Car­di­nal Copia is in the midst of a grip­ping ser­mon. The suc­ces­sor to Papa Emer­i­tus I, II and III – the de­monic anti-pope fig­ure­heads that fronted Ghost’s first three al­bums Opus Epony­mous, In­festis­sumam and Me­liora re­spec­tively – has just led the band through their cover of Roky Erick­son’s If You Have Ghosts. He is stood on an almighty al­tar atop a tiled floor on the Royal Al­bert Hall’s stage, with a large stained glass win­dow tow­er­ing be­hind. He’s dressed in tight-fit­ting black, but with the many cos­tume changes tonight – in­clud­ing the odd cas­sock ac­ces­sorised with a swing­ing thuri­ble full of in­cense – it’s dif­fi­cult to keep tabs. His hair is slicked back like a Ham­mer Hor­ror vam­pire, those hol­low eyes sur­vey­ing a con­gre­ga­tion of 5,272 de­vout wor­ship­pers.

“Some­times life is shit,” he purrs in a vaguely Ital­ian ac­cent, his words pre­sum­ably, in part, a ref­er­ence to the le­gal bat­tle with the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­piers of the Nameless Ghouls’ cowls – a dis­pute that sent the mys­tique be­hind the Swedish rock­ers tum­bling into the pub­lic eye at the end of last year. “But some­times it is good,” he adds, his voice lilt­ing up­wards, a leather-gloved hand mo­tion­ing to the sight be­fore him. “Tonight is very, very good.”

For a front­man syn­ony­mous with grand ges­tures, when it comes to sum­maris­ing the qual­ity of this evening, the Car­di­nal’s words are a woe­ful un­der­state­ment. Tonight is noth­ing short of dev­il­ishly in­cred­i­ble, largely be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble to pick a stand­out

mo­ment from a set in­un­dated with them. You could ar­gue it’s Year Zero, where stab­bing gui­tars and blood-red light­ing col­lide in­tox­i­cat­ingly. Per­haps it’s Mi­asma, ar­guably the band’s most di­vi­sive track de­spite be­ing an in­stru­men­tal, dur­ing which Papa Ni­hil, the Car­di­nal’s an­cient men­tor, is slowly led on­stage, only to sud­denly un­leash that sax­o­phone solo to thun­der­ous cheers. Or there’s the oddly life-af­firm­ing spec­ta­cle of thou­sands of peo­ple singing along to the lyrics of Pro Me­mo­ria, a prime cut from fourth al­bum Prequelle. ‘Don’t you for­get about dy­ing/don’t you for­get about your friend death/ Don’t you for­get that you will die,’ they sing with an aban­don sug­gest­ing joy­ful res­ig­na­tion. And don’t for­get the mo­ments of hu­mour in be­tween the hymns, an in­creas­ingly preva­lent el­e­ment within the Ghost show: the oc­ca­sion­ally car­nal Car­di­nal sug­gest­ing Mummy Dust has the power to “tickle [our] tits” and “make [our] asses wob­ble”, or his in­cred­u­lous re­ac­tion to the hys­te­ria caused by the con­fetti canon dur­ing that song (“We throw some worth­less shit at you and you all go crazy!”). Even the seem­ingly lesser mo­ments have a deeper sig­nif­i­cance. At one point, one of the gui­tar-play­ing Nameless Ghouls jok­ingly peels off the riff to Deep Pur­ple’s Smoke On The Wa­ter. As we soon dis­cover, the Bri­tish hard rock le­gends played a cen­tral role in this show be­ing where it is.

Just as there are in­nu­mer­able high­lights, there are equally as many rea­sons why this show is so sig­nif­i­cant. For starters, it’s a new peak for one of rock’s most un­likely, but de­served, suc­cess sto­ries. It is also, with the ex­cep­tion of their tri­umphant head­line slot at last year’s Blood­stock fes­ti­val, the most spec­tac­u­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Ghost live show wit­nessed in the UK so far. Plus, it’s proof the band’s re­cent dra­mas have done noth­ing to im­pede their steep up­wards tra­jec­tory. But be­fore all that, and per­haps less widely ap­pre­ci­ated, tonight is the vivid re­al­i­sa­tion of one lit­tle boy’s vi­sion. A lit­tle boy named To­bias.

On the af­ter­noon of the show, the older To­bias Forge – the man the world now knows to be the mas­ter­mind of Ghost – is pac­ing around an empty Al­bert Hall dressed in a leather jacket cov­ered in punk badges. On the floor be­fore him, small scraps of con­fetti and the odd dis­carded Union Jack flag be­tray the fes­tiv­i­ties that were here last night, the Last Night Of The Proms, the cli­max of an an­nual eight-week sea­son of clas­si­cal con­certs. K! won­ders aloud whether the 37-year-old gets a kick out of putting on some­thing so sub­ver­sive a mere 24 hours af­ter this great room played host to some­thing so civilised.

“It’s hu­mor­ous given what goes on here on an ev­ery­day ba­sis,” he an­swers with a laugh. “But I’m not re­ally think­ing of it from the per­spec­tive of the stain­ing el­e­ment of my pres­ence.”

In­stead, he says, he’s think­ing of it from the per­spec­tive of his younger self, the fledg­ling rock fan in his na­tive Swe­den with a par­tic­u­lar pen­chant for live al­bums. “Deep Pur­ple’s live al­bum [1969’s Con­certo For Group And Orches­tra] was recorded here, which I had an early love for. Even be­fore that I had [1966’s] Got Live If You Want It by The Rolling Stones, which was also recorded here. They weren’t just great per­for­mances, they con­trib­uted to both bands’ mys­tiques and their sto­ries, and so I’ve al­ways wanted to play here with Ghost.” This show is part of the band’s A Pale Tour Named Death jaunt, which wowed cities across the U.S. ear­lier this year, treat­ing au­di­ences to two hours of mu­sic with an in­ter­val.

