Ghost - Prequelle
Ghost has always been a band that’s hard to place. For a band that won their first Grammy in 2016, there is still a huge veil of mystery surrounding them – something that can be intriguing but also intimidating to newcomers. So, just in case you know nothing about Ghost, here is a super quick explanation:
The Swedish 6-piece group is composed of singer Tobias Forge and five ‘Nameless Ghouls’ who perform in identical, mouthless, devil masks. Frontman Tobias Forge takes on the role of an evolving character with an appearance and backstory that changes with every album cycle (On Prequelle, his character is ‘Cardinal Copia’ seen below). The theme of the group has been fixated on the occult, namely Satanism, and their stage costumes are often interpreted as a mockery of Christianity. However eye-catching their appearance is, Ghost’s music is somewhat different from what you would expect from a ‘satanic metal band’. Ghost’s sound is likened to a classic rock band from the 70’s with a demonic, eerie, underbelly – a combination that makes for a unique theatrical experience. With melodic singing and unconventional instruments, Ghost doesn’t fall neatly into a sub-genre. Instead, the best way to describe them would be as a blend of hard-rock, heavy metal, doom metal, psychedelic, and progressive rock. The band’s imagery, appearance, and stage presence all contribute as much as the band’s music to create an entity that is undeniably unique.
Now to Prequelle, the group’s fourth studio offering released on June 1st, 2018 through Loma Vista Recordings. Although not necessarily a concept album, Prequelle see’s Ghost’s attention turned to the bubonic plague in Medieval times while tying in lyrical themes of religion, death, and destruction. This overarching theme was an ingenious choice, as there’s a multitude of ideas to explore and it fits within Ghost’s niche image of the dark and evil. Aesthetically, the production quality on Prequelle is also a masterpiece - every instrument is carefully woven into the colorfully layered and vibrant mix.
Prequelle sets Ghost’s ominous tone straight away with “Ashes”. The short album introductory track features children singing "Ring Around the Rosie", a nursery rhyme whose lyrics make references to the plague. The creepy child voices will give anyone whose seen Insidious instant flashbacks. Then the instruments kick in and jolt the listener awake before building up in famous Ghost fashion to a cinematic precipice – something wicked this way comes.
Drums burst through the gate with a sparkling rhythm, followed by chugging guitars, and lastly Forge’s/Cardinal Copia’s reverberating voice on “Rats” - the standout single from the album. The song’s chorus showcases a complex layering of synths over the other instrumentation and Tobias’ delivery of the words rats (rrrrraaats) creates a spectacular tension between the more melodic sections. The track opens-up to a soaring guitar solo and finishes with an intriguing harpsichord-infused outro.
The next track “Faith” could have easily been the standout single in favor of "Rats". It’s a hard-hitting, no-nonsense boot-stomper of a tune and the heaviest song on the record. The drums shine in this track with a thumping tempo and an epic clattering of cymbals.
“Miasma” is another strong point of the album. It’s a gorgeous instrumental where the bass, guitars, and synths all combine to form a sophisticated texture. Guitar solos burst out left and right while synth’s round out the composition, and finally a stunning saxophone solo puts the icing on the cake. Without saying a word, Ghost paints such vivid imagery, plus it’s a great breather after the heavier first few tracks.
Ghost gets right back into it with “Dance Macabre”. For a moment, you may forget that this a Ghost album and double check that you’re not accidentally listening to a Kiss album (yeah, that other masked band). But listen carefully and there is more to be revealed under its simple appearance. There’s some clever wording in the chorus; that’s “I wanna bewitch you all night” NOT “be with you”. It’s such accessible arena-rock that it’s almost ironic, but it’s subtly infused with Ghost’s menacing attitude.
A huge hiccup on Prequelle is “Pro Memoria”. It is undoubtedly the lowest point of the album and possibly of Ghost’s entire catalog so far. Instrumentally, it’s a fine track but the chorus lyrics: “Don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend death, don’t you forget that you will die” are so cheesy that it's hard not to laugh. It’s a skip.
Fortunately, things pick up again with the next track “Witch Image”. Similar to “Dance Macabre”, “Witch Image” has this ironic arena-rock vibe to it. The song composition would be fitting for a mainstream pop-rock track if not for the few careful splashes of satanism we’ve come to know and love from Ghost. ‘Ghostifying’ the instrumentals is a subtle yet distinct screeching string section that sets the eerie atmosphere. The lyrics are also slightly off-putting: “While you sleep in earthly delight, someone’s flesh is rotting tonight”. These elements give the song a bizarre and wicked undertone, and Ghost succeeds in creating this great juxtaposition of conflicting joyful and disturbing elements.
“Helvetesfönster” is another huge shortcoming of the album as it's a near six-minute instrumental piece that pales in comparison to the stunning “Miasma”. It’s hard not to think Ghost could have done so much more with this time instead, especially since “Miasma” already fulfills every need for an instrumental break on the album. The lyrical themes of the plague were left seriously underdeveloped and there’s a huge missed opportunity to fully dive in and explore the vast number of ideas surrounding the subject. Perhaps Ghost was simply trying to fill some time to hit the 40-minute mark on the album (the album sits at 41 minutes), like a cheap burger there’s not much meat to chew on in the second half. There is absolutely no need for a second instrumental (on most albums really) especially for a band that is not extraordinarily technical instrumentally.
Prequelle definitely has its low points and is far from a masterpiece. Nonetheless, it is still a really enjoyable and unique album, with some great songs. We would recommend reading through the Genius explanation of the lyrics to fully understand them and how they relate to the bubonic plague as it is both fascinating and grisly.