"At some point between now and the next album there will have been a change": Tobias Forge teases the fate of Papa Emeritus IV and what 2024 might hold for Ghost

Ghost Live in LA 2023
(Image credit: Ryan Chang)

Tobias Forge isn’t one for regrets. “Of course, if I could go back in time and curate everything, there would be a few things that I would have done differently,” says Ghost’s frontman. “But that has very little to do with my actual career.” 

The last 12 months have borne this out. In September 2023, Ghost played two spectacular shows at Los Angeles’ 17,500-capacity Kia Forum. While they’d headlined the venue before, it was only for one night. This pattern of growth was repeated across the whole of the US leg of their recent Imperatour. 

“On this last tour, you can tell that something has happened,” he tells Hammer. “There’s a lot more kids at the show. The last time we played Detroit, we played in front of 4000 people. This time, it was over 10,000. We’re doubling everywhere.”

Those two LA gigs did more than just rubber-stamp the Swedes’ ascent to metal’s A-list. Filmed for a mysterious project that may or may not be a concert film, documentary, movie or some hybrid of the three (Tobias remains tight-lipped over exactly what), they saw Ghost delivering a visual assault that was memorable even by their own theatrical standards, involving multiple costume changes, a string quartet and, most notably, a troupe of dancers. 

“We opened Pandora’s Box,” says Tobias. “We were adding all these other elements to the show that a lot of people – myself included – thought, ‘That would be cool to do all the time.’ Which is kind of complicated, because with something like the dancers, you’re essentially adding another team of performers. It’s another set of people who need to train and be in shape and travel and be fed.” 

It turns out that even a band as successful as Ghost have to watch the budget sheets. “There are still budgetary issues, absolutely,” says Tobias. “Every cool idea you can ever come up with is really expensive. It always costs money and money is what controls everything. You have to pick and choose.” 

That’s not to say the singer isn’t thinking of future Ghost live extravaganzas. As a kid, he would rewatch VHS tapes of concert movies by the likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. The more epic the show, the more he loved them. 

“I’m such a big Rolling Stones fan, and I really love the film Let’s Spend The Night Together. How that stage was built, it felt like this really colourful thing. I would freeze-frame the film and draw all the bits, just trying to understand how everything works and what the people on the stage were doing. I’ve always been fascinated by the behemoth that is the rock’n’roll live performance.” 

Tobias holds up Rammstein’s rise from arena band to stadium headliners, complete with retina-searing, next-level stage sets, as a model of what a live performance can be.

“They were doing really well before, but since they’ve been doing the outdoor thing over the last three or four years, they’ve really upped the standard,” he says. “They’re friends and colleagues, but I look at what they’re doing and it’s so inspiring to see. They definitely prove you can make that jump from being an arena-selling band to playing to 55,000 people a night. But you do need to put a lot of effort into it. 

“The one thing that goes against that dream for me is that I really don’t like outdoor shows, because you’re up against the elements. Outdoor shows are great when it’s slightly overcast, 20˚C out, no wind or anything. But if it’s windy or raining or too hot, it just fucks with my control tendencies.”

Of course, the big change that many expected to accompany the end of the Imperatour – the death of the most recent incarnation of Papa Emeritus and the introduction of a replacement – never happened, despite some seriously big hints in the Ghost – Chapter mini videos. Unsurprisingly, Tobias is cagey about what’s coming down the pipe for Papa Emeritus IV. “At some point between now and when the next album comes, there will have been a change,” he says. “That’s all I will say.”

What he does reveal is that he has started writing for the new album (“A few songs”), though where he’s heading with it remains to be seen. 

“I like to compare what I’m doing to being a chef,” he says, unfurling a culinary metaphor. “A chef with a few different interests and specialities. So you might start a few different restaurants – an Italian one, a Greek one, an Asian Fusion one. But what they all have in common is the seasoning and the decor and the interior design… the secret sauce. With me, each record, each new cycle, is a new restaurant, but I don’t have to sit with an empty paper and come up with something new every time because the secret sauce is the same. If it comes from my notebook, it will sound like Ghost.” 

One of the most interesting factors in Ghost’s recent success has been Tobias’s willingness to work with outside songwriters. Since 2018’s Prequelle, his collaborators have included Klas Åhlund (who has written songs for Britney Spears and Charlie XCX, among others), the duo of Salem Al Fakir and Vincent Pontare (whose credits include Madonna and Avicii), and Peter Svensson, formerly of breezy Swedish indie-pop band The Cardigans. Ghost are far from the only metal band to work with outside collaborators, but they’re one of the few who are open about it. 

“What they all have in common is that they all come from a rock background,” says Tobias. “Peter from The Cardigans is an old hard rocker, Klas Åhlund is an old metalhead. These are friends of mine, and we’re very fluent together. I know that when I’ve taken an idea as far as I can, then they can go, ‘Maybe we can do this, maybe we could go that way…’ All of a sudden, that opens my head. It becomes multi-dimensional. I think better when I have someone in the room that I trust. It makes me write better, because I get challenged.” 

Tobias himself has tried writing for other artists in the past. It’s something he quickly realised he wasn’t cut out for. “I tried to do it in the beginning, and that’s how some of the songs that ended up being Ghost songs started,” he says. “He Is [from 2010’s Opus Eponymous debut] was originally written as something I hoped my publishing company at the time was going to pitch to a bigger artist, but they didn’t because they were useless. Even when I started the co-writing thing, I did so with the intention of writing songs for others. 

Every time I tried it, the people I was writing with would say: ‘That’s a Ghost song, that sounds like you, it’s not something we can pitch to anyone else.’ That happened three or four times.” 

This lack of distraction is probably a good thing, given Ghost’s upward trajectory shows no sign of reversing. “I know people talk about how everything went so fast,” says Tobias, “but now 13 years later, it’s been a long haul of growing into these pants.”

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.