Tobias Forge says he wanted his pre-GHOST death metal outfit REPUGNANT “to become a big band” similar to AMON AMARTH but laments their stalled progress because they were “unfashionable” and “unprofessional.”
Forge formed REPUGNANT in 1998 and performed under the name “Mary Goore“, eventually releasing a few demos and an EP before recording their lone full-length “Epitome Of Darkness” in 2002. REPUGNANT called it quits in 2004, with Dutch independent Soulseller Records releasing “Epitome Of Darkness” two years later. The album — a veritable concoction of vintage Stockholm death metal with obscure, eerie melodies — had only mild impact upon its release but appears to have preceded the current crop of death metal bands who have parlayed largely the same formula to greater underground metal notoriety.
In a recent interview with BLABBERMOUTH.NET‘s David E. Gehlke, Forge was asked whether his success with GHOST ever made him reflect about his time with REPUGNANT. He said: “The one thing I don’t think was very evident just because of how things played out with REPUGNANT, was that, if you asked me in 1999 or 2000 or 2001, I really wanted REPUGNANT to be signed up by a Roadrunner or Nuclear Blast or a big label. I wanted to be super-professional with the band. At the time, we were very unfashionable. It was just not asked for in that sort of realm and had things been played out differently or maybe I played my cards differently, because if I look back on how I did things, it was unprofessional and I didn’t really have the foresight, I guess. I had the dream, but I didn’t have the foresight. We were picked up by a real label at the time and got a manager and had everyone kept their ducks in a row, I would have loved to have that band, the closest example of a band like that could be comparable is like AMON AMARTH. A real band that was out touring. I always wanted that. I really wanted to become a big band. I wanted that, but I couldn’t. I don’t know if we were good enough or whatever. Now, knowing a lot of the things that is required, how many stars that need to align and all the decisions you have to make, I can definitely look back on myself as a 21-year-old and quickly see why I didn’t achieve that with REPUGNANT. I wasn’t mature. I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t there yet.”
The last-known lineup of REPUGNANT included current and former members of IN SOLITUDE, TRIBULATION and WATAIN, providing a mish-mash of some of Swedish metal’s most critically-acclaimed bands of the last decade. Forge says that he has repaired the relationship with his former bandmates after the split but warns against the idea of a full-blown REPUGNANT reunion. “I think the band that was REPUGNANT on ‘Epitome Of Darkness’, I think we are now better friends than we’ve been over the last ten years, at least, ten, fifteen years,” he said. “We had various degrees of falling out for different reasons. It just sputtered out. We’ve had our disagreements and whatnot, the same shit that everybody goes through. But, nowadays, we don’t really have much to do with each other anymore, but we’re just friends. We’re all, except for one of us, we all have kids, we’re all married. We’re old dudes. [Laughs] I don’t feel very old. We’re a little bit wiser now and maybe that alone gives us a reason to not sort of resuscitate that corpse again. Just let it lie.”
While there was little debate as to what subgenre of metal REPUGNANT fell, GHOST remains a band without a true home, something that Forge says he has done on purpose. Since the band’s occult rock-oriented “Opus Eponymous” debut, GHOST has subsequently added new wrinkles to their sound including ballads (“He Is”) rock anthems (“Year Zero” and “Square Hammer”) and proto-metal mashers (“Absolution” and “Cirice”). “Dance Macabre”, the second single from the band’s forthcoming fourth album “Prequelle”, further expands GHOST‘s sonic scope to pop and dance territories, which will only serve to fuel the debate whether GHOST has a permanent place in the hard rock and metal scene.
“I always tried to refrain sort of painting the band into a corner,” said Tobias. “As much as I myself am a big fan of a lot of bands that paint themselves into a corner, I just never really felt that was a good idea, especially if you’re into it, making yet another one, like ‘Prequelle’, it doesn’t feel like there’s a certain…we do not have really one thing that we’re known for. It’s various things. So, even if I was to do what I call a ‘sell-out move’ because that would be trying to conform what you think is expected, I think either way, it would be a loss because if I went completely, ‘Okay, just be an occult rock band.’ And then only just focus on the sort of ’70s vibe that was more predominant on the first and second record, then these people wouldn’t like it. If I only wrote a bunch of ballads, these people wouldn’t like it. If I just made songs like ‘Absolution’, these people wouldn’t like it. Either way you do it, there’s always someone who sort of gravitates toward a certain element in certain songs, I guess. And, luckily, since that wasn’t what I wanted to do in the first place anyway, I always wanted it to be very varied, like a multiple course at dinner with different courses lining up after each other so there’s a little bit of a culinary trip. If you use big words just to give you an example of my inspirations and the bands that I really look up to in terms of variation, QUEEN, for example, THE WHO, bands that constantly just try to write new songs that they didn’t have.”
Forge has often said that one of the principle tenants of his songwriting approach is to never write the same song twice. With four studio albums now under his belt, the GHOST frontman sounds pleased at what he’s accomplished with “Prequelle”, in particular, not succumbing to the trappings of a proven formula. “It makes it more interesting, but it also makes things harder,” he said. “Sooner or later you come to a point where you’re like ‘What are we doing again?’ Then you might start repeating yourself. Now, having made the fourth record, I definitely felt a relief, at least we made a record that felt genuine, inspired, it was done in the same playful manner as I did writing ‘Opus Eponymous’. You cannot count on that happening so many times in your life. Whether it’s a success, I have no idea. We’ll see. But, at least it feels like it comes from the heart. It’s done whole-heartedly and yeah, I feel very pleased.”
Later this year, GHOST will play two headlining arena shows in Los Angeles and New York. As metal’s old guard is either in the process of retiring (Ozzy Osbourne, SLAYER) or already at retirement age (IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST), there is speculation as to whether GHOST will be the next band to ascend to arena level. Now trekking across the United States on the “Rats! On The Road” tour that sees the band playing theaters as opposed to traditional concert venues, Forge confirms that arenas is the next logical step for GHOST.
“In one way, we already are because we’ve already done arenas, so technically, we are an arena band,” he said. “But, whether or not we can maintain that at a level where we can do that everywhere we go? I don’t know. I don’t know; I hope so. That would be phenomenal. I’ve learned that once you take a certain step in production value in a certain area and a certain city and the next day, you take the show to a place where you don’t have that ability, there also can be a little bit of a backlash because people are, like, ‘Oh, shit. You’re not going to bring pyro?’ ‘We can’t do pyro here because your theater is old wood so we don’t have the permits.’ ‘Oh, that’s a bummer, man.’ From that point of view, to be able to have a standard of the things people expect you to deliver, it would be an absolute dream come true to be able to bring the show identically to everyone who is paying a ticket to see it and to get everybody so excited about us coming to their town. I’d love that. That would be fantastic, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of work and it’s baby-stepping. Now, we’re doing it in a few cities this fall and hopefully, the next leg we’ll do it in certain other cities we’re not doing it in. Sooner, or later, if hopefully everything goes according to the plan or the trajectory or the fucking gravitational pull or whatever [laughs], hopefully we can phase out the shows we’re doing and just concentrate on the ones that really is the full thing so we can get everybody enthusiastic about what they’re seeing. But, we’ll see if we get there. I’m working towards that. If we don’t, that needs to be fine as well. But, we’re doing great. It’s cool.”
“Prequelle” will be released on June 1 via Loma Vista Recordings. The record was tracked last year at Artery studios in Stockholm with Tom Dalgety (OPETH, ROYAL BLOOD) and mixed in January at Westlake Studios in West Hollywood, California with Andy Wallace (NIRVANA, SLAYER).