Diabolicum Futurum: The Mysterious Future of Ghost
Ghost‘s return to the road is welcome news for their army of fans, but prompts as many questions as it answers.
Principium: The Beginning
Mystery has always been the bedrock of Ghost‘s existence. Founded in 2006, the Swedish metal band exploded onto the scene with 2010’s debut, Opus Eponymous. The imagery was diabolical — a stark-white, satanic pope (Papa Emeritus I) out in front of a masked band of “Nameless Ghouls” — while the music was irresistible, an intoxicating blend of timeless heavy metal riffage, late ’70s album-oriented rock and modern pop sensibility.
Opus Eponymous created a stir… and with stirs come questions. Who is this?
The album, the artwork, the tour and even the publishing provided no answers. All the original tracks on Opus Eponymous were credited to the mysterious, anonymous “A Ghoul Writer.”
Ghost‘s second release, 2013’s Infestissumam, and especially their third, 2015’s Meliora, cemented the band as hard rock’s next big thing — a square hammer to the windshield of soulless, selfie-taking, Top 40 auto-tune. The album appeared on 2015 “Best Of” lists in publications across the hard rock landscape and from press as varied as L.A. Weekly and Rolling Stone. Meliora’s lead single “Cirice” won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.
While there were whispers of who were behind the masks and the makeup at this point in the band’s history, the mystery endured, spurred on by a rapidly growing, rabid fan base. Who are they? What the hell is this?
Short answer at that time — this is potentially the most popular next-gen rock band in the world.
With the release of 2018’s Prequelle, Ghost removed the “potentially.” The record catapulted the band into arenas and fully possessed mainstream consciousness. Prequelle debuted at #3 on Billboard. Lead single, “Rats” went to Number 1 at rock radio. It stayed there for seven weeks. Follow up “Dance Macabre” went to #1 as well. Hockey arenas blasted “Dance” from their speakers. It took NFL games into commercial break. Ghost opened for Metallica in stadiums throughout Europe. They headlined arenas across the globe. This became THIS.
Given Ghost‘s level of growing success and scrutiny between Meliora and Prequelle, some of their mystique inevitably rubbed off. A lawsuit brought by several “Nameless Ghouls” over past band profits finally unmasked “Papa Emeritus” as Tobias Forge. Forge, formerly of death metal band Repugnant and glam metallers Crashdïet, had conceived of an early version of Ghost‘s ominous sound and mysterious look shortly after writing the pulverizing riffs to “Stand By Him” and “Prime Mover,” two soon-to-be anchor tracks on Opus Eponymous:
“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,’ Forge told Metal Hammer in 2020. “What I heard through those speakers was worthy of more than that.”
Getting sued was yet another turning point in a long line of turning points for Forge. He told The Pulse of Radio (as per Blabbermouth) at the time that the lawsuit only inspired him to work harder at making Ghost a success. “I had a situation that urgently told me to salvage the situation and reclaim what is mine and also justify that it was mine to begin with,” he explained. “It’s just growing pains, and all this has just been — it’s the result of things going well, not the opposite.”
Through it all, amazingly, most of the band’s mystery remained. While Forge was unmasked, the new band wasn’t. And Ghost used certain musicians in the studio and others on the road — who were they? A series of witchy, kitschy video “chapters” leading up to the release of Prequelle doubled down on the mysterious characters Forge had conceived. There was Cardinal Copia, Forge‘s alter-ego, a demonic pope-in-training; Sister Imperator, the band’s enigmatic puppet-master; and Papa Nihil, their, among other things, satanic, satiric, saxophonist. While the (big) business of Ghost may have forced Forge to go public — he appeared without makeup at the 2018 Grammy Awards — these first gothic, atmospheric chapters went a long way in building anticipation for Prequelle while successfully maintaining the band’s dark aura.
With Ghost, success bred an org chart. Successive chapters and other related announcements, were now relayed to the world as “Message(s) From the Clergy,” the public relations arm of the Ghost machine. Through the Prequelle cycle and follow up, two-song EP, Seven Inches of Satanic Panic, fans looked to a new “Message From the Clergy” to regularly deliver the latest on Ghost. And deliver it did — new tour dates, new chapters in the video saga, new music, and yes, new Ghost merchandise — even pop-satanic churches need to pass the plate around.
Per Pestem: The Pandemic
The highly successful Prequelle tour, initially “Rats! On the Road” and then the larger (in terms of venue) second leg, “The Ultimate Tour Named Death,” ended in December of 2019 after a string of arena shows throughout North America and Europe.
