25 greatest GHOST songs | Revolver

25 greatest GHOST songs

The best of the best from the Swedish occult-rock devils
ghost altar HUBBARD 2022, Jimmy Hubbard
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

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The first thing you notice when visiting the city of Linköping, Sweden, is the cathedral — a massive 800-year-old gothic structure with a stunning green steeple reaching for the heavens. It's an unmissable fixture that dominates the skyline, and a constant, inescapable reminder that God — and the Church of Sweden — is always watching.

It was under this chilly gaze that Tobias Forge, a native son of Linköping, was born and raised. In the shadow of the cathedral, he spent his formative years playing in rock and metal bands (most notably the death-metal outfit Repugnant) — and cultivating an acute distaste for organized religion. In 2006, Forge began developing a new project that would unite both passions in the most dramatic way possible. That band, of course, is the Satanic occult-rock outfit Ghost — now a full-blown, arena-filling, Grammy-winning, evil-conjuring, doom-celebrating phenomenon that has gained the respect of legions of fans, and fellow musicians from James Hetfield and Rob Halford to Dave Grohl, Lzzy Hale and beyond.

Ghost are well on their way to becoming a household name, but their start was entirely inauspicious. On March 12th, 2010, Forge quietly launched his new project via a three-track demo that he posted on Myspace. Ghost's public unveiling was humble, but Forge's singular creative vision was undeniable. Those songs — "Stand by Him," "Prime Mover" and "Death Knell" — firmly established the band's lore and key musical and thematic elements. Here was a mysterious, melodic dark-rock act fronted by a dead pope named Papa Emeritus singing songs about the Antichrist. Forge was the mastermind, songwriter and vocalist, but at that point he and his musical collaborators were all cloaked in alluring anonymity.

Ghost's demo was an impressive opening statement. But the internet is pretty vast, after all, and those songs easily could have been snuffed out in the void. Instead, they unexpectedly caught fire. "My career trajectory changed more in those 24 to 48 hours than I had ever experienced in my life," Forge told Revolver in 2018 of the exciting days after the demo's release. The buzz kept growing as more people shared the tracks, which eventually made their way to Cathedral frontman and Rise Above Records owner Lee Dorrian, who offered to release Ghost's first full-length record.

In fall 2010, Papa Emeritus and his band of Nameless Ghouls unleashed their striking debut, Opus Eponymous (which featured an arresting Salem's Lot-inspired cover image of Papa towering over a church that looks eerily like Linköping Cathedral). From that moment, Ghost have been on a decade-plus ascent filled with relentless touring, unbeatable merch, hilariously offbeat social videos, four more increasingly complex and catchy thematic albums — 2013's Infestissumam, 2015's Meliora, 2018's Prequelle and their most recent stunner, 2022's Impera — plus a few EPs and choice live gigs opening for Metallica, Iron Maiden, Alice in Chains and more.

Ghost's unholy rise is truly astonishing. Thankfully, Forge still has plenty more magic up his papal sleeves, and we can't wait to see what new dark arts he conjures next. In celebration of their amazing journey thus far, Revolver undertook the delightfully hellish task of ranking the 25 greatest Ghost songs. So grab your cloaks, gather 'round the altar and let the ritual begin.

25. "Mummy Dust"

Meliora, 2015
Across their five albums, Ghost have created an ongoing story arc that loosely follows Papa and the Nameless Ghouls as they usher in the rise of the Antichrist. Their 2015 installment, Meliora, finds them reflecting on the absence of God through a guitar-heavy mix of pop, psych and prog rock. Choice cut "Mummy Dust" perfectly embodies this mission. Papa Emeritus III delivers his nefarious tale with shadowy, threatening vocals (and that whisper of "duuuuust") atop a ferocious chugging guitar line and eerie piano accents. And behold that impressive, spaced-out synth solo — which is brought to glorious life on a keytar during live shows.

