How Ghost kept to the shadows to grow their unrivalled cult following

What’s the correct form of address here? Tobias, Cardinal Copia, or Your Ghostliness? “Tobias, never Cardinal. He doesn’t do interviews,” Ghost frontman and mastermind Tobias Forge says of his alter ego. 

Indeed. And yet since the great revelation of April 2017, when the world was introduced to the true face of the ever-changing characters at the helm of Swedish metal-drama outfit, Ghost, the perception by mainstream media hasn’t altered Forge’s conduct. “No,” he says bluntly. “The change for me personally has been relatively subtle.

“Within the realms of our fan base and the epicentre of our career, it didn’t go from one unknown to a completely different scenario.”

Forge is one who speaks carefully, slowly, almost with calculation, of himself and Ghost. Whether that’s a preconceived action or his natural way of conversing, perhaps we’ll never know. What we do know is that Ghost’s elevation into one of heavy music’s most intriguing bands couldn’t have come about without the trust Forge has in his fans. It’s the fans, despite knowing Forge’s identity from having seen him after shows, who never revealed the truth. 

“That was very humbling for me,” says Forge. “If there was one thing I felt a bit torn about was potentially betraying that trust. I’ve always said the goal with Ghost was never to remain anonymous – the idea was for the band to always remain masked. There’s a big difference, but people don’t listen, they don’t understand that.”

In any medium over which Forge has control, you won’t see his face. Wherever you do see his face is where others are calling the shots – that’s the distinction. Otherwise, Ghost remains uniformly masked. “It was just a matter of time. It would have defied all logic and sense that the band was getting bigger and more recognised and I would personally not follow a similar trajectory,” he says, chuckling. “However, I don’t think I will ever personally overshadow or be in the same light as all the media attention Ghost has had.”

“I’m not merely as interesting as Ghost is,” Forge explains. “The amount of photographs for one and the footage of Ghost, I will never personally be able to compete with that.”

Forge’s primary interest is the success and renown of Ghost and indeed, imagery is only one huge cog in the giant operation. It’s debatable that many people don’t understand the Ghost objective. From a media point, Forge agrees. “Even though there’s not a distinction between underground and overground media, in that one of them understands and the other does not, there’ve been several peddlers who have been extremely supportive and aiding in terms of educating media.

“There are a lot of journalists working within metal media, so [that] at several points in my career I’ve had to have a conversation with music media who are saying, ‘Why are we buying into this charade one more time?’ And you have to go back again and sell the idea – ‘Well, rock‘n’roll is about imagination.’”

Without the understanding and support of the fans, Ghost wouldn’t be four studio albums in. “Absolutely,” Forge says firmly. “I’m not going to contradict or do anything but praise the fan’s undying devotion because without them we would be nothing, of course.

“The problem is from an entertainment [perspective], you’re not doing media for the fans. It’s part of the political world of trying to achieve the things you want to achieve, and the things I want to achieve is based on the idea that promoters believe Ghost to be a big thing and we’re able to deliver.

“Personally having gone from being “anonymous”, I’ve had to relearn and think a lot about what I’ve been doing. I did a radio show here in Sweden, a monologue, the first time I’d ever introduced myself to the world with my [true] name, that was a gruelling experience in terms of, ‘[have] I done something that might alter everything I’ve ever done with Ghost?’ But I had no choice, I had to do that.”

In some ways, Forge’s actions left him and the band vulnerable, with public and internal debates about whether or not Ghost’s success, have surrounded a lack of public insight. “I do believe one reason why we’re talking today is that we did things in the beginning of our career that were highly unmodern at the time,” says Forge. “Every band [at the time] with the intention of establishing themselves within the music scene, filled every channel available to them with as much content as possible. My idea with Ghost was to do the exact opposite. 

“The whole thing was fuelled by the idea that I wanted people to find Ghost the same way I found bands when I was a teenager – you knew nothing, you knew very little. That spurred a lot of imagination. And going public, for lack of a better word, would contradict that tide.”

Ghost come to Flemington Racecourse for Download Festival on Monday March 11. They’ll be hitting the Avalanche Stage at 8.55pm. Head to the festival website for tickets.