Album Review: Ghost – “Prequelle”
As bizarre musical concepts go, a sinister pope backed by a group of devil-masked ghouls playing 70s-tinged hard rock seems a quirky one to say the least. Over the past few years though, Ghost’s theatrics have caught worldwide attention and just over a decade into their career, the band are ready to unleash their fourth full length record, Prequelle.
In a potted history for those unaware of the band’s career to date, Ghost started out as a group of faceless monks led by the malevolent Papa Emeritus, playing songs that told of Satan embarking on his quest for world domination. On subsequent albums, the original Papa was replaced by his “brothers” Papa Emeritus II and III, and now by close family friend Cardinal Copia. During this time, Ghost became more grandiose, covering songs by Abba and Eurythmics, gaining celebrity fans such as Dave Grohl and Metallica and supporting Iron Maiden across the States, all the while keeping their anonymity intact.
As the release of Prequelle has approached, Ghost’s mastermind (and the man behind the various Papas and current Cardinal) Tobias Forge has come clean about his identity in order to outline the apocalyptic themes surrounding their latest opus. To be honest though, little explanation is needed, as children creepily chant the plague rhyme Ring a Ring o’ Roses on the introductory Ashes before lead single Rats swaggers in with its galloping 80s riff and rock opera chorus. A perfect choice to open the album, it’s the catchiest song you’ll have heard since…well, since Square Hammer from Ghost’s 2016 Popestar EP. Full of stadium rock “scream for me!” moments, Rats takes Ghost’s lovably retro formula and cranks it up a notch, producing a polished maelstrom of a tune.
Medieval in content if not in sound, Prequelle gets down and dirty into its prophetic themes from the off, hinting that the modern world isn’t all that different from the pestilence and despair of the Middle Ages. Moving away from the devilish themes of yore, this album is certainly a very different beast to its predecessors, however Rats and Faith are the closest to throwbacks here, the latter a modern headbanger that ticks all the boxes for older fans whilst delivering a crystal clear crunch and omnipresent danger.
See The Light on the other hand is full of cultish hypnosis with its sultry “drink me, eat me, then you’ll see the light” refrain and synth-heavy playfulness that pays homage to Ghost’s pop heroes. It’s definitely a softer turn to the record, creating some very ornate textures and the band continue to do this with Miasma, one of three instrumentals on Prequelle (presumably thinking ahead to the time needed for the good Cardinal to have a wardrobe switch off-stage). The track is part film score, part prog blow-out, and even part retro-videogame soundtrack, crazy, ambitious yet tantalising. It’s a potentially divisive move for Ghost, and just as you get fully entranced by the melody a sax solo sweeps in to close it out in a bizarre yet oddly logical fashion.
Rock-ballad-in-waiting Dance Macabre owes plenty to Whitesnake and Heart, yet still sounds supremely modern, and would be equally at home in Friday night rock clubs as it would on your Dad’s Now That’s What I Call Driving compilation CD. Again, maybe a touch whimsical for older fans, this is pure unadulterated fun for most, and if you’re not down with that you may as well give up on Ghost now.
Although Prequelle touches on religion, Forge has focused largely on man-made desolation with this album, looking deeply into the eyes of armageddon before giving it a cheeky wink and running for the hills, and on ode to mortality Pro Memoria Cardinal Copia is at his tempting best. Luring you in with orchestration before purring through pretty downbeat lyrics (“Don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend death, don’t you forget that you will die”) the song then veers into Ghost’s take on a Guns N’ Roses ballad, admittedly with less Slash on a clifftop, but it’s still good clean fun.
Closing out the album, Helvetesfonster feels like an instrumental reprise of Pro Memoria and could be considered a little lazy for it, but it’s actually an intriguing way to revisit musical themes before the rousing Life Eternal which in turn is a fitting end to a magical, majestic outing. Prequelle as a whole is a fascinating journey that does nod to the band’s past, but also evolves their sound and story successfully onto the next chapter. And with Cardinal Copia at the helm, that next chapter seems very exciting indeed.
A softer record than usual from Ghost, Prequelle is no less sinister for it, delivering some mesmeric and momentous slabs of hard rock. Already old pros at piecing together a decent tale with each album, the band have certainly experimented with that formula, but they've still laid down some of the catchiest singalong rock anthems you're likely to hear this year. Another standout release from a band who seem to do no wrong.