Album Review: Prequelle by Ghost

    I remember seeing Ghost on their first ever US tour at the good ‘ol Mr Smalls Theater here in the Pittsburgh land. The Nameless Ghoul’s led by the late Papa Emeritus I summoned a ritual mass of throwback 70’s occult prog rock to a decently packed club cult following of rabid fans. Fast forward about a decade and Ghost have transcended into a giant theater pop metal production, but still with the heart of Lucifer, baby. If you weren’t a fan of Ghost then, odds are you probably aren’t going to be now. But, I can see if you are a fan of earlier (heavier) Ghost, I can see why you may be at odds with their new record, Prequelle. But, I think that’s what makes it so special.

    Since the release of their first record, it became very clear Ghost were pushing towards expanding their musical direction with every subsequent release. II, Infestissumanium, had a lot more atmosphere, slower tunes, and less heavy riffage than the first. III, Meloria, was a glorious combination of the two, and arguably their best work… well, at least until now. IV, Prequelle, continues in a much more melodic direction shifting the band from 70’s prog metal to maybe 80’s prog occult pop rock? Regardless of how you chose to classify it, it is far different from its hard rock precursors; and by different, I mean better…in a lot of ways, anyway. Or at least more impressive, musically speaking, solidifying Ghost’s spot as the new (anti)heroes of rock n roll. 

    Prequelle is a HUGE sounding record. I mean it has everything from Papa’s (Now Cardinal Copia… more on that later) signature death snarls and high pitched range, to beautiful harmonies, to orchestra, to blazing twin lead guitars, to saxophone solos; Ghost cover a lot of ground on this one; from the fire abysses in lucifers lair, to the rat infested grimy Earth, to the triumphant mountains in the heavens above. Ghost takes you there.  Even though a giant musical leap has been made expanding their sound and performance into a more “theater” approach, they far from completely abandon their heavy metal roots. There are more than enough heavy riffs and brilliantly twisted lyrics on top of major chords and brilliant melodies that’ll never get out of your fucked up little cranium. This record is loosely based on the medieval plague..telling the story of the rise of death and impending doom.. while shining a light on the human condition and struggle to live. Meddled with metaphors of our current situation today.. a lot seems to run parallel in Ghost’s gloriously dark production. And that, my friends, is metal as fuck.  “Rats” is the lead single that sounds like the song that golden-era Ozzy never wrote and is a wonderful, catchy, thumping throwback to 80’s heavy metal. And, the next song, “Faith,” starts off with a tasty guitar lick interrupted by the head banging invitation of drums; providing an immediately catchy, heavy, hard-hitting tune that could fit perfectly on their first record. After they establish their reign as the best catchy satanic heavy metal songwriters that they are, Ghost start to guide you into a new realm…

    This is where things start to get “poppy” by Ghost’s standards. “See the Light” is the first we hear of a more downbeat ballad. They waste no time sucking you into their effortless melodies before hitting you the arena-rock chorus that’ll likely resinate with fans for years to come. Is it MAYBE a little corny? Sure, but that might be the point. Ghost is trying to broaden their horizons to reach a new and larger audience, and they know exactly how to do it. The lyrical themes and empowering sort of self-righteous chorus leads many to speculate this song is about/inspired by Tobias Forge (Papa -  I mean, Copia - whatever), the mastermind behind this whole Ghost thing and his issues with former bandmates and such. Now, Im purposefully not diving into Forge and his situation with Ghost and co. If you want to look into that drama there’s plenty of it on the inter webs. Long story short, this is the first record that Tobias Forge  established himself as the guy, the Papa Emerituses (Emeriti??), and they main songwriter for Ghost. And to me, thats cool, but that’s whatever, too. What made Ghost so cool (and hopefully what will always make Ghost so cool) is their illusion of anonymity and mystery. If you wanna bring the reality of the Ghost/Forge situation into the music, I feel like that sells it short; if not ruining it. Ghost is based on this willful suspension of disbelief that this satanic royalty figure, led by a rocking band of demons, is here to fuck shit up and take you on a musical journey that you’ve likely never experienced before. Why ruin that with reality? We can get plenty of shitty reality in everyday life. Ghost provides a musical reprieve from that, that I feel the world, especially today, needs. Just look at how much they’ve grown over the years; its insane. This weird little anonymous band dressed as satanic warriors has broken their way into mainstream rock and likely will go down forever in history. In a time where rock/heavy metal music is so devoid of coolness and shock value, Ghost is a brilliant reminder of that kind of music can still exist. And fucking rule. So shut up and remember what rock n roll is really about. Rant over. NEXT SONG. 

