Album Review: Ghost’s Prequelle Lives Up to the Hype (Mostly)
Ghost are now one of the biggest bands in metal (or rock? more on that later), and their new album Prequelle arrives with a ton of anticipation and hype. The internet media machine kicked into high gear almost a year ago when rumors of a new album first started trickling out and hasn’t let up since, with teases of the “new Papa” lighting up this site’s hit counter any time so much as a sliver of information came out. Prequelle has now finally arrived; musically speaking, does it live up to the hype?
While the band’s foray into ’80s arena rock / AOR has been discussed ad infinitum, I find those claims to be a bit exaggerated: the band has far from abandoned their metal roots, and Prequelle finds them delivering plenty of the dark, Satanic, occult madness that made us all come to love this band in the first place. “Rats,” the album’s first single, is propelled by a Judas Priest-esque riff that carries the song’s momentum while the hard-driving beat, chunky rhythm guitar and minor-key, harmonized leads on “Faith” invoke all the spooky weirdness of Ghost’s early material. Tasty guitar solos with quick-picked shred runs dot the entire album, as on the above two tracks, “Witch Image” and even the record’s ballads.
As for the aforementioned creative turn into arena rock — almost pop — territory, well yeah, that’s definitely a thing on Prequelle, a big one. And it’s absolutely glorious, expertly executed and not awkward or forced in the slightest. Ghost’s M.O. has always been great songs above everything else, so in that sense nothing has changed: the only difference is that here they’re packaged in a shell that bears more of a resemblance to Def Leppard or Journey than it does Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. Anyone that goes that route better have the chops to back it up — great, TRULY great, undeniably catchy songs — and Tobias Forge (with the help of some outside songwriters) has proven himself up to the task.
“Dance Macabre,” the album’s second single, is so immediate and danceable that the band inserted it into their live encore before it’d even been released, and I came away from the experience of witnessing them perform it with a lasting impression — it was stuck in my head as I headed for the venue’s exit! “See the Light” dials down the energy a few notches but still makes another go at the year’s catchiest number; don’t be surprised if we get an epic music video later in the album cycle and the song ends up becoming one the band’s live staples and fan favorites. “Pro Memoria” is another slower number led by a plinking piano and Forge’s vocal melody that showcases a mountaintop-worthy guitar solo backed by an orchestral arrangement. “Life Eternal,” the album’s closer, is the weakest of the album’s three down-tempo tunes; we’re venturing into ultimate cheese Night Ranger territory here (not necessarily a bad thing), but unfortunately Forge doesn’t really have the vocal range or strength to pull it off and make it great.
Elsewhere, “Miasma” and “Helvetesfonster” end up being two of the album’s most interesting tracks that a large chunk of Ghost’s fans will probably write off as throwaways: they’re both instrumental, very proggy, and the record’s two longest cuts. Featuring slicing, ’80s inspired analogue synths, Maiden-esque dualing lead guitars, a rousing saxophone solo (“Miasma”) and lush, chilled-out keyboard layering (“Helvetesfonster”), we’re talking Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer territory here! Ghost have really explored all the crevices of ’70s and ’80s rock this time through.
Lyrically, we find Forge focusing on themes of trial by public jury, the nefarious forces of society that take us down (“Rats”) and not letting the haters break you (“See the Light”), no doubt inspired by the ongoing lawsuit against him. “Dance Macabre” tells the tale of that poisonous but irresistible lover we’ve all had with the following absolutely delectable, ghoulish lyrical twist: “Just wanna be / Wanna bewitch you in the moonlight / Just wanna be / I wanna bewitch you all night.” Interestingly, the latter’s writing credits go not to Forge but two professional Swedish songwriters, Vincent Pontare and Salem Al Fakir.
Of the album’s ten tracks, three are instrumental. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s interesting that Ghost — a song-focused band first and foremost — would release an album with only seven viable live and radio tracks. Those seven tracks are absolute doozies — some of the best the band’s ever written! — but I can’t help but feel the album is lacking a little meat on its bones. An additional heavy banger or two really would’ve gone a long way towards solidifying this album’s place in the metal pantheon. Still, to answer the question posed in this review’s introduction, Prequelle absolutely lives up to the hype: the album is set to propel Ghost far beyond where anyone ever expected they’d be.