Following the release of their rendition of Genesis’ 1992 hit ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ over Easter, yesterday (Sunday, April 9) the band followed up with the news of a new five-track EP, ‘Phantomime’ – featuring more re-imagined songs from Iron Maiden, Tina Turner, Television, and The Stranglers.
As frontman Tobias Forge told NME, ‘Phantomime’ could “cast a glimpse as to where I want to go with the band now”.
“That doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we’re going to sound like Television!” he said. “It just means that there are practical things in there that have inspired me to record this EP in a slightly different way than I have done previously.”
Speaking about his decision to put ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ as the lead single for ‘Phantomime’, Forge believed the “song is more relevant today than it probably was in 1992”. He also flagged a shift in politics and culture in the West that seemingly seeks to wind the clock back to “Mediaeval times” as influencing his creative choices on the EP.
“A few years ago, maybe 10 years ago, it almost felt like this song – these other songs too – were a little bit dated lyrically,” he said of the cover. “That’s because they were! You know, this band – these guys in Genesis – were singing about early ’90s ladies; about televangelists!”
“All that stuff, it felt dated a few years ago. Whereas now, everything that we’re singing about on this song, everything that this song is about is actually right back up beside what I’m writing about in my own material.”
He added: “What I’m writing about is a completely contemporary commentary on basically a movement within the free Western world who wants to flatten the Earth. This movement wants to regress the world, and just completely turn the clock back to Mediaeval times. I don’t know what that’s about, it’s just stupidity!”
Forge summed up his train of thought, saying: “It also felt like this is actually a very important song to put out. I think that Phil [Collins, frontman], who I’m assuming wrote the lyrics, was (and still is) hitting the head of the nail pretty hard.”
That said, the Swedish metaller admitted that the song also piqued his creative side. “I’ve always loved that song and I’ve always found it a little bit paradoxical,” he told NME. “That it always had an element in it that was unexplored – unexploited.
“I’ve always heard in my head that this song has an explosive twin. You know, that you can play it basically like the original, but with a little bit more muscle and, all of a sudden, it’s going to be almost like a Metallica song from their ‘Garage Days’. It’s very punky and has a lot of meat in it.”
This isn’t the first time that Forge and Ghost have released a collection of covers – another five-track EP ‘Popestar’ was released in the wake of 2015’s ‘Meliora’. Though he said this EP is a very different beast to that, teasing that ‘Phantomime’ was originally intended as a full-length album meant to mirror 2022 album ‘Impera’ with some tantalisingly different covers on it. However, the EP ended up becoming something very different because of the toll the last record took on him.
“‘Popestar’ could have easily been part of the ‘Meliora’ session, but it wasn’t,” Forge explained. “So, that was a great way to reset. To just do something completely different and I’d say the same thing happened with ‘Impera’.”
He continued: “After coming off the production of ‘Impera’, which was a long procedure. I mean I was writing and doing demos and all that, and me and Klas Åhlund [producer] were working probably four, five months straight on it. Like both of us together and in studios doing that. Both of us are very meticulous. Both of us are very frantic when it comes to work. And, after a long production like that, you’re toast. Basically, you’re fried!”
It was around this time – when he felt “fried” – that Forge started working on other material which would become ‘Phantomime’. “During the demoing of ‘Impera’ I kept working on demos for what I just referred to as the ‘cover album’,” he revealed. “Originally, the idea was to have 10 songs on this covers record, because I wanted to make a complete record and that LP was going to basically mirror ‘Impera’ somehow.
He continued: “Originally the selection was a little bit more eclectic. Look, I’m not going into great detail about them, because we might use some of them at a later point. But, it was basically like a piano version of a Motörhead song.
“There was [also] a Misfits song that was really cool and a U2 track. We recorded it all. In fact, we did a really finished demo of Rush’s ‘Distant Early Warning’, and then after ‘Impera’ I was just like, ‘I want to do a rock EP. A pure rock EP!’”
Indeed, Forge said the ‘Impera’ fatigue is where ‘Phantomime’ was conceived, explaining: “I thought I’ll sort of take away some of the more experimental stuff, and just focus on the rock songs – the ones that are energetic. The ones that don’t go into any excursions, as in not a piano-led Motörhead track!
“There were even instrumental covers; like proper instrumentals! But, I just wanted to basically make a new recording that was as opposed to ‘Impera’ as could be – quick and fairly simple.”
Forge admitted that the songs come from an eclectic array of artists, but these songs which feature on ‘Phantomime’ are in-tune with the very essence of what Ghost’s DNA is made from. “This is what Ghost is about,” he said. “We got the question very early on in our career about Satanism and whether or not the lyrics of our songs were about God.
“Our lyrics have nothing to do with God, Gods, or anything like that, it’s all about man. It’s about mankind. The concept of rulers and followers; people submitting to other people who want to subject them to heinous things in exchange for money, basically.”
Forge is a self-admitted “worshipper” of American pop culture. And, it seems the ever-present divisive spectre of former President Trump and personality politics which continue to rage in America are looming large in his mind. These are all things that have helped to influence the creation of the EP.
“There’s this almost outspoken like mantra of, ‘Let’s be stupid!’ Because that’s so much more fucking comfortable,” he said. “You know [it’s like], ‘let’s just be ignorant!’ And, what actually ends up happening is that because we seem to collectively just decide this, everybody follows it,” he replied when asked about the references to the corruption of the ‘American dream’ in his lyrics.
He added: “The Western world is going through a very similar time everywhere, It’s just that we don’t really have a Trump anywhere else but America. We don’t have a GOP. We don’t have a Marjorie Taylor Greene. But, there are a lot of the things that are happening in America actually happening all over Europe.”
As for what the future holds for Ghost following ‘Phantomime’ and their upcoming summer tour dates, Forge hinted that fans’ speculation about Papa Emeritus IV’s role as the figurehead of Ghost coming to an end may just be correct.
“Well, I mean, everything always changes. Nothing ever lasts forever,” he said when asked about the current Papa’s future. “I think that is an unavoidable fact. I and everyone else deal with this [fact] all the time, this fluidity of being amid the ever moving process of time and how things naturally sort of wither and fade away or fall apart.”
Ominously, he added: “Everything has its circuit, and things will always come to pass. We just need to deal with them, right? Does that mean that it ends? No. It means that there’s just a new face to it.”
The complete tracklist for ‘Phantomime’ is:
‘See No Evil’ (Television)
‘Jesus He Knows Me’ (Genesis)
‘Hanging Around’ (The Stranglers)
‘Phantom of the Opera’ (Iron Maiden)
‘We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)’ (Tina Turner)
‘Phatomime’ will be released on physical and across streaming services from May 18.
Later this year, Ghost are set to head out on a mammoth US headline tour after a high-profile slot at Download festival.