What rea­son have GHOST to be merry? Well, hav­ing ut­terly con­quered the metal main­stream in 2018, quite a big one ac­tu­ally. With the con­gre­ga­tion fi­nally spilling into are­nas, how­ever, and dark su­per­star­dom call­ing the Swedish spooks, front­man TO­BIAS FORGE

Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - words: sam law Pho­tos: jonathan weiner



ol­i­day sea­son means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Hav­ing filled the skin of enough char­ac­ters to pop­u­late a mid-sized haunted house, one might ex­pect To­bias Forge to have mixed feel­ings on the mat­ter. As light ebbs from the skies, and win­ter’s icy grip closes around us, though, he greets the com­ing dark­ness – and all its de­bauched fes­tiv­i­ties – with sin­gu­lar rel­ish.

There is rea­son to cel­e­brate this year more than most. Ghost are al­ready part­way through a dev­il­ishly re­splen­dent vic­tory lap. Their se­duc­tive cor­rup­tions have per­me­ated 2018: bleed­ing into le­gions of hearts and minds, giv­ing the dark lord his dues on the most prom­i­nent of world stages. The long nights bring only deeper shades of black in which to lux­u­ri­ate and ex­tra time to shine.

The sun is still bright in Mo­bile, Al­abama when we con­vene. The tem­per­a­ture hangs balmily around 20 de­grees. It’s a scene of more South­ern Gothic than the ‘Tran­syl­va­nian’ va­ri­ety. The burn­ing globe’s low tra­jec­tory, how­ever, en­sures there are long shad­ows in which to hide.

“How do you do?” an un­mis­tak­ably re­fined voice creaks from within the tour bus.

Pre­vi­ously, To­bias would’ve con­ducted in­ter­views in char­ac­ter, don­ning Papa Emer­i­tus’ full garb. For phone en­gage­ments he would (with oc­ca­sional awk­ward­ness) adopt the guise of one of his name­less ghouls. Fol­low­ing last year’s (at the time of writ­ing, failed) law­suit by exband­mates, his name and face were made pub­lic knowl­edge. Papa III was suc­ceeded not only by the up­start Car­di­nal Copia, but also by his cre­ator’s emer­gence from the shad­ows.

Even stripped of vest­ments, it’s dif­fi­cult to ex­tri­cate artist from on­stage per­sona. Tour­ing mu­si­cians uni­ver­sally la­ment the cas­ket-like di­men­sions of bus bunks. At rest be­fore tonight’s show at the 2,000-seat Saenger The­atre, though, there’s some­thing ap­pro­pri­ate about find­ing To­bias in his.

“It’s not as cold here as it is at home right now,” he in­sists with a con­tented smile. “It’s pretty nice, ac­tu­ally!” And yet we can’t shake the im­pres­sion of a crea­ture of the night wish­ing for sun­set so the fun can re­ally be­gin.

Dick­en­sian tra­di­tion dic­tates our Yule­tide bed­side visit should linger on brothers wronged, chances missed and cru­cial changes for a bet­ter to­mor­row. In­deed, To­bias has courted Scrooge-like con­tro­versy of late: procla­ma­tions that he’s ‘a band dic­ta­tor’ who ‘doesn’t miss Papa’ catch­ing head­lines. Yet he shrugs off such tri­fling gos­sip, not the type for re­gret, and in no need of atone­ment.

We won­der briefly whether Hal­loween might feel a bet­ter fit than Christ­mas. But he’s no Jack Skelling­ton, ei­ther. “I’m ac­tu­ally a big fan of the Christ­mas hol­i­day,” he de­lights in our sur­prise. “I have lots of fond mem­o­ries of this time of year.”

