Review: Ghost – Prequelle

Ghost is destined to be the next big arena rock band. The band is set to headline Wacken Open Air 2018 alongside Judas Priest and has two dates booked later this year for The Forum and Barclays Center. Ghost is also billed highly or headlining Download Paris, Graspop, Resurrection Fest, and Dynamo Metal Festival.

Much like their notoriety, Ghost‘s album sales have also steadily risen. Ghost‘s 2013 album Infestissumam went Gold in Sweden and sold 14,000 copies in its first week in the United States. The album would chart in Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Two years later, Ghost sold 29,000 copies of Meliora in its first week in the United States. Meliora went Platinum in Sweden, charted higher across the board than its predecessor, and also charted in Canada and The Netherlands.

It’s odd to think of a band whose debut album came out in 2010 as a legacy act in the vein of a small-scale and still-rising Metallica, in that way where you know you’ll see their name at the tops of festivals and significant tours for the foreseeable future. But Ghost has achieved just that. Avenged Sevenfold and Slipknot attained that level of fame in about the same period of time as Ghost, so it’s not that far-fetched of a concept.

As such, Ghost (or solely Tobias Forge) has written the songs for Prequelle accordingly. It’s an album whose hits are meant to be played to the masses at incredible volumes. They’re meant to be heard in arenas where you’re charged exorbitant prices for beers and the line for the bathroom is never worth it. They’re to be played with the windows down in the car as an overzealous radio DJ announces the band with a goofy, “evil” preamble. Prequelle certainly has a lot of songs fit for festivals, arenas, and car stereos, but as an album it’s entirely underwhelming.

Ghost‘s albums are to be heard on vinyl, so each side is written with a definitive beginning and end. Side A opens with “Ashes” and “Rats.” The former contains some eerie horror flick soundscapes, a childishly devilish recitation of “Ring Around the Rosie,” and a lighter version of the end breakdown riff in “Rats.” “Ashes” doesn’t offer much aside from that, which is surprising considering the substantial writing found in Ghost‘s previous full-length album openers. “Rats,” however, is going to be stuck in your head for a while. The classic heavy metal riffs and chorus harmonies are undeniable, which is also the case for the non-instrumental songs on Side A. “Faith” takes the heavy metal shred aspects one step further with scurrying lead licks, and “See The Light” serenades with muted bass and echoing piano until breaking your jaw with a swift left hook out of nowhere when the chorus hits.

At the end of Side A is the instrumental “Miasma.” It’s not that “Miasma” is a bad track, but it just feels like a long end credits theme to a dramatic movie. Like the lights came on in the theater and you’re getting to your feet, gathering your thoughts about what you just saw instead of paying attention to the music. “Miasma” carries on with Dream Theater-meets-modern-Opeth keyboard lines, breaks into a jog around three minutes, tosses in some lead guitar work, and then underlines a saxophone solo with a riff very close to Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It.” It’s almost distracting how close the riff is to the middle section of “Beat It,” and as “Miasma” fades out I realized that moment was the first time I was actually engaged in the song at all.

Side B is where Prequelle falls apart. “Dance Macabre” fits right into the fist-pumping metal anthems of Side A, but is unfortunately followed by “Pro Memoria.” “Pro Memoria” is a less epic, less interesting, and painfully cheesy ballad similar to “He Is” without any real payoff. What makes matters even worse is that the song is followed by “Witch Image,” an essentially better and more expedient version of “Pro Memoria.” It’s almost as if Tobias Forge had two similar ideas for the same song and decided to not only write and record them, but put them back to back. Prequelle wraps up with another lackluster instrumental titled “Helvetesfönster” that drags on too long, and the closer “Life Eternal,” which builds to a big fat nothing.

Prequelle could’ve been great as an EP. A running order of “Rats,” “Faith,” “See The Light,” “Dance Macabre,” and “Witch Image” would’ve yielded a phenomenal cross-section of modern and classic heavy metal. Each of those five songs contains ample riffs bound to get the blood pumping for any rock or metal fan. The choruses are gargantuan, the writing is great, and overall they’re just damn good songs. Period. The proverbial EP could’ve also even had a very abbreviated version of either “Miasma” or “Helvetesfönster” and not have suffered one bit. Think less of a full-blown instrumental track and more along the lines of “Spöksonat” from Meliora – short and gives a little flavor to the coming track, but still plenty engaging despite the length.

Instead, Prequelle is a collection of disconnected singles marred by two boring instrumentals, a lyrically disappointing ballad, and a weak closer. Gone is the Ghost who gave us the eloquently-written and well-structured “Cirice.” Gone is the Ghost who can pull off a one-two punch like “Infestissumam” and “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” or even guide listeners through a hellishly apocalyptic landscape over the course of multiple songs. Here is Tobias Forge, writer of standalone singles to be blared over arena PA systems and whose willingness to create a coherent and enjoyable front-to-back album has gone the way of the first three Papa Emerituses.

Buy Prequelle here.

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