Review Summary: Prequelle offers a brighter, catchier sound but results in a bit of a mixed bag
The Swedish band Ghost are arguably one of the biggest heavy metal bands of the decade, perhaps even of the 21st century. Partly known for their image, Ghost disguise themselves as a satanic cult with frontman Tobias Forge playing a new character with every album (Papa Emeritus I, II and III and now Cardinal Copia) accompanied by a backing band of “Nameless Ghouls". Despite their sinister image, it’s clearly just a part of the show as the band don’t take themselves too seriously and are often intentionally cheesy. They play a revivalist blend of hard rock and heavy metal with some psychedelic and progressive rock sprinkled in, reminiscent of 70s and 80s bands such as Mercyful Fate and Blue Öyster Cult, whilst also putting their own unique spin on the style by including elements of pop. Their 3rd album, Meliora
, was one of my favourite albums of 2015 so naturally, I had high expectations for this latest release.
To be honest, Prequelle
is a bit of a letdown following the high of Meliora
. Where that album found a great balance between Ghost’s heavier moments and poppier sensibilities, Prequelle
relies much more on sweet, catchy synth and vocal hooks, which juxtaposes strangely with its dark and evil artwork. The album centres largely around an arena rock sound, with the extremely catchy chorus of "Dance Macabre" and the “woah-ohs” of "Rats" (both of which are obviously intended for audience singalongs) and whilst I can’t deny that many of the tracks stick in your head, there isn’t much in the way of great guitar riffs (the only one coming to mind is the stomping riff in "Faith", also my favourite track) which, after the more guitar-centric Meliora
, is a bit disappointing. That’s not to say the instrumentation that’s here is bad, but it does leave a lot to be desired as most of the album is centred around simple power chord patterns. Towards the end, Prequelle
also starts to lack in variety and feels slightly monotonous; I feel that a couple of heavier or faster songs might’ve injected a much-needed burst of energy, especially as a couple of songs towards the end, such as "Witch Image", feel a little bland and uninspired. Some of the lyrics are a bit weak too, especially in the track "Pro Memoria" – “don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend Death, don’t forget that you will die”. Very subtle, Tobias.
None of this is to say that Prequelle
is a bad album, it’s not. In fact, there’s a lot to like – Forge’s voice is as strong as ever, there’s some great performances (such as the guitars on "Faith" or the saxophone solo on "Miasma") and bright, clean production. "Rats" and "Dance Macabre", the two leading singles, initially didn’t impress but they’ve grown on me since the album’s release. Both are total earworms and stick in my head, despite the slightly cheesy sound. "Faith", which I previously mentioned as my favourite track, is an all-round great number. It’s probably the most reminiscent of their earlier work featuring great guitar work and a nice performance from Forge, adding up to perhaps one of my favourite Ghost songs.
The eerie, ethereal "Helvetesfönster" is another highlight and offers a decent change of pace – perhaps one of Ghost’s most unique sounds, the track is a piano and acoustic guitar driven instrumental with somewhat of a medieval sound. However, I can’t help but feel that the guest appearance of Opeth’s frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt was sort of a waste, I hoped he would contribute a jagged riff or some creepy vocals but instead he contributed a short acoustic piece. Whilst I like the part it’s not very distinct, it could easily pass by without the listener ever realising a guitarist as recognisable and skilled as Åkerfeldt was playing the part (which it did on my first few listens before it was pointed out to me).
Whilst it may sound contradictory to what I’ve already written, Prequelle
may serve as a good starting point for newcomers to Ghost. The catchiness and more basic songwriting is more accessible than the darker, more psychedelic sounds of their previous efforts, giving new listeners an idea of what to expect from the band with a more inviting sound. I definitely think there is a case to be made about Prequelle being Ghost’s worst album but despite my criticisms, it’s still worth a listen as reception has been widely positive. It’ll probably grow on my eventually, maybe I just need to open up to the cheesiness.