He’s adding to them day by day. Back in June, fourth al­bum Pre­quelle landed at num­ber three on the Amer­i­can Bill­board ‘pop’ chart. Nes­tled amongst rap­pers Kanye West, Post Malone, Cardi B and coun­try star Luke Combs, it con­firmed the Swedes as a pop-cul­tural force to be reck­oned with. The con­se­quently mam­moth, 40-date ‘A Pale Tour Named Death’ has wound across the United States. A two-hour, 40-minute the­atri­cal feast served across two acts with an in­ter­mis­sion, the Novem­ber 16 en­gage­ment at LA’S 17,500-ca­pac­ity Fo­rum has been the high­light thus far. De­cem­ber 15’s last stop at New York’s 19,000-header Bar­clays Cen­ter threat­ens to eclipse it.

Yet there’s no back-slap­ping sug­ges­tion of job done or mis­sion ac­com­plished. These are hard yards won on the road to world dom­i­na­tion, but there are plenty still to come. We’re in the early days, To­bias stresses, cru­cial to the even­tual tra­jec­tory of Ghost’s later ca­reer. Given re­cent tri­als and tribu­la­tions, though, he al­lows him­self a mo­ment of sat­is­fac­tion.

“How pleased am I with our progress?” he toys. “Like… on a scale? For sev­eral rea­sons, this al­bum and tour­ing cy­cle was cru­cial to Ghost’s ex­is­tence. It feels like it’s been a suc­cess.

“I’m very pleased with that.”

If there were doubts over whether the slip­ping of the mask would un­der­mine To­bias’ au­thor­ity, they’re quickly dis­missed.

On the ev­i­dence of our con­ver­sa­tion, ex­po­sure has only em­pow­ered him. A ter­rific cast of drama­tis per­sonae have held the lime­light, al­low­ing an in­valu­able re­ten­tion of semi­anonymity. He’s a front­man with­out ex­ces­sive fame, en­joy­ing the perks of star­dom with­out the cost of celebrity. More­over, he’s been able to openly stake a claim to his cre­ation, and ad­vance it on his own, ever more the­atri­cal terms.

‘Dic­ta­tor­ship’, no mat­ter how benev­o­lent, how­ever, is a heavy bur­den.

De­fine the year in just three words, we dare.

“‘Very busy’?” A fas­tid­i­ous pause. “Hmmm, that’s two… ‘Very FUCK­ING busy.’”

The artis­tic process – writ­ing and record­ing – he com­pares to the work of an ar­chi­tect. Tak­ing the show on the road – build­ing that vi­sion into some­thing tan­gi­ble – is a more man­ual labour. As­sum­ing sole re­spon­si­bil­ity on both ends has proven an en­durance test.

“We are three trucks, now, and two buses full of peo­ple,” he en­thuses. “The shows are longer. In the first six years of Ghost we played a lot of sup­port slots and fes­ti­vals. Our aver­age set would be per­haps an hour. Our head­line show would be maybe an hour and 20 min­utes. The shows that we’re play­ing now are twice that.

“At the start of the tour I had to won­der whether I’d got­ten my­self in over my head. My body was re­ally aching. Now, half­way in, I feel more com­fort­able. As with any type of ex­er­cise, the more you do it, the less stren­u­ous it seems. It still takes a toll, of course. Pre­vi­ously, I could be touristy but I don’t have the stamina for that any­more. My day now is [lim­ited to] a lit­tle phone time, the show and sleep. “I have to pick my bat­tles care­fully…” Too much has gone into Ghost for it to be sur­ren­dered. To­bias’ his­tory has been heav­ily chron­i­cled since his pub­lic emer­gence, but it’s got­ten no less fas­ci­nat­ing. In­fant child to sep­a­rated par­ents, there was a du­al­ity to his early years. On one hand, the sanc­ti­mony of a bad-tem­pered schoolmistress and pi­ous step­mother planted the seeds of an­tithe­is­tic think­ing. On the other, his nur­tur­ing mother and met­al­head brother Se­bas­tian fos­tered early in­ter­est in all things loud, lurid and the­atri­cal.

Shock-rock­ers KISS, Twisted Sis­ter and Möt­ley Crüe (“I loved look­ing at the in­ner sleeve of Shout At The Devil,” he grins, “and not know­ing whether Nikki Sixx was a woman or a man…”) opened a path to heavy mu­sic. When the softer

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