The Untold Truth Of Ghost's Tobias Forge

Swedish rock band Ghost's bewitching song "Cirice" (off the 2015 album "Melora") boasts the line: "You cannot hide in the darkness." It also aptly describes the group's leader, Tobias Forge. For many years, he tried to keep his true identity secret, choosing to let the artistry of the various Papa Emeritus figures, Cardinal Copia, and Nameless Ghouls take center stage rather than the people behind the getups. However, once Forge was unmasked, everyone wanted to know more about the man behind one of rock's most mysterious acts.

Much like the intricate stage show Ghost puts on, Forge is a showman who has been inspired by a variety of theatrical rock 'n' roll bands — and other unexpected influences too. Yet, what most fans don't realize is that Ghost was his last gasp at glory in the music industry. He had tried to make a career out of it for many years and was ready to throw in the towel, before everything changed after the occult-themed group exploded in popularity. To top it all off, he had never envisioned himself as a vocalist to begin with.

With that being said, let's peel back the mask and find out more about Ghost's Tobias Forge.

His mother inspired his interest in arts and culture

Ghost is both a visual and auditory experience. It's impossible to separate the music from the image, as they are both intertwined to create something visceral. While on the surface level it looks like the group is the embodiment of the antichrist with a demonic pope leading the satanic proceedings, it's actually an exploration of art and self-expression through a mix of mediums.

Speaking to Psychology Today, Tobias Forge discussed his lifelong appreciation of arts and culture. He credited his mother for being the person who opened the doors of curiosity and wonder for him when he was younger. "My mom is very liberal," he said. "She has never been religious ... Spiritual but not religious. However, she worked in art and had a very avid interest in art and culture. So she presented church to me as more of an archeological or more museum-like institution ... More from a historic perspective."

Forge added how a trip to Paris, France, with his mother proved to be insightful and eye-opening, as she took him to the Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral. He enjoyed the experience, basking in and learning about the significance and meaning of artifacts of human history.

His older brother introduced him to rock and metal

AC/DC told us: "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll." However, every journey starts by taking the first step. For most people, this is discovering the band that changes everything for them; the proverbial flame being lit that can never be extinguished. For Tobias Forge, his rock 'n' roll awakening began at an early age and captured the zeitgeist of the genre at the time.

"Around 1984, when I was three years old, all of the new, big bands were shock-rock bands like Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, Wasp, and Kiss," Forge told Slug Mag. "These, among others, were the first bands that I really, really liked. My older brother, who was significantly older than I was, gave me those records and it just went from there."

While Forge has said a plethora of other artists and genres have shaped Ghost, it's clear to see the shock-rock influence dripping in his band. It isn't too difficult to see the over-the-top theatrics of Kiss in the overall stage presence, whereas Mötley Crüe's "Shout at the Devil" could be considered the foundation for Ghost's entire lyrical premise. More importantly, Ghost fans owe Forge's brother, Sebastian, a thank-you for introducing his younger sibling to the world of rock and heavy metal.

ABBA is one of his favorite bands of all time

ABBA is Sweden's national treasure — and the rest of the world's, too, if we're being entirely honest here. Not only are they one of the best-selling groups of all time, but they have also had a hand in shaping the direction of pop music as a whole. Whether it be "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! or "Dancing Queen," ABBA has entertained generations of fans, while inspiring other artists throughout the decades.

Being from Sweden himself, Ghost's Tobias Forge is more than familiar with the legacy of ABBA. Even though his band might share more in common with rock groups than poppy outfits, Forge admitted ABBA is a major influence on him as a songwriter and musician. "I can proudly say ABBA are one of my favorite bands of all time," he told Guitar World. "As a songwriter, I'll always feel like I'm in the absolute shadow of their legacy because it's hard to find such enormous talent and impeccably fine-tuned songwriting."

Forge added how ABBA inspired many of Ghost's hits, especially "Spillways," which is off the 2022 album "Impera." He explained how his band recorded their record in the same studio that ABBA had produced their most notable tracks decades earlier: Stockholm's Atlantis Studio, which had been previously known as the Metronome.

