Armed with a gleefully luxurious new rock record – and a flame-spurting, cathedral-decked stage show to match – Ghost were one of 2022’s juiciest, sparkliest prospects.
Fifth album Impera was built for the arenas they headlined, conveying Tobias Forge’s internal web of doomy metal, enormous riffs and bombastic singalongs to delighted audiences. On top of that, they became TikTok stars (after a user posted a Stranger Things-themed video accompanied by live Ghost favourite Mary On A Cross).
This year they go back on tour, including an appearance at Download Festival in June, and they've just released a new version of Spillways – one of Impera's many highlights – with added vocals Def Leppard's Joe Elliott.
What stands out in your memories of 2022?
Going back to touring was a fantastic feeling. In the beginning it felt almost unreal; still with a bit of restriction, which was kind of unintuitive, but the last tour we did, in August/September, was as good as normal. We released the record when we said we would, we managed to back it up with seventy shows. We cancelled one show in total. That’s a good result.
Impera has dark, historically rooted themes, but it’s also music that makes the listener feel so many things – joy, aggression, excitement, sorrow... After such a turbulent couple of years there’s something cathartic about that.
I am very happy about how the record came out, and that it seems to be well-received among our fans. That’s a tremendous feeling. I feel like I managed to do a lot of things I set out to do. We’re gonna continue next year, we still have a lot of things to do. But right now we’re just recharging a little.
Kaisarion has been a hit live. For a song about the brutal murder of a female Roman philosopher, it really gets the party going.
Yeah, I’m still surprised that with a song that does what it does – and was so well received and opened up the shows – there’s never been talk about turning it into a single. Which I don’t understand. But at the end of the day it’s a label decision, and people around that decide which ones will, quote-unquote, ‘work best’. And I’ve realised that I’m not really capable of choosing. I remember Mary On A Cross was a B-side.
It’s weird how that happens with some songs.
Yeah, I must say I feel very optimistic with regards to how that song is taking a life on its own. Even though it was technically a B-side on a fun additional thing [2019’s Seven Inches Of Satanic Panic] – it was not our main single from a new album – we have always played it ever since it came out, on every show. Maybe a few exceptions, but I’ve always pushed that song as something that I felt very good about.
On that subject, you’re viral on TikTok now. What is it about that platform that appeals?
I hardly knew what it was until two months ago! I have two almost fourteen-year-old kids, so of course I’d heard the phenomenon mentioned. It’s an insanely big thing among kids and teenagers. What happens is they create these short snippets, funny, sad or emotional clips, to which they often tag some sort of music or sound. And if you are a creator of sound or music, you might be tagged on to a clip that might go ‘viral’.
That way you hit a lot more people that you might never entertain, you know, aiming your guns at. So it’s a bit of a crap-shoot as well. We are not a big mainstream act, so obviously there’s going to be a mixed bag of reactions. Because people in general are kind of strange to a lot of these aesthetics of rock, and especially the darker aspects of it.
It has brought the band more attention.
But if all that attention is a good or a bad thing, we do not know yet. There have been people who might have come on to the track, and as soon as they see what the band is about – or what they perceive the band to be about – there’s backlash, because it’s like: “Oh my, God fearing hater!” “I don’t like it!” “This is communist bullshit!” So there are two sides of the coin. But it’s a great bonus if we can get new people, especially kids, into liking rock music or other things, or if it makes them feel in any way better-informed, if you will.
Do you think TikTok will be a bigger deal for musicians in the future?
I don’t know. I think when you’re a musician, and you’re making records, you need to have a certain strategic mind. But your job at the end of the day is making records and playing live. That is the heart of the matter. If you sit around waiting for a viral thing to happen, you can wait a long fucking time.
Back in May, the identities of the Nameless Ghouls were confirmed on social media. How do you feel about them not being strictly nameless any more?
Well, they haven’t really been for quite some time. So for me it was not an overnight sensation. And as long as it doesn’t in any way interfere with what we are doing, there’s no desire that I have for people not to feel proud or happy about what they’re doing.
You’ve lamented not being able to play more guitar. If you could be the guitarist for a day in any band, which would it be?
Good question. There’s several bands. I would have loved to be what Mick Taylor was in 1969, coming into the Rolling Stones at their best era – but I would have stayed around! That would have been a great experience. Very fun music to play. Definitely within the limits of what I can play really well. I spent a lot of time as a kid learning how to play guitar. Otherwise I would love to play in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers; I love what John Frusciante does.
Def Leppard might be a good fit too. Joe Elliott spoke very highly of Impera when it came out.
That would have also been really cool. Also a fantastic band. In an alternative reality, in an alternative life, I would have wanted to do a lot of other things. But I did hear that [that Joe said those things], and it was very heartwarming, of course. A very big honour.