24. "Witch Image"

Prequelle, 2018
Songwriter and mastermind Tobias Forge had been publicly unmasked prior to the release of Ghost's fourth album, Prequelle, but that didn't stop him (or fans) from continuing the fantasy. In fact, he doubled down and pushed the mythology even further with a ripe Black Plague lyrical theme and the new flamboyant, mustachioed, tux-wearing frontman Cardinal Copia, who even Forge himself considered to be "an imposter [that] hasn't proven himself yet." Copia puts in work to earn his "skull paint" throughout Prequelle, including delivering the killer Seventies-style chorus hook on "Witch Image": "While you sleep in earthly delight/Someone's flesh is rotting tonight." All hail the creepy Cardinal's reign.

23. "Year Zero"

Infestissumam, 2013
"Year Zero" is presided over by the new Papa Emeritus II (complete with a fresh green robe and updated skeleton mask), who leads this celebratory number announcing the arrival of the Antichrist. The song begins with an ominous chant of the devil's many names — "Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer!" — before a marching drumbeat, dizzying guitar solos and choral singers enter and launch this sinister jam to epic heights. While recording "Year Zero" in Nashville, Ghost had trouble recruiting a backup choir because of the song's Satanic lyrics. That problem was later resolved in Hollywood — where, no surprise, they found plenty of people willing to sell their souls.

22. "Miasma"

"Miasma" is the only instrumental on this list — and it earns the right to stand on its own. Clocking in at more than five minutes, the track opens cinematically with a stellar synth theme that sets the retrofuturistic tone for this histrionic jam. "Miasma" builds in intensity until it morphs into a full-on rocker with a show-stealing saxophone solo played by Papa Nihil. On paper, a sax solo in a metal song sounds appropriately absurd, but Ghost's occult power turns it into a mind-blowing moment. Plus, don't miss this shit live: The band manifests some Alice Cooper-worthy theatrics as stagehands wheel out a dead Nihil and shock him back to life — so he can rip that horn as the OG figurehead.

21. "Kaisarion"

Impera, 2022
Ghost's fifth album, Impera, is an unabashed ode to the over-the-top sound of Eighties hard rock and heavy metal. In the mythology of Ghost, this is the rise of a new empire — the Cardinal has been promoted to Papa Emeritus IV — and they've got a sharp new look for the regime change. Papa IV's wardrobe now features a snappy turquoise sequin-bling jacket and a bat-wing harness to go along with his more traditional orange papal and blue mitre outfits. Also gone is the cultish look of the Ghouls in favor of a militant steampunk-meets-Star Wars uniform. Musically, "Kaisarion" nails the stadium-sized rock attitude from the jump: a tapping guitar intro, pick scrape and arena-ready falsetto set the stage for a proggy midsong breakdown and huge, blasphemous chorus: "Far away from the stench of the heavens."

20. "Faith"

"In a cock-measuring contest where it's about playing … fast techniques of others, I would definitely lose," Forge told Guitar World in 2018 about his lead-guitar abilities, which make a rare appearance on this track, a Top 10 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart. Fittingly, he forgoes a high-flying stunt-guitar approach for a gritty style that references Metallica's "Hit the Lights," and what Forge described as that song's "insane, quick, aggressive" guitar-and-drums interplay (albeit a touch "more evil"). These tasty guitar moments combine with Copia's alternately sweet, menacing and chuckling vocals ("I am all eyes/I am all ears/I am the wall/And I'm watching you fall") to create one of Prequelle's heaviest and catchiest songs.

19. "From the Pinnacle to the Pit"

This Zeppelin-esque psych-rock track is built around earth-shaking bass and the kind of gnarly guitar riffs that Satan himself would stomp his hooves to. The whole arrangement is brilliant: crushing ever forward until the revelatory clouds-parting moment when Papa delivers his chilling devotion (more Anton LaVey than John the Apostle): "You are cast out from the heavens to the ground/Blackened feathers falling down/You will wear your independence like a crown."

