Ghost – Prequelle Review

At heart, rock ‘n’ roll has always been theater.  It’s performance, on-stage and under the lights; it’s exorcism and exhibition, a transference of raw emotion from performer to audience through words and action. It’s why guys with names like Reginald Dwight and Vince Furnier and Farrokh Bulsara rename themselves and reinvent themselves as cartoon characters, as villains, as messengers of the gods. It’s why Paul and Gene and Ace and Peter drove straight to the heart of a generation of adolescents who lived and died by Alive! and then furthered the cycle by slinging their guitars low, picking up drumsticks, and forming bands of their own.

Some bands rely on it more than others, but the theater is always there.

These days, there’s no rock band better at the theatrical than Sweden’s Ghost. Through four albums now, the recently unmasked Tobias Forge and his rotating band of nameless ghouls have risen to the top of critics’ lists, to steady sales and streams, and to winning a Grammy for “Cirice.” Easily their most accessible moment, “Square Hammer” put them atop the US radio charts, and that one clearly foreshadowed Prequelle‘s direction–it was concise, its cartoonish Satanism evident but still a hair less overt, and more than anything in their catalog (’til now), it was inescapably hooky.

Release date: June 1, 2018. Label: Loma Vista.
In a recent interview, Forge stated that, when he formed Ghost, he thought they’d maybe play a few shows, maybe a festival, and clearly it’s all gone quite a bit farther than that. He mentioned that he felt Ghost should sound like some classic rock band you haven’t heard, and he also lamented the current dearth of arena-level bands and that he felt Ghost fit into that slot. He’s very much correct in both assertions. Forge has long been aiming toward pop(e) stardom, but now, with Prequelle, after all the hype and all the progress, he’s delivered an album to match his arena-sized ambitions.

Borrowing a trick from Wes Craven’s playbook, Prequelle opens with children singing a nursery rhyme, this time “Ring A Ring O’ Rosie,” which is often (and apparently incorrectly) tied with the Black Plague, and thus segues nicely into first single and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer #1, “Rats.” That one, Prequelle‘s first real song is prime (mover) Ghost: a trad-metal riff that could’ve been borrowed from an early Dio record, lifted up by creepy keyboard accompaniment, and an irresistible melody layered in harmonies that leads into a no-brainer shout-along chorus custom-built for those arenas. THEM RATS! That chorus is coming after youuuuu… There is nothing you can doooo… Oh, oh, oh, ohhh…

Following number “Faith” is Prequelle’s most metallic moment, with killer guitar harmonies entwined around a stomping main riff and another of Forge’s patented InstantHook choruses. (See also the later stomper “Witch Image,” which manages to make “while you sleep in earthly delight / someone’s flesh is rotting tonight” into a singalong moment.) Second single and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer #2 “Dance Macabre” is a straight-up 80s pop/hard rock number, somewhere between disco and riff-driven guitars, and it’s gloriously and gleefully silly, winking and grinning all the way down to Forge’s clever play on “bewitch you.” Power ballad “Pro Memoria” is both Prequelle’s highlight and one of Ghost’s finest ever songs, the kind of cellphone-in-the-air chorus custom-made for those arena crowds.

Balancing its inspiration of death and doom against Ghost’s unflagging and exhilarating sense of campy fun, Prequelle is chock full of those great moments, but taken as a whole, what’s best about it is its sheer self-indulgence, its pompous and brilliantly cinematic expanse, from string-laden classical moments all the way down to the sax solo in the rollicking prog-rock instrumental “Miasma.” In another life, it could’ve been the soundtrack to a shlocky 80s horror film, and I mean that in the best possible way–the kind of film where rock ‘n’ roll turns a perfectly normal Catholic priest into a Satanic cardinal, dancing awkwardly in front of seven black-clad, silver-masked demons, and they’re coming after you… And there is nothing you can doooo… Oh, oh, oh, ohhh…

At the end of the day, Prequelle is the album that Ghost has always been leading towards — it’s the sound of a band finally growing into its own larger-than-life aspirations, and it’s every bit as grandiose and great as it has to be. This is Ghost’s breakpoint; this is where the occult-rock band once hidden in mystery truly becomes one of the biggest rock bands around, and it’s not because of the marketing angle, not because of the outfits or the controversy. It’s because the music catches the spirit of rock theatrics and owns them masterfully, carving its own place between the Alice Coopers and Blue Öyster Cults and Mercyful Fates that spawned it. Prequelle rocks, from tip to toe, and it rocks perfectly. It’s got enough riffs to satisfy most metalheads; it’s got earworm choruses for days, got hooks big enough to keep it on the radio for years to come; it’s got pomp and pop and Satan and silliness and, more than anything else, it’s got oodles and oodles of fun.

Forge is right—this world needs arena rock, and Ghost is stepping up. Rock ‘n’ roll is theater; sit back and enjoy the show.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

  1. I gotta say, I do not share your enthusiasm at all. Ghost was always at the limit between Metal and Pop, and their balancing act was excellent on their first three records (especially the first one, a true masterpiece) but on this one they really went to the dark (or righter bright) side and lost much of their inspiration in the process. Rats is great, Faith pretty awesome and their are a few other cool moments (Miasma, Witch Image), but overall this record is utterly bland and boring. And I don’t hear many metal riffs outside of the first two tracks. It seems to me the Ghouls he hired this time are simple journeyman without much fire in their playing… If you need to loose most of what made you interesting to become an arena rock act, than that’s a real shame. I’ll go back to listening to Meliora or Opus Eronymous instead.

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    1. Ia_Nyarlathotep June 8, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Agreed. This album is a total mixed bag and (imo) Pro Memoria sounds like a bad rock opera. Miasma is so good though. Sounds and feels almost like a sequel to Genesis.

      Reply

  2. Happy to be the discerning voice in the comments section here; I had all the albums previous to this and liked them but ultimately paid them scant regard. They headlined Bloodstock here in the UK last year on the Saturday and I had enjoyed them enough to make my way as close to the front as I could to see why they were granted this particular slot. They were sublime; forcing me to revisit and rethink their back-catalogue. This review totally resonates with me; a band absolutely nailing what they do and producing a superb album. They wear their influences on their proverbial for-hire sleeves and this, IMO, is their best effort to date. A near perfect record that surpasses their own very high watermark. Excellent stuff.

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  3. I definitely like this album more than Meliora. I’m not sure if I’d rank it above Infestissumam, which I think was a little ahead of it’s time, but it’s real close. It really feels like they’ve taken it to the next level. I saw the current tour a couple of weeks ago and they were incredible. They’ve been one of my favorites since their debut and I am loving them more than ever right now

    Also, they should get props for having Steve Moore (Zombi and bunch of other stuff) play the synths on this one.

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  4. I still don’t get this band. Their music has never been heavy metal and yet that’s the aesthetic they’re going for. I’d rather listen to Mercyful Fate.

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