He wanted to become a guitarist, not a vocalist

It isn't unusual for musicians to be well-versed in various instruments. Take ex-Slipknot member Joey Jordison as a prime example: He was better known as the dexterous drummer of the nine-headed metal monster, but he was also an accomplished guitarist in the horror punk band Murderdolls. Being a lead singer, though, is a different kettle of fish since it isn't only about the voice, but also the aura and charisma. If a band features a vocalist with the personality of a baked potato, it's unlikely they will go far in the music scene.

Tobias Forge's passion for music has been prevalent since a young age; however, he never saw himself as a vocalist. As he explained to Revolver, he identified with guitarists. "Even when I was a kid, I always sort of identified myself with Keith Richards and Slash more than the singers of the bands."

When Ghost was conceptualized, Forge wanted to only play guitar for the band, but he also laid down the vocal tracks for the demo. The intention was these would demonstrate what his vision for the songs were to the future singer. Forge approached numerous people within the Swedish music scene to become the frontman for Ghost; however, they all turned him down. As a result, he became the band's vocalist out of necessity rather than desire.

Ghost was Tobias Forge's final attempt at superstardom

Tobias Forge was no stranger to the rock and metal scene in Sweden. He had played in the local death metal band known as Repugnant — which should be a contender for the greatest death metal name of all time — as well as an indie group called Subvision and several other acts. However, he had never achieved the level of success that would enable him to make a comfortable living and provide for his family through his musical endeavors.

As Forge explained to Metal Hammer, he only wanted to be a musician his whole life. However, there was another harrowing milestone that was creeping up on him in the late 2000s: He was nearing the age of 30, and was nowhere near becoming a successful musician. "At that point in 2009, I was at a point of desperation," he said. "I was one year into parenthood, facing the fact that, f***, we need more money. So I decided to do something."

While juggling his job at a call center, he poured his attention and effort into creating Ghost to be everything he wanted it to be — even utilizing the time at his job to craft ideas for his band. Then, in March 2010, he loaded the music on the now-extinct social media network MySpace and watched as his band immediately exploded in popularity.

His brother passed away as Ghost took off

As Tobias Forge watched Ghost take off on MySpace, he couldn't believe what was happening. The euphoria was pulled back down to Earth rapidly the same day, when his mother informed him that his older brother, Sebastian — the person who had a direct influence in shaping his love for rock — had died from a heart disease.

Forge explained to Metal Hammer how the news came out of nowhere on an evening when everything changed for him — personally and professionally. "It felt like some weird trade: the band for my brother," Forge said. "It was like, 'This has happened, there's nothing I can do with it, I've just got to take the ball and run with it.' And I've been running with it ever since."

In a separate interview with Revolver, Forge further elaborated on this concept, believing that the moment his brother passed, an energy transfer took place where Sebastian provided the powerful jolt for Ghost's meteoric rise.

Despite Ghost's lyrics, Tobias Forge isn't against religion

When Ghost's music hits, it's no secret that occult-themed lyrics fill their songs. In fact, they lean into the satanic element, especially in their on-stage presence and music videos. While Tobias Forge is unlikely to win "Christian of the Year" anytime soon, he isn't exactly anti-religious or threatening to burn down churches in support of the horned one.

Forge's mother introduced him to the cultural impact of religious iconography and monuments on society, so he has a fascination with it from that perspective. In fact, he provided an amusing analogy of how he views Christianity to Rolling Stone. "In the same way that I would not hang out with an alien from the film 'Alien,' but I love the look of it? That's my relationship with Christianity," he said. "I'm a big fan of the arts treasures that are in there and it's always had a great impact on me, even if I use it as a repellent."

As he explained to Psychology Today, Ghost's rebellious music is a retort to the Christians whom he saw as the antithesis of what they proclaimed to be: It's the people who put him off, not necessarily the religion.