18. "Rats"

Released as Prequelle's debut single, "Rats" is a haunting, fist-pumping triumph that's damn-near as virulent as the Black Plague themes it explores. Here, Forge uses the "filthy rodents" metaphor to play with the idea that humanity itself just might be the real pestilence. Earworm vocal hooks, eerie keys, a fiery guitar solo and one mega-headbanging finale helped this cut earn a 2019 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song. We also must discuss its bloody, epic Thriller-meets-Singing in the Rain music video. Cardinal Copia gleefully dances over dead bodies that later become a zombie troupe that boogies alongside the singer — before he rides off on an apocalyptic white horse, which, of course, can symbolize Christ, the Antichrist or … infectious disease.

17. "Watcher in the Sky"

"Watcher in the Sky" is Ghost taking their Eighties worship into Bark at the Moon territory. While Papa IV may not sound exactly like Ozzy here, he does display impressive range as he channels the Prince of Darkness' vocal patterns and phrasing. Ozzy's old wingman Jake E. Lee is appropriately evoked in the song's rock-solid rhythmic riffing and soaring fleet-fingered solo. This six-minute track is beloved among fans — so much so that live renditions become supersized as the crowd joins along to sing the rousing chorus: "Searchlights/Looking for the watcher in the sky!"

16. "Per Aspera Ad Inferi"

Translating from Latin into "Though Hardships to Hell," "Per Aspera ad Inferi" lives up to its name. After the mood-setting chants and instrumental pageantry of the title-track intro, Infestissumam's first actual song is a powerful four-minute descent into the abyss that's led by chugging guitars, martial drums and Papa II's enchanting vocals (and signature oh-so-unsettling sigh: ahhhh). If you find yourself heading south, you'd be hard-pressed to pick a better soundtrack than this burner, which legitimately sounds like a victory march into the pit of fire.

15. "Prime Mover"

Opus Eponymous, 2010
Ghost's 2010's debut introduced the world to this mysterious Swedish band and established the core elements of their mythology, which they would expand on in years to come. A Satanic pope dubbed Papa Emeritus and a masked, cloaked cult of Nameless Ghouls? Yup. Dramatic, melodic songs that evoked Seventies and Eighties heavy greats? Definitely. All in service of Satan? Hell yeah. "Prime Mover" is a perfect example of this first epoch. This Sabbath-influenced cut kicks off with a gigantic, hazy guitar riff, beefy bass and stirring vocals, which lead into a soaring midsong proclamation ("Mother/Filth in her womb/Father/Waiting in tomb") and add up to a truly unnerving headbanger.

14. "Con Clavi Con Dio"

Opus Eponymous
In the musical universe, a waltz isn't very close to metal; it's more like a galaxy away. But one of Ghost's secret weapons is their ability to bridge those stylistic gaps — which is exactly what they did on this sped-up death waltz (the title of which translates to "With Nails, With God"). Opus' second song explodes in a wash of frantic psych-rock keys, manic drums and circle-pit riffs as Papa bellows, "Lucifer, we are here!" Soon, what sounds like an excommunicated choir appears, and this waltz becomes a straight-up mosh-inducing party.

13. "Zenith"

Meliora Redux, 2016
Deep-cut alert: To find "Zenith," you'll have to search the internet's dark corners and thank one of the "Children" (which is what Papa calls his fans) if you manage to find a high-quality recording, because it's never received an official digital release. Originally included as a bonus track on Meliora's special edition, "Zenith" packs a lot of quintessential Ghost-ness into six minutes: unsettling piano, calming-to-ominous vocals, fearsome church organ, pounding metal chorus and one mega-creepy chant in the break. "Zenith" is a hidden gem that any true Ghost fan should immediately unearth.

12. "He Is"

A lot of Ghost songs sound like you're at church — well, one flipped upside down — but none more so than the exultant "He Is." For four-plus minutes, Papa III's soothing vocals lead this heretical love song, which begins with a gorgeous couplet: "We're standing here by the abyss and the world is in flames/Two star-crossed lovers reaching out to the beast with many names." Forge first started working on the song in 2007. But its stirring, complex arrangement — which moves from moody acoustic playing and delicate piano to swelling orchestrations and dazzling guitar solos — was so tricky that it took him until 2015 to get it right. The result was worth the wait: This is some beautiful, sing-along, outstretched-praise-hands, born-again-for-the-devil goodness.