“I re­ally like the for­mat,” en­thuses To­bias. “Since Ghost was just a fig­ment of my imag­i­na­tion, I’ve al­ways thought of the pre­sen­ta­tion hav­ing more in com­mon with a the­atri­cal show than a head-bang­ing con­cert, though we’re prob­a­bly in the grey area be­tween the two.”

To­bias’ ded­i­ca­tion to pro­duc­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of live ex­pe­ri­ence even ex­tends to seem­ingly in­ci­den­tal de­tails, such as the in­tro mu­sic – in tonight’s case the cho­ral Mis­erere Mei, Deus by Gre­go­rio Al­le­gri to open the first half, and the un­set­tling Masked Ball by Jo­ce­lyn Pook for the sec­ond.

“That’s to take the four-bar beat out of the au­di­ence’s heads,” he ex­plains. “To get them into an­other mind­set. When you see Me­tal­lica, be­fore­hand they play [AC/DC’S] It’s A Long Way To The Top, and you know that some fuck­ing heavy shit is com­ing. I love that, but I wanted Ghost to be dif­fer­ent. I wanted Ghost to come on­stage to a con­text where the brain isn’t switched on to rock’n’roll. I’ve there­fore been a lit­tle against the idea of hav­ing open­ing acts. From an artis­tic point of view, it’s hard to find bands or artists that add some­thing to the evening – to find an ap­pe­tiser for a main course that’s so… strange.” For all his tongue-in-cheek pro­nounce­ments on­stage be­neath lay­ers of pros­thet­ics, To­bias is very se­ri­ous. He’s a man who needs rou­tine, telling us that this iso­lated show is a lit­tle un­nerv­ing, as he wor­ries he’ll for­get his cues (“If you want to see us at our most ef­fi­cient, come see us on a Tues­day night 15 dates into a tour.”) And speak­ing to him about Ghost, you can’t help but get a sense there’s a bat­tle rag­ing in his heart as to his band’s true pur­pose. As it turns out, these sus­pi­cions are cor­rect. “I’m one of those rock’n’roll per­sons who vainly be­lieves that what I’m do­ing is more art­ful than kitsch,” he says with a smile, look­ing up from where we’re stand­ing on the floor area of one of the UK’S most leg­endary venues to the chapel of un­rest that’s been erected in his name. “I like to say that what I do has a pur­pose, or that I have a mes­sage, or that I draw in­spi­ra­tion from more eclec­tic mu­sic than oth­ers, but at the end of the day this is en­ter­tain­ment, there to make peo­ple laugh, move, buy beers and have fun. I’m not kid­ding my­self into think­ing that what I’m do­ing is of a higher pur­pose.”

To­wards the end of the evening’s show, there’s a telling mo­ment given the drama in Ghost’s re­cent past (“the tur­moil” as To­bias dubs it). Car­di­nal Copia takes a mo­ment to in­tro­duce the mu­si­cians join­ing him on­stage, ded­i­cat­ing a few words to each be­fore spit­ting the word ‘Ghoul’ – and in the case of the two key­boardists/back­ing singers/per­cus­sion­ists that are clearly women, ‘The Ghoulettes’. While it’s quite funny – ini­tially at least, though a lit­tle try­ing when there are seven of them – it also feels a rather pointed re­minder that there is one man, and one man only, in charge of this en­ter­prise. Given that this is the lat­est part of To­bias’ long-held artis­tic vi­sion, did “the tur­moil” af­fect its next stages?

“It did, but in a pos­i­tive way,” he ex­plained ear­lier. “Two years ago my long-term plan was go­ing to end in De­cem­ber this year. The al­bum that I had in mind be­came de­layed, but that re­sulted in me com­ing up with an­other idea about where I wanted to take things af­ter [re­cent al­bum] Prequelle. Two years ago, I thought Prequelle would be a bit of a round off. But there was a com­pli­ca­tion, and as a re­sult I have an­other idea now. In terms of plan­ning ahead, I’m think­ing four years into the fu­ture.”

De­spite this for­ward-think­ing, and To­bias’ youth­ful ap­pear­ance – he looks like he’s in his twen­ties – he’s mind­ful of not want­ing Ghost to haunt the lis­ten­ing pub­lic for too long.

“I don’t want to do this all the time for the rest of my life,” he ex­plains. “I want to do it when it feels right, when it feels pur­pose­ful. I have in­vested my whole life into Ghost, and I’ve done it pure-heart­edly be­cause it’s some­thing I truly love. What I’m do­ing now is so close to what I dreamed about when I was a lit­tle kid. It’s im­por­tant that I con­tinue do­ing it be­cause I love it. I love it right now, a lot, and I’m re­ally burn­ing for the ideas that, upon the mercy of the pub­lic, I can do for an­other four years. But I never want to turn into some­one who has to do it just be­cause. If I feel it’s a chore or I’m do­ing it for the wrong rea­sons, I’ll do some­thing way less com­pli­cated, like play bass in a punk band.”

Given that To­bias used to play bass in preghost band Magna Carta Car­tel, this change in job would take his ca­reer full cir­cle, but it re­mains to be seen how this story will end. Be­fore tonight’s clos­ing track, Mon­strance Clock, Car­di­nal Copia says to the au­di­ence, some­what las­civ­i­ously, “I be­lieve in happy end­ings. Do you be­lieve in happy end­ings?” To­bias Forge should, be­cause de­spite some un­ex­pected twists in the tale of Ghost, he’s well on the way to achiev­ing his.


No, sorry. You can’t have your ball back

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