It’s been out for over a month, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about Ghost’s new masterpiece.
The meteoric rise of Sweden’s Ghost does not seem to let up any time soon. Last time we saw them, Meliora had just been unleashed and the band was about to embark on a tour to promote it. A lot has happened since then. The lawsuit filed by four former band members, until then only known as Nameless Ghouls led to the demystification of Ghost as a band and concept, and Tobias Forge had no other choice than to step forward as the man behind the entire act. Fears that this was the end of Ghost as we knew it were soon laid to rest however and Forge, who had led the band through the guise of various iterations of his Papa Emeritus persona devised a new character, Cardinal Copia, and recruited a new band of Nameless Ghouls in order to release the band’s fourth album, Prequelle. And all was well.
Where the dark debut Opus Eponymous soon led to cult status, Infestissumam elevated the band to a proper force to be reckoned with. 2015’s Meliora and the Popestar EP cemented that status. It also underscored Forge’s ability to write and arrange ridiculously catchy rock music with a theatrical flair. This brings us to 2018 and the release of Prequelle, which is a celebration and culmination of all that came before whilst also giving us the most intricate yet commercial album yet and it’s sure to propel the band to even more dizzying heights.
A semi-concept album about the plague and death in all its aspects, Prequelle starts of with Ashes, a wonderfully creepy version of the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o’ Roses, before it opens properly with the first single Rats. Written as the same sort of kick-in-the-face concert opener as Square Hammer, Rats shows how proficient Forge is when it comes to writing insanely catchy melodies whilst balancing the tightrope between being heavy and overly commercial. You can debate whether it’s a heavy rocking pop song, or a poppy rock track, but in the end Forge doesn’t waste time getting to the point in a very concise and lean four minutes, with an hilariously over the top pop video to go with it. It’s the first hit song on an album stuffed with them. Faith, I must say, didn’t gel with me at first, but has since grown on me a lot. It’s the darkest track on a decidedly poppy record, built around some truly heavy riffing and layered with venomous vocal work. See the Light is the first mid-tempo track on the album and comes across as the most personal song Forge has written, seemingly referencing the (legal) battles with ex-members/Nameless Ghouls and every other “enemy” of the band. The vitriol is tangible on this one.
Prequelle contains not one but two instrumental songs, the first of which is Miasma, and it’s wonderful. Gradually picking up pace, guitars and keyboards duel ever more fiercely on their way to the five minute mark, culminating in a saxophone solo which is as preposterous as it is glorious. With Dance Macabre follows what is probably the most upbeat song Ghost has released so far. Remarkably poppy and insanely catchy, it could not be removed any farther from where the band originally begun on Opus Eponymous. Within the context of Prequelle, however, it works great and proves to be a magnificent follow-up to Miasma’s up-tempo, eighties sounding apotheosis. What follows is Pro Memoria, which is definitely one of the more epic pieces on the album. Boasting with confidence, it showcases more than anything how far Forge has come as a songwriter and arranger. The melancholy piano melodies, the sombre string arrangements juxtaposed with the acidic vocals reminding you to don’t forget about dying, don’t forget about your friend death works masterful in tandem and forms a true highlight on Prequelle. It is followed by what is currently my favourite song of the album, Witch Image, which has a brilliantly huge chorus and features some great riffs and drumming.
The second and last instrumental track is also the longest song on the album, Helvetesfönster translates to “Hell Window” but sounds nothing like it. With acoustic guitars, soothing keyboard melodies and flutes it’s nothing like a window to hell at all. Or is it? In almost six minutes, Ghost creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere until the wind starts blowing and you can hear church bells chiming in the distance, segueing into Prequelle’s closing track Life Eternal. Ghost has always been a band with strong closing tracks, and Life Eternal is no different. Running at a little more than three minutes, the song swells into something grandiose where choirs, heavy guitar melodies and melancholy piano flourishes come together in a glorious culmination to a terrific album.
Since its release on June first Prequelle has hardly left my player, be it on vinyl or digitally, and I still discover new things every once in a while. Yes, it might be the most poppy, commercial thing Ghost has released so far, and it’s sure to polarise the fan base even further, where fans from the first hour will cry foul, but you can bet on Prequelle bringing in swathes of new listeners and thrusting the band into the big league of rock and metal music. At 41 minutes, the album has a perfect running time, filled with only quality songs and no filler. It’s wonderfully arranged, produced and as a whole, this is the best flowing and most consistent album Forge released so far, and I’ll be damned if Ghost can top this one on album number five.
Label: Loma Vista Recordings, 2018
- Ashes (1:21)
- Rats (4:21)
- Faith (4:29)
- See the Light (4:05)
- Miasma (5:17)
- Dance Macabre (3:39)
- Pro Memoria (5:39)
- Witch Image (3:30)
- Helvetesfönster (5:55)
- Life Eternal (3:27)
Review by Ralph Plug