Ghost - Prequelle (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Prequelle (2018)

Loma Vista recordings

Prequelle, the fourth full-length from Sweden’s Ghost marks an interesting point in their trajectory; if this album doesn’t make them one of the biggest rock bands in the world, nothing will. For their part, the group seem to be extremely confident. Ghost were debuting Prequelle tracks in a live setting well before it’s release, and only a few shows in, some, like “Dance Macabre” had achieved encore status. This fall, they have a series of arena shows scheduled, including a stop at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a venue that they played last year as the support band for Iron Maiden. Clearly there is a lot riding on this release for them, and their arena ambitions are accompanied by an album with a sound to match.

“Ashes” opens the proceedings with a choir composed entirely of group mastermind Tobias Forge’s nine-year-old daughter singing “Ring Around the Rosies” (Prequelle is a loose concept album, an allegory for our troubling times through the lens of the Black Plague epidemic of the 1300’s), which leads into an updated, louder, more distorted version of “Spoksonat” from 2015’s Meliora. The same riff is recalled the end of the following track and first single, “Rats” in the form of a breakdown that is guaranteed to incite mass moshing, a million miles away from the gentle harp-plucking of its grandfather song. The track opens with a Jake E. Lee-era Ozzy riff and gradually makes it way to a “Dayman”-esque singalong chorus over bouncy rhythms inspired by fellow Swedes ABBA. Nothing about it should make sense, but it’s a lot of fun.

Musical themes recur often throughout Prequelle, with the two instrumentals “Miasma” and “Helvetesfonster” serving as overtures for the two sides of the album. Of the two, “Miasma” is by far the more interesting, playing like a more aggressive version of the Flash Gordon soundtrack, with an out of nowhere, but surprisingly fun saxophone solo at its epic climax.

The rest of the album runs the gamut stylistically, drawing from their past catalog, as well as adding some new flourishes in places, and for the most part they work. “Dance Macabre” is hands down the catchiest song to date from a band that wrote “Square Hammer” and “Monstrance Clock.” “Witch Image” is probably the closest Ghost have come to sounding like Forge’s old gothic power-pop outfit Subvision. “Pro Memoria” and “Life Eternal” are both full-blown 80’s arena rock power ballads, and if the Sabbath-esque “Cirice” won them a Grammy, either of these song easily could as well. “Faith” is the most straightforward heavy metal song here, and unfortunately it’s also probably the least interesting. “See the Light” opens with a cool, goth-y post-punk vibe, but the choruses sound a little too much like something Kevin Churko would produce. It sounds like the group fully embracing active radio rock rather than infiltrating it.

There has been a handful of metal bands in the last fifteen years that have found a path to commercial success, (Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch) and there has always been a countless number of great metal bands in the underground. However, underground metal bands don’t become usually popular, and metalheads don’t care about the pop-metal bands that do. Forge might be the first since Pantera in the early 90’s to have figured out a formula for a band with actual metal credibility to cross over to huge mainstream success. He got the metal community on Ghost’s side early with an endorsement from Fenriz of Darkthrone, and the band’s first US show was at the Maryland Death Fest. Forge’s previous band, Repugnant, whose lone full-length, Epitome of Darkness currently holds a 97% approval rating at the Encylopaedia Metallum, and whose other members went on to play in other bands such as Watain, Tribulation, and In Solitude are greatly beloved in the underground. This band has metal cred for days, and although they’ve signed to a major label, and started writing songs with a broader appeal (the plague concept means their original satanic theme is largely abandoned, opening them up to a large section of mainstream rock fans that would have been scared off before,) they still seem to carry the air of a “real metal band.”

The standard version of Prequelle runs only 10 tracks and 42 minutes long, including two instrumentals and an introduction, so it does feel a tad bit on the short side. Thankfully, the bonus edition includes two extra songs that make it feel much more complete. First up is a surprisingly faithful cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin.” The danceable tune fits in right along stylistically with “Dance Macabre” and perhaps could have livened up the album if it was placed earlier in the second half of the standard edition. Finally, the group offer up their take on Leonard Coen’s “Avalanche.” The dark folk feel of the original is kept in tact for most of its runtime, but a few minutes in, we’re hit with the “Ghost Riff.” That triplet staccato kind of riff that’s previously appeared in “Con Clavi Con Dio”, “Per Aspera Ad Inferi” and “Spirit.” It’s a perfect ending to the album, and the standard version feels incomplete without it.

Time will tell if Prequelle pushes Ghost into the (literal) arenas they are aiming for, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Ghost are perhaps the best mainstream metal band of the last two decades (Mastodon is the only other one that really comes to mind,) and while the sound they’re going for isn’t for everybody, they are absolutely nailing it. Every Ghost album thus far has had a very distinct identity, and its hard to pick a favorite, but it’s safe to say that Prequelle is their most accomplished work yet.