    “Miasma” is my hipster choice for my favorite track on the record. It’s the first of two instrumental pieces and by far the coolest. Miasma is a pure prog track that inflates itself way beyond the boundaries of Ghost without feeling out of place or forced in the slightest. The use of synth, horns, brilliant guitar harmonies, and the almighty power move of the ending sax solo… this song rocks and further solidifies Forge’s songwriting genius. It sounds like it could be in an obscure 80’s Italian D-grade slasher flick, and I mean that with the absolute highest of regards. After Ghost is done impressing music freaks like me and probably you only with that (Miasma likely wont be the first time Ghost listeners favorite track), they come in with the ultimate satanic disco anthem, “Dance Macabre.” Catchy doesn’t even begin to describe it. The banging, effortless hook topped with the thumping bass, major chords, and the vocal range of our new leader Cardinal Copia will have you dancing in the moonlight… all night. This song will likely live in Ghost’s encore presentation forever and convert non-Ghost fans into stripping their clothes off and worshipping the dark lord. Welcome, friends and children of the beast. All joking aside, this fun and catchy yet dark tune will leave you head banging and wanting more.

    Just in case you need to catch your breath after the Dance, Ghost slow it way down with “Pro Memoira.” Its a haunting little piano-based satanic ballad that’ll leave you happily embracing death with my favorite lyric in possibly all of Ghost, “Don’t you forget about dying/Don’t you forget about your friend death/ Don’t you forget that you will die.” Sang like the most chipper statement of all time, I promise you’ll be singing it all day. Hey, if anything, think of it as a reminder to enjoy life amidst all this insane bullshit happening around you… ‘cause you ain’t getting out alive. I just hope there’s a Dio concert every night in Hell.

    Lager-than-life choruses of rotting flesh linger in the next tune, “Witch Image,” which is another signature evil pop banger. Simple, formulaic, maybe just a little boring.. but it serves its purpose as a nice quick, digestible tune before the second prog instrumental masterpiece, “Helvetesfonster.” Changing up things from the previous instrumental “Miasma,” it delivers a lot more down beat piano vibes at first.. before shifting tis way into almost vaudeville -pop - dark theater territory… all before slowing it down with some acoustic guitar for added atmosphere and romance. Make sense yet? Didn’t think so. But thats what I dig so much about this record and just Ghost in general, they’re so hard to pin down and classify. They are truly their own thing. And it rocks. Rocks into… “Life Eternal.” The albums epilogue, the brilliant, beautiful conclusion to this production. The record’s only true ballad leaves a haunting impression but beautifully hopeful ending to this piece. It brings to life the idea of, well, life, in this world Ghost created that is riddled by death and despair. And it leaves you longing for more, forever. 

    To say I am a fan of Ghost and this record is an understatement, if you couldn’t gather that. Done talking about the music and this record specifically, the whole concept of Ghost is a masterpiece. Wether Tobias Forge did it alone or not, Ghost literally is a musical universe created out of the inspiration of occult rock, demons, and darkness; bought brought to light in the most beautiful and accessibly way imaginable. With every album (this one especially) they establish an era, a look, a sound, an atmosphere. That is what made bands like Bowie, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, etc, so fascinating and special. And that’s exactly what bands are missing today. And thats exactly why Ghost is perfect to fill that void and are received so well by many. The mystery and illusion of Ghost is what makes them so special and separates them from the rest. Ghost is so much more than a band, more like a dark empire, a dark world, riddled with interesting characters; rulers and slaves alike that exist within it that casually pump out the best rock n roll of the decade. And they have hordes of fans to congregate and celebrate darkness with them. How exactly is that different from any other religion? Rock n roll isn’t dead. Its just a Ghost.

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