If he wasn't in a band, he would be in stage production

Like Kiss, Mötley Crüe, and the bands he was first inspired by, Tobias Forge understands the importance and value of theater to Ghost. It translates into their elaborate stage shows, which have become must-see affairs for fans. Understandably, the production doesn't just magically appear on stage, and there's a whole other process and people working behind the scenes to make the shows and tours come to life.

Speaking to Substream, Forge explained how he tries to learn from the stage production personnel when he's on tour, watching and observing what they do, while also thinking of ways to push the shows to another level in the future. He's intrigued by the process and takes an interest in it. "If I weren't playing in a rock band myself," he said, "I would be doing that stage production for others, because I find that to be so interesting and pleasing."

Forge also admitted that he might be overly ambitious in what he wants to do at times, but he finds it important to push the boundaries of creativity and what's possible to keep the shows engaging and exciting for himself and the audience.

He is critical of himself

Among music journalists, there's a joke about how a musician will always say their best album is the current one that they're promoting. This is no less true of Tobias Forge, who goes to great pains to make sure his foot is firmly on the gas pedal.

As Forge explained to HEAVY Mag, he wants Ghost's music to evolve and stand out from what he has done before. His approach is to take a good hard look at what he created, being critical enough to jot down what he thinks he can improve on for the next album.

"That's not to say that I leave every album thinking that it sucks," he said, "but you always have that little 'ah, next time we are going to do this or next time we are going to do that or that didn't work out so well, or this was good for this time but next time I am going to do that.'"

Tobias Forge is extremely demanding

Since Ghost is essentially Tobias Forge's baby, he keeps a close eye on all aspects of the band — from the stage production to what the people working on the tour are doing. According to Kerrang, this has led to him developing a reputation for being extremely demanding and able to rub people up the wrong way.

Forge insisted that the reason for this approach is because order needs to be maintained, as he had been burnt in the past for being far too lenient on others. The rationale is that for Ghost to continue its upward trajectory and ascension in the music industry, it needs to be run like a well-oiled machine, and not an operation where everyone does what they feel like at any given moment. 

"There are 40 people on this tour, so there has to be a line and a curriculum," he explained to Kerrang. "I'm adamant about getting my vision through –- especially now we're in this transitional phase between theaters and arenas."

Tobias Forge isn't a fan of social media

Remember the time when everyone was excited about social media and the opportunity it allowed to reconnect with long-lost friends, or to make new ones online? This may have faded as it became overly monetized, but it still holds the ability to do good, as Tobias Forge found out in 2022. Ghost's track "Mary on a Cross," which is off the 2019 EP "Seven Inches of Satanic Panic," became a TikTok sensation, opening the band up to a whole new audience and leading to a substantial climb in the Billboard charts.

The event caught Forge off guard, and while he's appreciative of what transpired, he isn't about to jump on TikTok and do his best Taylor Swift dance impersonations just yet. "I'm old; I've never been interested in social media," he told Kill Your Stereo. "I don't have room in my life for social media. That would be an intrusion into my life that would disturb me. So, therefore, I've never fully understood it."

He explained how his children were the ones who had to explain the concept of TikTok to him, and he is okay with what it is and people using it. However, he just isn't a fan of social media when it is used for nefarious purposes.

He would have loved to go into filmmaking

Watching a Ghost show is a sensory experience. There's a cinematic quality to the production where it's clear that immense preparation, thought, and effort go into the stage design and outfits of the performers. Given the quality of production values involved, it may be unsurprising for some to find out that Tobias Forge is a huge fan of cinema and filmmaking.

"In an alternative life where I put my eggs in another basket, I wish I would have gone into cinema instead, because for me that's almost even more all-encompassing as far as media for total control," Forge told Metal Injection. "It's vision, the music, story and get to control the narrative."

However, Forge acknowledged that he would also be irritated by the level of studio interference — and constant compromise — that comes with being a filmmaker chained to the Hollywood system. Fortunately, he still got to experience an element of the process through Ghost contributing to the soundtracks of horror films "Halloween Kills" and "Insidious: The Red Door."