“As all popes do, they have their reign and then we continue forward”: What happened the night Ghost’s Papa Emeritus I passed the torch to Papa II onstage

Papa Emeritus I and Papa Emeritus II of Ghost onstage in 2012
(Image credit: Felipe Ortega via YouTube)

The transformation of Ghost’s singer is now an expected part of their gimmick. Heck, at this very moment, Sweden’s premier satanic church have concluded their Impera album cycle, and fans are chomping at the bit to see the new alias and garb that leader Tobias Forge will take. All the anticipation around the phenomenon makes it easy to forget the shock and confusion that followed the first time this band “changed singers”.

It was on December 15, 2012, that Papa Emeritus I regenerated into his successor. Ghost were upwards of two years removed from their debut album at the time, with a new day on the horizon – or, more specifically, a cover EP and a second record. Tobias, the lynchpin of his collective since their 2006 formation, had known from the moment they dreamt up their clerical theme that he’d be changing costumes throughout their history.

“There was only the idea of there being a toastmaster, a leader, the singer who was gonna be the band’s equivalent to Eddie in Iron Maiden, but he was also gonna sing,” the pontiff remembered during a 2019 Sirius XM interview.

“When that character turned into a fully-fledged Pope that had a name, that’s where I had the idea of, ‘Oh, his name must be The First.’ Because as all popes do, they have their reign and then we continue forward. I knew that music lovers today are very nostalgic, but I figured that if we create nostalgia fast by creating these little dynasties that will never come back, there will be people that, hopefully, will be proud of the fact that they saw the first incarnation.”

Thus, Ghost 1.0 held their last live ceremony in December 2012 – in their hometown of Linköping, Sweden – to usher in the new age. With first singer Papa Emeritus I, the band would perform seven songs and one bonus track from Opus Eponymous. Tobias would then switch costumes into the debuting Papa II backstage while an actor assumed the Papa I get-up, letting the original ‘re-emerge’ and pass the torch, in person and before an audience, to the next generation.

It was an ambitious bait-and-switch for a still-fledgling band but, as the footage below proves, it went off spotlessly. Ghost’s Nameless Ghouls closed the Opus… set with Genesis, using the four-minute instrumental to grant Tobias plenty of time to swap characters. The Papa I actor then came for what audiences didn’t know would be the character’s final bow, before walking to the far side of the stage to hand the mic to Tobias/Papa II as he was revealed by a spotlight.

Io sono Papa Emeritus es secondo,” the successor declared, introducing himself in Italian to further the papal connection. After that, he gracefully crooned through the live debut of future Infestissumam standout Secular Haze.

Perplexity and excitement naturally ensued. People argued over whether or not Ghost’s singer had legitimately shed rank and permitted someone new into his robes (oh, what naive times). One thing was certain, though: with Secular Haze being made available to download right after the show, Ghost’s next steps would sound just as glorious and sinful as what had come before.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.