Swedish melodic metal outfit Ghost (formerly known as Ghost B.C. in the United States) delivers tongue-in-cheek sonic sermons centered on horror imagery, the occult, and occasionally Satanic themes. Over surprisingly accessible heavy metal-cum-pop-driven hard rock, the bandmembers originally maintained a strict vow of anonymity, both on record and on-stage. Obscuring themselves with cloaks and heavy makeup, the band is fronted by lead singer Tobias Forge, first known only as Papa Emeritus, whose anti-Pope appearance was recognizable with skull-faced makeup, cardinal robes, miter, and thurible. Subsequent incarnations of this alter ego appeared with each album, as Forge changed from Emeritus II and III into Cardinal Copia for 2018's Prequelle.
Formed in 2008 in Linköping, Ghost began playing underground shows and sharpening their sound. Given their occult ritual-styled performances, their popularity with metal fans in their home country flourished. In 2010, they issued a three-track demo, followed by the single "Elizabeth," and both quickly sold out. Their debut album, Opus Eponymous, on Rise Above Ltd., defied expectations with a surprisingly welcoming melodic sound, weaving together '60s psychedelia, '70s doom, and '80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and their reputation spread. They took to the road, touring internationally. For a short while, they were urged to take the Ghost B.C. moniker in the U.S. to disambiguate. Though it was a tad confusing, it didn't hurt their reputation for wildly theatrical performances, and their identities remained cloaked in mystery. (Ghost eventually reverted their name without the "B.C." suffix in late 2015.)
After a wait of over two years, Ghost issued the single "Secular Haze," followed by their sophomore album, Infestissumam, in January 2013, and the band debuted Papa Emeritus II. Infestissumam caused plenty of controversy during the recording process. Begun in Nashville, its Satanic themes caused it to be boycotted by virtually every backing chorus — an important aspect of the album. These vocals had to be recorded in Hollywood. The critical and fan acclaim was nearly universal, however, and the release increased their profile across the globe and won them many fans who didn't necessarily claim heavy metal as a favorite style. The album debuted on some charts at number one. Later in the year, they released a covers EP, If You Have Ghost, produced by Dave Grohl.
A festival tour followed in 2014, including appearances at Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Rock on the Range. The band re-entered the studio later that year. In May of 2015 it was announced that Papa Emeritus II had been fired and was succeeded by his younger brother (by three months), Papa Emeritus III, adding to the band's shtick. A new single, "Cirice," was issued in May of 2015, followed in August by their third album, Meliora, on Loma Vista Recordings. It was produced by pop heavy-hitter Klas Åhlund (Katy Perry, Usher, Kesha, Madonna) and mixed by Andy Wallace. Album single "Cirice" scored a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2016, months before a deluxe reissue added two new songs and a handful of covers, including one of the Eurythmics "Missionary Man." Those bonuses were also released as a separate EP, Popestar, which was followed by a tour of the same name.
In 2017, a new crop of legal issues hit the band. Previously, the identities of Ghost's musicians remained a secret. However, when frontman Tobias Forge was sued by former bandmembers Simon Soderberg, Mauro Rubino, Martin Hjertstedt, and Henrik Palm over royalties, the shadow of anonymity disappeared. After the year-end release of live album Ceremony and Devotion, Forge moved forward with other musicians. For the next project, Forge introduced a new identity, Cardinal Copia, who became the face of their fourth effort, 2018's Prequelle, which was produced and recorded by Tom Dalgrin. Unlike previous efforts, this date abandoned the occult and left the Satan worship kitsch behind, instead focusing on their own brand of sinister arena rock — in a deliberate attempt, as Forge explained in an interview, "...to sound like the best 1970s band you never heard...." In addition to sweeping, radio-friendly hard rock swagger, they also employed funk basslines and disco beats, fat horns, and analog synths. Their songs readily referenced themes and tragedies from the Dark Ages of European history, including an anthem about the Bubonic plague. Prequelle debuted in the Top Three of the Billboard 200 upon release, their highest charting effort to date. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia & Thom Jurek