11. "Call Me Little Sunshine"

Rock & roll history is filled with stories of bands hiding Satanic messages in their music. Ghost aren't hiding shit. This Grammy-nominated single's wicked message — "Call me Little Sunshine/Call me, call me Mephistopheles/When you feel all alone/Just call me Little Sunshine" — is right out in the open. This delicious treat arrives in an intoxicating, disarming package that goes down smooth, with steady, stomping beats, addictive guitar riffs, perfectly placed organ flourishes and lovely harmonized vocals.

10. "Ritual"

Opus Eponymous
What better way to enter the Top 10 than with a song in which Papa I tenderly sings a tale about "invoking our master" in a chapel filled with the "smells of dead human sacrifices"? Musically, "Ritual" oozes Eighties-style production, malevolent hints of Blue Öyster Cult and a nasty guitar riff. "Ritual" also possesses an extra-special mid-song break, during which the masked frontman shifts from his clean singing voice into a lower-register black/death vocal growl to recite a perversion of the Lord's Prayer. It's a rare moment in which we get to hear Ghost go that extreme, even if briefly, and we're absolutely here for it.

9. "Dance Macabre"

"Dance Macabre" is the disco-rock song that Ghost fans didn't know they needed — and now can't get enough of. Inspired by Queen, this chart-topping, gold-certified single celebrates Prequelle's plague theme by hitting the pubs and brothels to party like there's no tomorrow, because, you know, we're all gonna die anyway. Additional vibes include: the Halloween prom you wished you'd had, or a manic lullaby for a restless go-go dancer. Hip-shaking riffs, propulsive dance-floor beats, syncopated bass lines, gorgeous vocals and rich synths abound throughout this banger. (For additional fun, don't sleep on the doubled-down disco remix by French synthwave artist Carpenter Brut.) "Dance Macabre" is a coup that achieves ABBA levels of infectious melody and melancholy — all wrapped in a metal ripper. Get ready, because as Copia croons, Ghost gonna "bewitch you."

8. "Jigolo Har Megiddo"

This cut's groovy melody and sing-song vocals alone make it one of the most unique offerings in Ghost's catalog. Papa II is in fine filthy form here as he slithers over thinly veiled sexual lyrics ("Harvesting crops of fields that others have plowed"), while the Ghouls keep the thrusting cadence, deploy titillating solos and conclude the track with a delightfully sci-fi synth outro. Need to get your groove on even further? Search YouTube to find the acoustic version of "Jigolo Har Megiddo," which unlocks another level of wild decadence. Papa's vocals have never sounded smoother.

7. "Secular Haze"

Sure, Mayhem was evil, but did they ever write a carnival song? No. Sometimes you need a carnival — which is exactly what Ghost create on this cursed lead single from Infestissumam. The sinister scene is set at the start thanks to the unsettling fairground-esque organ lines that open and anchor this track. The merry-go-round only grows more nauseating as Papa layers his entrancing vocal melodies (and ominous whispers) atop thick riffs and a steady drum cadence. Get on this ride.

6. "Life Eternal"

"Life Eternal" is the last song on Prequelle and wasn't released as an album single. But in the years since its release, this song has become a cherished favorite of the Children and a legit sleeper hit. It's not hard to tell why. This closing psalm is a potent power ballad that pulls on the heartstrings with its central question: Would you actually want to live forever? Papa's beautiful, doomed ruminations ("this is the moment of just letting go") are boosted by inspired organ work, lyrical guitar lines and a divine church choir. I'm not crying; you're crying.

5. "Stand by Him"

Opus Eponymous
"Stand by Him" is the very first Ghost song, and its birth is fraught with terrible and sublime significance for Forge. He initially wrote the main riff for this witchy doom ripper around 2006, and its early versions featured lyrics sung in Swedish. The song — a Satanic ode with low-end chugging verses, sing-along choruses and raw, melodic solos — went through several iterations before Forge finally uploaded it to Myspace in 2010 as part of Ghost's demo. It was a thrilling moment, but one that was quickly overshadowed by the unexpected death of his older brother Sebastian who tragically passed that same night. "Ever since then, it's hard not to feel that there might have been some sort of universal trade-off," Forge told Revolver in 2018. "Like he was just giving me a big push in the back and it hasn't stopped since."

