A band as theatrical, as bombastic, as over-the-top and full of grandeur as Ghost deserves more than your normal album review for their newest release, Prequelle. Quite possibly the most anticipated metal of release of 2018, Prequelle was guaranteed to divide the metal community well before anyone had heard a note. Many consider Ghost “not metal”, much more akin to Babymetal than Black Sabbath. Others, like yours truly, love the band’s gothic/classic rock sound and their commitment to the most fun persona in metal. Therefore, I present you with the most in depth album breakdown in the history of EmperorCupcake.com:
TRACK 1: “Ashes”
What better way to lead off the biggest metal release of the year than…a pretty low-key intro track. While the use of “Ring Around the Rosie” clues you in right away that The Black Plague may be a focal topic of the album, the track doesn’t do much to set up the first real track of the record. Altogether, somewhat unnecessary.
TRACK 2: “Rats”
Now THIS is how you start out an album! While “Rats” doesn’t quite have the hook that “Square Hammer” does (although, if we’re being totally honest, no metal track does), this song easily has the widest appeal of any song on Prequelle. The main riff is fantastic, the lyrics are full of wonderfully dark imagery, and the chorus will undoubtedly get everyone singing along live. Bonus points for what may be the best metal video of the year, and easily the best choreography of the bands career.
TRACK 3: “Faith”
Ghost doesn’t lose a lot of steam with this track, following up one of the catchiest songs of the record with one of the heaviest. Cardinal Copia’s closing snarl to the chorus, “Because Faith is Mine!”, stands out as one of the most deliciously evil moments of the album. While the instrumentation isn’t quite up to the same level as “Rats”, the song still manages to pack quite a punch during the verses before backing off a bit during the chorus. “Faith” is far from the most memorable track on the album, but it’s still pretty fantastic in its own right.
TRACK 4: “See the Light”
While I’ve probably listened to Prequelle all the way through from start to finish at least 5 or 6 times already, I still feel like I’m coming to terms with exactly what the album is. But at this (relatively) early junction, “See the Light” is probably my favorite track off the record. It more than makes up the lack of epicness on “Faith” with what I think is the biggest, baddest, and most showy chorus on the whole record. What starts as a quiet, slow-paced track gradually builds into a grotesque hook that any fan of the band will fall for immediately. I mean, “Drink Me // Eat Me // Then you’ll see the light” is just wonderful in the context of the album, and Tobias Forge’s soaring vocals on the last line give it an impact that is hard to top.
TRACK 5: “Miasma”
The first of two instrumental tracks on the album, “Miasma” is an absolute jam (and I mean that in the fullest sense, which coming from a still-recovering hippie means quite a lot). For all the press (and frankly, it’s mostly been bad) that frontman Tobias Forge has received over the last few years about his supposed desire to be know as the sole creative force behind Ghost, it’s actually somewhat nice to see him let the band take center stage on a couple of tracks. “Miasma” still carries all the theatrics that any other Ghost track does, just sans the vocals.
And the saxophone! My god, the saxophone! It’s just SO FUCKING MAJESTIC! Ghost may be many things to many people, but one thing that you can’t argue against is that they are just a ton of fun. And what more fun way to close out a blistering instrumental track than with a soaring saxophone segment! Eat your heart out, Geoffrey Rafferty.
TRACK 6: “Dance Macabre”
The other benefit of “Miasma” being an instrumental track is that it provides one hell of a lead up to “Dance Macabre”, which will undoubtedly go down as the biggest track off this album if the early live returns are to be believed. And frankly, who can blame the crowds? “Dance Macabre” (which by the way is probably the best song title of all time) is the culmination of Tobias Forge’s stated desire to have Ghost sound like “the one band from the 70’s you haven’t heard”. It wouldn’t sound out of place in the catalog of any huge 70’s rock band, with the uplifting guitars and lyrics nearly straight out of a love song, this track is Ghost at the most accessible they’ve ever been. It’s no surprise that the band has already been holding this track off until the encore, as this is destined to become a crowd favorite starting…well, yesterday.
I was full well and ready to write how Forge’s pronunciation on “Be with you” as “Be wit chu” in the chorus drove me nuts, but then I looked up the lyrics to see how they read and discovered that the line is “I wanna bewitch you in the moonlight”. A) I’m a fucking idiot. That makes too much sense, and I absolutely should have put 2 and 2 together to figure that one out, and B) That line in the chorus just went from a weakness of the track to a rock-solid strength. What a fucking line. What a fucking song.