Ghost‘s only live appearance in 2020, dubbed “A Final Gig Named Death,” saw Cardinal Copia emerge from a mid-set comic, demonic conclave as the newly elected “Papa Emeritus IV.” Be it timing or something more sinister — this is Ghost we’re talking about — “A Final Gig” took place on March 3rd, 2020 in Mexico City, mere days before Covid-19 shut down live events and the world.
Long before the pandemic, however, Forge had laid out a roadmap for Ghost‘s future, telling the Quincy, Illinois’ Herald-Whig in September of 2019:
“ is going to be spent making a new record, a new record that will come out in 2021, the beginning of 2021, and then we’re looking at 18 months of touring again,” said Forge. “Next year is going to be, at least from a touring point of view, off.”
So, as 2020 dawned and the pandemic roared to full-throttle, Ghost found themselves at the unique collision of “timing is everything” and “the best-laid plans.” Touring was impossible, and the studio — for critical Album #5 — seemed the best place to be. For a moment, the band’s schedule appeared as if it were miraculously going to thread the smallest of needles — getting off the road just as the pandemic hit, writing a new record in a socially-distanced studio, then mounting the most important tour of their career in the relative safety of post-pandemic life. Diabolic intervention.
It was not to be.
The pandemic persisted. So did speculation. Some fans assumed an early 2020 recording schedule meant a late 2020 record release. Others took Forge‘s comments of a new album in early 2021 as gospel. Neither deadline, imagined or real, was met.
The Clergy was awfully quiet. But mystery, never fully lost, had returned in full.
In Posterum: The Future
From the outside, prior to their recent announcement, it may appear as if Ghost’s recording and touring future was extremely murky. However, Forge has been clear with his intentions, telling Sweden Rock Magazine in October 2020, “We will not release an album until we know we are going on tour. [A new record] will coincide with a tour start. Then it may happen that we announce the record at a date and if for some reason it is not possible to tour, then it is a different matter. But we would not plan it today in any other way than that [the] tour and record are connected.”
At that time, Forge put the tentative album release date seemingly in March 2021.
However, throughout the summer of 2021 the only “Message(s) from The Clergy” the Ghost faithful received were a few reminders that limited edition color represses of Prequelle were available for purchase. Then, with little warning and in quick succession, the Ghost engine suddenly crackled with life. September 10th brought the release of Ghost’s cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” On September 19th we had the co-headlining (with Volbeat) tour announcement. New music seems the most logical domino now – but when?
Perhaps the Ghost machine is simply waiting for tour-mates Volbeat to have their time in the spotlight, a coordinated move to ensure there’s no competition for news cycles or consumer spending. Volbeat‘s new single “Shotgun Blues,” premiered on September 23rd, eighth record “Servant of the Mind” releases December 3rd, the tour kicks off January 25th, 2022; this is the tried-and-true album launch blueprint that Ghost may well follow: lead single, album drop, tour kickoff.
The time for this type of launch, however, is growing short.
Given “The Clergy’s” recent activity, red lights have clearly switched to yellow. So, is a green light on Album #5 next? As far back as 2019, Forge had his sights set on it, telling Kerrang in November of that year:
“I look at many fifth albums as a guide as to the urgency for what that record will need to be, with [Iron Maiden’s] Powerslave being a great example. By the fifth album, you’re at a point in your career where you have this momentum built up, and you have the expectancy of people depending on you, so you have to put something special in those many spotlights. You need to step up and make a record that’s worth it and justifies all of these things.”
Opus Eponymous was a late ’70s AOR breath of fresh air. Infestissumam sidelined the guitars in favor of trippy, choral-laden sounds. Meliora was a raging slab of metal. Prequelle mixed Ozzy and Abba. So what the hell will Album #5 even be?
Forge shed some light on this later in the same interview, when he compared — albeit humbly — where Ghost is now to where Metallica were coming off of the …And Justice For All touring cycle.
“I’m looking at what [Metallica] did in 1988,” he said. “We’re on our fourth album, as they were on the Damaged Justice Tour, so the next stop is the Black Album.”
Lofty for sure, but not out of the question when adjusted for today’s hard rock landscape. Meliora hit #8 on the Billboard charts. Prequelle went to #3. With the right lead single and a sprinkle of mummy dust, Ghost may find themselves looking down at everyone.
When will that be? The mystery continues.