“I’M TRYING TO FIND THE ULTIMATE RIFF!”
Inspired by ABBA and 80s hair metal, the new Ghost album is a modern rock masterpiece. Its creator Tobias Forge reveals how he did it - and why he needed a better guitarist than himself for the solos...
Over the last decade, no new band has taken the world by storm quite like Swedish occult rockers Ghost. The group – masterminded by core songwriter and founder Tobias Forge, who is backed by a revolving door of ‘Nameless Ghouls’ – have gone from performing at London’s 500-capacity Underworld to headlining at the O2 Arena.
Ghost’s debut album Opus Eponymous, released in 2010 on cult stoner label Rise Above, won them fans far and wide for its devilishly melodic doom, drawing comparisons to Blue Öyster Cult and The Doors alongside heavier influences like Black Sabbath. But it was their second album Infestissumam that saw them introduce bigger productions with more complex musical structures and arrangements, a tradition which continued through third and fourth records Meliora and Prequelle to further critical acclaim.
New album Impera was recorded at Stockholm’s Atlantis Studio with Meliora producer Klas Åhlund behind the desk and Opeth virtuoso Fredrik Åkesson hired to track acoustic, rhythm and lead guitars. It’s undoubtedly the sound of Ghost at their most technically ambitious, with some truly breathtaking fretwork at the forefront of some of their catchiest songs to date.
“I guess what makes my work different to your average rock band is that I’m just about an able guitar player,” says Tobias Forge with admirable humility. “I peaked a long time ago, which is why I don’t practise enough anymore! I hit a wall where my fingers didn’t really obey. These days I’m more of a songwriter and conceptual creator, to be honest. I can handle a guitar, a bass, drums and also sing. I can make a song sound basically how I want it to myself, with a nice sketch of what a solo should be temperamentally.”
Tobias points to an 80s hair metal hit, Rock The Night by fellow Swedish band Europe, for an example of a note-perfect solo we can all learn from, praising guitarist John Norum’s sense of melody, build and restraint. And his love for Europe doesn’t end there, citing Norum’s late-80s replacement Kee Marcello as one of the greatest soloists of all-time. “There’s only one hard bit in that Rock The Night solo, but it’s the perfect spot to shine,” Tobias says. “And, as much as I love John Norum’s playing on tracks like that, I always felt when Kee joined for [1988 album] Out Of This World, he sounded truly out of this world! Still to this day, I cannot believe how good he sounds on that record.”
He continues: “I always want solos to feel like their own little composition. For me, the whole ‘come in and noodle’ thing does not work. They need to be thought-out, like complete little journeys within the track. That’s the great thing about working with Fredrik Åkesson. He was patient with my explanations, because we all know his ability is absolutely off the charts, and he understood when I was asking him to avoid overplaying, unless there was a point where it called for something outrageous. It’s like dramaturgically structuring the solo to start in one place – and I’m paraphrasing what Kirk Hammett said in A Year And A Half In The Life Of Metallica where he noted, ‘You start over here and then you take them to this other place and then you go to a third place that’s even higher!’ I told Fredrik I wanted to have a Kee Marcello approach to these leads. He was graceful enough to take direction.”
In the following track-by-track guide, Tobias reveals the secrets behind his creation of Impera – from a song that started life as a picking exercise, much like Guns N’ Roses’ classic Sweet Child O’ Mine, to second-guessing what Slayer and Missy Elliott might sound like in the studio together...
"I’M JUST ABOUT
AN ABLE GUITAR PLAYER – I PEAKED A LONG TIME AGO!”