Reviews

REVIEW: Ghost – “Prequelle”

Hey, everyone’s favorite goofy Scooby-Doo chase music band is back with another album! Except this time it’s a little less goofy. Ghost have had a wild trajectory, their tongue-in-cheek theatrics quickly approaching the front step of mainstream appeal. Four albums deep and they show no signs of slowing. In order to tackle this mammoth record, one of the most anticipated ones of 2018, fellow writer Vidur and editor David teamed up to offer their takes!

WHAT DAVID THOUGHT

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: I am a big Ghost fan. I love what they do, I play along with the pageantry and all the ridiculousness that comes with it. The music has always been consistently great. This album does nothing to change that; it’s a wonderfully solid effort that sits somewhere in the middle of their catalog in terms of quality. But I am curious about the endgame that Ghost have been careening toward ever since Opus Eponymous unexpectedly took off like a rocket. They seem empowered by their recent Grammy win for “Cirice”, searching for a ripe vein of pop gold. Whether you consider that a good thing is up to you, but it frames their new album Prequelle in an interesting way.

Through time, we have seen them lean more and more on their pop sensibilities, creating catchy track after catchy track about Satan, death, and other generally unsavory topics that fit right into metal music ethos. I think it’s here where we finally see Ghost jump the pop music shark with their single “Dance Macabre”. It’s a laser-etched rock tune form-fitted for radio that’s almost too perfect. It’s clearly intended for mainstream consumption and while I still think the band as a whole might be a hard sell for that demographic, I guess you can’t blame them for trying. Still, it’s a decent song that grew on me, but it’s ultimately a very sterile take on their sound with lyrics digestible for the masses, a far cry from the sacrilegious undertones of their previous albums. A song like “Rats” is more in line with the Ghost of the past, a morbid single loosely about the Black Plague, but also apparently an allusion to modern human discourse.

However, it was a big surprise seeing not just one, but two fully-fledged instrumental tracks on here. Before, you got an intro track and maybe a paltry, disappointing interlude with an awesome name. Here, we get “Miasma”, a five-plus minute track that pulls no punches with its retro leanings. Sexy saxophone and glorious harmonies are the highlight. Four songs later you get another instrumental track called “Helvetesfönster”, or ‘window to hell’. It’s more ambient than “Miasma” with a whimsical flute and piano intro, and where the former track was more written as a jam, this one is more about mood and acoustics (Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth contributes some subtle guitar). It’s more dramatic, truly befitting of a band whose current frontman looks like he dressed for a Vaudeville throwback performance at a Hot Topic outlet. This is a side of Ghost you don’t ever see because it’s antithetical to their gimmick. So much of their ‘thing’ depends on their frontmen and the vocal performances, so this made for an endearing moment.

Which leads me to my next… let’s call it an observation. Each new singer for Ghost (just play along with me, huh?) seems to clean up their vocals a lot more. Gone are the days of Papa Emeritus I’s haunting pitches, something that Papas II and III held onto though in progressively diminishing values. Cardinal Copia’s singing is polished and cleaner than a papal mitre. This is fine – I like clarity and enunciation in music – but they lose a bit of the black magic in the process. We do get some gnarly and ghastly vocals in the middle of “Faith” though; a nice change of pace.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, Ghost have changed, but they also have not. Whether or not the mysterious Swedes are truly hellbent on mainstream stardom and bringing the devil to the doorstep of suburbia, we can only assume. Their existence has always been polarizing and one of defiance, be it chaffing the asses of metalheads and heavy music fans, or the very conceptual nature of their being. Love or hate them, they are one of the most interesting bands this decade, thanks in no small part to their stellar music.

Personal Score: 8/10

WHAT VIDUR THOUGHT

If there is one band that has divided the metal community unlike any other over the past decade, it’s Ghost. The Swedish rockers are seen by many as a gimmicky act that is built around hipster Satanism, whose music never truly captivates the retro-sound the band aims for. For others, they represent one of the finest hard rock acts of the 21st century. 2018 sees the band return with their fourth full length record – Prequelle. But things have changed, the identity of Papa Emeritus/Cardinal Copia is now public knowledge due to the lawsuits filed against Tobias Forge last year. Hence, with Prequelle the big question is, with the anonymity gone and the gimmicks being reduced a notch, does the music still have the power to draw in the fans?

