Tobias Forge is the mastermind of Swedish rock outfit Ghost, and as such possesses supreme authority over the band's creative style and direction. Think of him not only as the group's frontman but also its musical director.
Forge works with a completely different set of musicians on tour and in the studio, meaning he doesn't have to cherry-pick among his live group. “I've done that before and it didn't end very well,” Forge explains in a new interview with Guitar.com, referring to when four former members of Ghost sued him in 2017 over their dismissal. The lawsuit was ultimately ruled in Forge's favor.
Notably, on the group's latest outing, Impera, Forge enlisted Opeth guitarist Fredrik Åkesson to play guitar, but in staunch adherence to his artistic vision, he was “very, very picky” with what he allowed him to play.
“When I ask someone to come in, it's not like, ‘Here are the songs; please interpret them and add your flavor,’” he says. “When you're working with me, I'm going to be very, very, very specific and very, very picky.
“We went through a bit of a phase where I was trying Fredrik out, just to see how well he could adapt. He was given a ton of demos and those demos already had four layers of guitar. I'm pretty steady when it comes to playing rhythm together with drums and bass but my licks are not what they could be; I don't practice enough. Fredrik practiced for five hours every day.”
“It was very different [to recording with Opeth],” Åkesson adds. “It was more of a session job. I thought I was going to be able to design a few solos but [Forge and producer Klas Åhlund] thought they were over the top. I had to scale it down, with more melodic solos – more constructed. Tobias and Klas were very picky.
“I haven't really done that kind of recording before, where I'm being so analyzed in everything I do. I didn't have a problem with it; I thought it was pretty interesting.”
Despite the restrictions on his playing, Åkesson says he'd “definitely” record with Ghost again.
“In the end, I had a good time,” he reflects. “I'm very picky also when I record stuff so I liked the focus on the details. I never put down so many layers of guitars in a recording before. Some tracks, there could be 16 channels of guitars. Some rhythm packs were, like, eight guitars. It was like craftsmanship, getting these massive walls of guitars done.”
Åkesson says his contributions on Impera began when Forge asked him to cover Enter Sandman by Metallica, Ghost’s contribution to 2021’s Metallica Blacklist tribute album.
“I think that was the thing that sowed the seed for him asking me to put the leads down on this album,” Åkesson says. “I ended up playing all the rhythms as well, and the acoustics. Everything basically.”
While melody is a key pillar of Impera, Åkesson is permitted at points to let loose with some rapid-fire electric guitar runs, like in Spillways and the reggaeton-inspired Twenties, which Forge described earlier this month as a “Slayer meets some sort of Missy Elliott thing”.