4. "Spillways"

On a record full of heavy-as-hell hallelujahs, "Spillways" isn't just Impera's standout anthem — it's one of the greatest songs in the band's entire catalog. After some rad keyboard vamping and punchy drum accents, this devilish tune launches into the stratosphere on the back of head-cutting guitar riffs, driving rhythm work and Papa's transcendent vocal melodies and earworm chorus: "All your faith, all your rage/All your pain, it ain't over now/And I ain't talking about forgiveness." During Ghost's concerts (or, per Papa, their "Rituals"), it becomes a downright fun sing-along. Grab your tambourine for added pleasure, which is exactly what they do in the live version.

3. "Mary on a Cross"

Seven Inches of Satanic Panic EP, 2019
OK, lore first: It's 2019 and Papa Nihil is old, dying and cranky; and he fucking hates the Cardinal. Meanwhile, Nihil's old flame, Sister Imperator, is running the Ministry. Nihil's feeling nostalgic and wants to relive some of his groovy bygone years. So, he miraculously "unearths" a two-song EP that includes the flip side "Mary on a Cross" — a catchy Sixties-influenced psych-rock jam throughout which Nihil delights in risqué wordplay. (Is Mary on that cross? Or wait, is he singing, "mari-juana"?) In 2022, the song became an unexpected hit after it was used as the soundtrack for a viral Stranger Things TikTok. "Mary on a Cross" streams surged, and it landed on the Billboard Hot 100. It's an exciting moment when everyone from classic-rock boomers to digital-native zoomers can all unite behind a salacious Satanic jam.

2. "Cirice"

This foreboding crusher begins with Papa III's simple question: "Can you hear the rumble that's calling?" And the answer from the masses was a resounding yes. This lead single from Ghost's 2015 album was a critical and commercial hit that helped the band reach a whole new echelon of fame — and convert a lot of mainstream listeners into faithful fans. "Cirice" (which translates to "church") peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart and earned Ghost an invitation to perform on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (their first late-night TV appearance). The song would eventually be certified gold and earn a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

All of this is extra amazing because a six-minute, Sabbathian, slow-burn, Satanic metal stomper — performed by Swedes in ghastly masks — isn't your typical formula for mass consumption. But this is Ghost, and there is magick at work: from the song's dramatic compositional arc and haunting riffs to the way Papa III flexes the dynamic range of his voice on chilling lines like "Can't you see that you're lost?/Can't you see that you're lost without me?" With "Cirice," Ghost built their church — and watched as their damned congregation multiplied.

1. "Square Hammer"

Popestar EP, 2016
The Popestar EP marked Papa Emeritus III's last bow before the emergence of the lothario Cardinal Copia — and, goddamn, was it an epic send-off. The smash-hit opener, "Square Hammer," is a lesson in Ghost's evil goodness: exploding out of the gates with an eerie Deep Purple-worthy organ line, unrelenting drum hits and palm-muted guitar chugs that lead to Papa's mission statement: "Are you ready to swear right here, right now/Before the devil"? "Square Hammer" might have explored some esoteric lyrical themes (telling a diabolical, seemingly Masonic, tale of symbols, tools and the "clandestine"), but its message connected with the public in a massive way.

The now gold-certified song topped Billboard's Mainstream Rock Chart (earning Ghost bragging rights as the first Swedish band ever to do so) and propelled Popestar itself to a No. 1 debut on the Top Rock Albums chart (making it the first EP ever to reach that height). To this day, the song stands as one of Ghost's most successful, and subversive, releases. There's nothing better than hearing "Square Hammer" pop up during a professional sports event to shower oblivious fans with a potent Satanic blessing. Ghost may now be enjoying more mainstream success than ever — and selling out many of those same sports arenas for their own live Rituals — but they've never lost sight of who they are … and who they serve.