Not only does Prequelle see Ghost take a subdued stance in their art and costumes, but more importantly also a new direction with the sound. The Blue Öyster Cult style of doom influenced rock found on the debut Opus Eponymous is nearly wiped clean from the production table and the classic hard-rock music on Meliora is amplified further. The band clearly takes inspiration from the rock music of the 70s and 80s, as influences ranging from KISS to Styx all come to the fore on the record.

WHAT WORKS:

There is no getting around this fact: Prequelle is one catchy record.

Despite the dark theme of the Black Plague running through the record, Prequelle quickly captivates the listener. After the eerie opener in “Ashes”, “Rats” wastes no time to give the listener a classic old-school hard rock track, with Cardinal Copia almost leading the whole atmosphere akin to what King Diamond used to do with Mercyful Fate. “Dance Macabre” sounds right out of the 80s and could well have been the song of any of the top rock band of the era. It’s got a rhythm that will be stuck in the listener’s head for the months to come and is bound to be the big ‘dance along’ song on the upcoming and future tours of Ghost. It’s just that catchy!

The ‘too-grand-for-reality’ imagery of the music of the previous records is still intact, as the band comes into prefect sync on “Faith” and delivers one of the highest points on the album. As the album progresses, Ghost ventures into brave territories by experimenting with instrumentals “Miasma” and “Helvetesfönster”. The former of which is indeed a powerful keyboard driven prog rock track reminding one of everything from Electric Light Orchestra to Styx, with the saxophone solo at the end topping it off with a cherry. In “Life Eternal” the band not only has an operatic ballad-esque closure, but also manages to show a different side to their sound. While the band’s experimentation towards a softer side may look like an attempt to attract a larger audience, Cardinal Copia pulls it off with significant grace.

WHAT DOES NOT WORK:

The most infuriating part of Prequelle is how the record is structured. While the record kicks off with the powerful combination of “Rats” and “Faith”, it follows them up with “See the Light” which just takes the momentum away from the music. While “Dance Macabre” does help lift spirits once again, the track is followed by “Pro Memoria” and “Witch Image” which probably represent the weakest section on the record. These never allow the listener to be totally absorbed in the over-the-top Thriller-esque Satanic atmosphere Ghost managed on Infestissumam and Meliora.

Moreover, after a powerful first half culminating in “Dance Macabre” the band drop some fillers in “Pro Memoria” and “Helvetesfönster”. The former simply falls flat, with the main chorus sounding extremely lame and cheesy ‘Don’t you forget about dying/Don’t you forget about your friend death/Don’t you forget that you will die’ and the latter coming off as an unnecessary secondary instrumental, more so as it comes down the line after the excellent “Miasma”.

A HIT AND MISS THAT PREQUELLE IS

Over the years it has become clear that Tobias Forge wants Ghost to be the next big rock act and see the band do stadium tours and fill arenas. Prequelle is clearly a step in that direction, as the band tries to walk the thin line of keeping their fans and make their music more accessible and radio-friendly.

There are clearly parts of Prequelle that don’t work out, but in the segments they do, they show what Ghost are capable of – delivering classic old-school rock anthems. Underneath the gimmick and art lie good riffs, rhythms, and choruses that you will find yourself humming for days to come. The hits clearly outweigh the misses, and overall Prequelle is a fine addition to the Ghost discography.

Personal Score: 7/10

 

Overall Score: 7.5/10

Notable Tracks: “Rats”; “Miasma”; “Dance Macabre”; “Life Eternal”

FFO: Blue Oyster Cult, The Sword, Muse, Thin Lizzy, KISS

You can join Ghost‘s congregation through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their official site where you can order Prequelle yourself as well as take a look at where their sermons will take them next on tour!

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