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The Story Behind The Song: Ghost’s Square Hammer

Ghost

The brand new issue of Metal Hammer is a special edition celebrating the 100 greatest songs of the century (er, so far). Chosen by us, our readers and some of metal’s biggest and best names, it’s the definitive countdown of the anthems that have defined the last two decades – and the stories behind them. Ghost’s 2016 track Square Hammer came in at No.4 in the list. We look back on the creation of the song that kicked Tobias Forge and co‘s career to the next level.

Metal Hammer line break

In the decade-plus we’ve had them in our world, Ghost have made a career from crafting catchy-as-hell, deceptively subversive rock anthems. Even on the band’s ‘heaviest’ album to date - 2010’s Mercyful Fate-meets-Blue Öyster Cult debut, Opus Eponymous - there were rock club screamers-in-waiting in the form of tracks like Stand By Him and the immense Ritual

Ultimately, though, it was in the autumn of 2016 that Ghost would unveil their finest moment yet. Initially, the release from which it came seemed poised as little more than a fun stopgap EP. Titled Popestar, it featured a clutch of covers of surprising song choices including classics by 80s pop heroes Eurythmics and EDM-indie duo Simian Mobile Disco. Leading it, though, was a new composition, Square Hammer - a song with a riff so instantaneous, a hook so insanely catchy and a chorus so singable that it seized possession of any brain it entered and stayed there for the rest of the year. 

“The riff was the thing that originated the song,” Ghost maiman Tobias Forge told Loudwire in 2019. “Actually, I nicked it from one of my previous songs! The writing of the song went very quick after that.”

Even though it arrived halfway through the Meliora cycle, it reinvigorated Ghost’s setlist for the remainder of that tour, chiefly thanks to its capacity to be the perfect party-starter.

Square Hammer was definitely me thinking that we need a big opener,” Tobias added. “[We needed a] 2 Minutes To Midnight, a straight rocker. This was halfway through the Meliora cycle, and I just decided, ‘Well, I have this song, that is gonna be our new opener.’ It served as a really good opener, and now it serves as a really good closer!”

The track was a smash hit, eventually reaching the No.1 spot on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart - the first song by a Swedish band to do so. A few months after its release, Square Hammer would also be used as the theme song for a major WWE show, NXT Takeover: San Antonio, even being used to soundtrack the ‘hype video’ for that pay-per-view’s headline match. It was yet more evidence that Ghost had not only perfected the formula of merging heavy metal evilness with irresistible pop hooks, but had started to properly infiltrate the mainstream.

The video for Square Hammer was another typical instance of evil-imagery-meets-daft-fun. Paying homage to iconic 1922 horror flick Nosferatu, it sees Papa Emeritus III (in ‘Dapper Papa’ mode) and the Ghouls watching a movie starring, er, Papa Emeritus III (in ‘Pope Papa’ mode). Soon, strange things are afoot, and a giant Papa is let loose upon an unsuspecting city. It remains Ghost’s most-watched video. The song that bore it remains their most streamed single. Hardly surprising: if you want the perfect example of how to craft a succinct, simple heavy metal instant classic, look no further than Square Hammer

Read the full list in the brand new Metal Hammer, out now

Metal Hammer new issue

(Image credit: Future)