the phone to customers. “I was sitting there just wishing for another life,” he says.
3. It was never the plan for Tobias to become Ghost’s singer
“I was always a big fan of Slash and Keith Richards,” he says. “I wanted to be the cool guitar player rather than the singer.” He contacted several established vocalists to ask if they wanted to sing the songs he had written, including ex-Candlemass frontman Messiah Marcolin, Janne “JB” Christoffersson of Grand Magus, and former Ynwgie Malmsteen singer Mats Leven, among others. None of them bit. Reluctantly, Tobias realised that if he wanted the job doing, he would have to do it himself.
4. The most unlikely influence on Ghost? The opera.
Tobias mother regularly took him to the opera as a child. He didn’t like everything he saw and heard, but there was something profoundly mystical about the room itself.
“The decor, the smoke, the smell, the silence before the curtain went up,” he says. “I fell in love with the idea of theatre. I was trying for Ghost to be a theatre version of rock’n’roll. Somewhere that you didn’t have to really indulge in individuality, in the stars of the show, just lost in the haze of fantasy.”
5. On the very day Tobias officially launched Ghost, tragedy struck
Tobias uploaded three songs to MySpace on the morning of Saturday, March 12, 2010. Later that night, his older brother Sebastian – who had introduced Tobias to rock music, comic book and horror movies as a young child – suddenly died of an undiagnosed heart condition. “It felt like some weird trade: the band for my brother,” says Tobias. “It was, like, ‘This has happened, there’s nothing I can do with it, I’ve just got to take the ball and run with it.’ And I’ve been running with it ever since.”
6. Rise Above label boss Lee Dorrian wasn’t sure what the hell he’d signed
Former Napalm Death/Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian signed Ghost sight unseen to Rise Above after hearing their songs on MySpace via a recommendation from Darkthrone drummer Fenriz. But when Tobias asked for a chunk of money for “a robe”, he began to wonder what he’d let himself in for.
“At that point I still hadn’t seen what they looked like,” recalls Lee. “Tobias kept asking for money, which was increasing, for this bespoke robe he needed to have made for a photo shoot. It ended up costing more than the actual shoot itself. I was, like, ‘Fucking hell, it better be a decent robe.’ “Then the photos came through, the very first photos we’d ever seen. It was like, ‘Fuuuuuuck…’”
7. The first promo shot of Ghost doesn’t actually feature Ghost
That very first shot of the band in their regalia – the one with the expensive robe that made Lee Dorrian wonder what they were up to – was taken by Tobias’ sister in a friend’s living room and features a bunch of ringers. “It was myself, one guy that ended up being in the band a little bit later, his neighbour and a friend of his and someone else,” he says. “It was completely fake.”
8. Schlepping around the toilet circuit was never an option
What Tobias didn’t want was to follow every other band and hit around the European toilet circuit. “I said, ‘It can't just be two dudes in T-shirts playing three songs and a load of Mercyful Fate covers in a bar.’ What I heard through those speakers was not worthy of that.”
He publicly unveiled the band at the Hammer Of Doom festival in Wurzberg, Germany, on October 23, 2010. The following day, they flew into London to play the Live Evil Festival at the 500-capacity Camden Underworld club.
“There weren’t that many people watching them,” says Lee Dorrian, who attended the show. “And the most of them didn’t know who they were. When they came on, it was, like, ‘Whoah, what the hell is this?’”
9. Keeping the members of Ghost’s identities secret was a problem - but not for the reasons you might imagine.
“I never did it because I’m shy or did not want to be seen,” he says of the band’s initial anonymity. “That was not the plan with this project. I don’t like the way things are over-exposed these days. It was somewhat difficult with everyone who wanted to peek in, but I had a bigger problem with people that wanted to peek out,” he says, referring to other band members.
10. Opus Eponymous is Rise Above’s best-selling album
Opus Eponymous has become the biggest selling album Rise Above have ever released. Even at the time, Lee Dorrian released that his independent label didn't have the resources to take them to the next level, and didn’t stand in their way way when they signed to Loma Vista in the US and Spinefarm in the UK for follow-up, 2013’s Infestissumam.
“I had this naïve idea that we could be on a label like Rise Above and we could do well doing records for them, maybe play boutiquey shows every now and then,” says Tobias. “I never really thought that it was going to take on any kind of mainstream success. Certainly not like it has.”
You can read the full story behind Ghosts’s Opus Eponymous exclusively in this month’s Metal Hammer, on sale now (opens in new tab).