TRACK 7: “Pro Memoria”
So far, so great, right? Well, yes. But here’s where the album unfortunately starts to lose some steam. “Pro Memoria” isn’t a bad track by any means, but for a band that lives and exists for excess, “Pro Memoria” just seems to fall flat at every turn. The energy level takes a HUMONGOUS step back from “Dance Macabre”, and each time if feels like the song is about to take off…it doesn’t. Sure, the chorus is pretty fun, but it’s also a little on the nose for Ghost. The imagery, the clever wordplay, and all of the dark fun are absent, replaced by the simple idea that yes, you’re going to die.
TRACK 8: “Witch Image”
The standout of the 2nd half of Prequelle, “Witch Image” doesn’t quite match the energy level of flair of “Rats” or “Dance Macbre”, but it’s still a tightly-packed rocker with one of the better choruses on the album. I’m a sucker for the evil/gothic imagery in Ghost’s finest songs, and Tobias Forge crooning “While you sleep in earthly delight // Someone’s flesh is rotting tonight” just warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. The addition of a mini pre-chorus before the 2nd go-round adds a nice wrinkle that breaks up the traditional song structure that this song almost falls victim to.
TRACK 9: “Helvetesfönster”
Instrumental track #2 on Prequelle, “Helvetesfönster” unfortunately falls into most every pitfall that “Miasma” misses. Most notably, I can easily see how if would be better if it had lyrics. “Miasma” exists very well as an instrumental track, changing up sections and sounds quickly enough that lyrics feel unnecessary. That’s not the case on “Helvetesfönster”, which gets occasionally repetitive to the point that it sounds like a standard track that they forgot to add vocals to.
On the plus side, some remedial internet sleuthing tells me that “Helvetesfönster” translates to “Hell Window” from Swedish, and refers to the side cleavage of dresses that began to show up during the middle ages. Neat! The internet says it’s true, so it must be true.
TRACK 10: “Life Eternal”
While “Life Eternal” isn’t the bombastic album closer that I originally felt that Prequelle deserved, the more I think about it the more I’m happy with this song finishing off the album. While I would have loved a showy, grandiose climax (giggity), “Life Eternal” keeps in line with the subdued energy of the 2nd half of the record, sacrificing soaring guitar riffs and juicy hooks for the more delicate touch and emotion that they’ve previously shown on tracks like “Cirice” from Meliora and “Pro Memoria” from earlier on the album. By the time the chorus rolls around for the 2nd time it will surely get stuck in your head, but I was very aware that this was the final track on Prequelle, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping a little bit more.
I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising in the streaming society that we are today that Prequelle is front-loaded with the best tracks on the record (after all, better to hook the listener early to give yourself a fighting chance at them listening through the whole album). While I don’t doubt that there are some who will prefer the 2nd half (my brother’s favorite song is “Pro Memoria” after all), I’d imagine that most people would agree that the album doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts. But that feeling exists for two reasons: 1) Ghost are fucking awesome, and people have been pining for this record for years. The band’s reputation has skyrocketed since the release of “Square Hammer”, the largest mainstream hit the band has achieved to this date, and it’s helped pile on expectations to this record, and 2) The first half of this album is ABSOLUTELY AMAZEBALLS. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Amazeballs. I’d put the first 6 songs on Prequelle right up there with the best stretch on any record that Ghost has made.
What’s even MORE exciting than that 6-song stretch is the thought that occurred to me as I finishing up the album on my 3rd or 4th listen of Prequelle: even with all of the success, and the fame, and the notoriety that Ghost has achieved so far, I still don’t think we’ve seen the band’s best album yet. Opus Eponymous was an amazing debut that few bands have matched. Infestissumam proved that the success of their debut album wasn’t a fluke. And Meliora showed range that the band hadn’t displayed on their first two records. But each of these albums, as well as Prequelle, have flaws. Part of that is due to Tobias Forge being willing to take so many risks musically, changing the bands sound drastically from album to album, but not all of those risks have panned out. But even when they fail, Ghost fail SPECTACULARLY, just like they do everything else. I have no doubt that the band has the perfect record in them, and Prequelle leaves me more convinced than ever that that album will be coming soon. Prequelle is the perfect title for this record, as after so many listens I’m content, but more enthused for what comes next.