It’s high time we all agree that Ghost are not a metal band. Just from that statement a good number of purists will probably believe they’ve “won” (quite what they’ve won is unclear but, y’know, they’ve won), but was there ever really much of a debate? If anything, Ghost have spent their last few releases as more a satire of metal than anything else, pairings flagrantly religious and occult imagery with what can only be described as psychedelic, gothic Euro-pop-rock, and watching the divides rend the ground in front of them. Even if Ghost’s music has never been as compelling as their image and mythos, with Tobias Forge’s ever-changing cast of demonic holy men flanked by his infamous Nameless Ghouls, the fact that the mere mention of their name can spark the most heated of debates is a testament to what they’re doing.
Having said that though, Prequelle is without a doubt the best thing that Ghost have ever done, not only for the fact that these are some of their strongest, most immediate songs on a compositional level, but also for the sheer audacity they continue to display in what is essentially freeloading within metal without a single care. That’s far from a bad thing either; here, Ghost have fine-tuned their formula to its poppiest, most accessible incarnation to date, something that really should be counterintuitive to an overall concept surrounding the Black Death in their native Sweden, but there’s such verve and joyous populism unlocked that it seems designed to push those not onboard even further away, and keep everyone else even more infatuated.
And really, the impact in Ghost’s glorious trolling comes in how simple it is. At its very core, Prequelle is such an obvious candidate for the bleakest, most baleful metal album going; after all, this is a band of Satanic monks now led by the decrepit Cardinal Copia, singing about disease-spreading vermin on Rats and the inevitability of death on Pro Memoria. They’re well aware of that too, which is why instead of searing riffs or funeral doom knells, Prequelle is made from perhaps their softest, most layered approximation of classic rock, pop and gothic shade to date, if only to royally piss off those who might deem this as “wasted potential”. The truth is there’s nothing wasted here whatsoever, as Ghost are able to eke out as much as possible from their borderline masterful construction by embracing their pop influences to the fault. The option for synths over a guitar solo on See The Light accentuates its esoteric nature while simultaneously polishing that pop core even further, as does the saxophone line on Miasma, while Dance Macabre with its shuffling guitar, pumped-up keys and Forge’s husky vocals could easily be an ‘80s soft-rock ballad, and a pretty great one at that.
It’s an approach that’s honestly difficult to fault; what could easily go on for too long or spiral out of control never does, with Ghost keeping their work as tight and potent as possible. With a tongue-in-cheek approach that only sweetens the deal, Prequelle feels like something truly special, the first real justification of the size that Ghost have ballooned to and one that could easily see them go even further again. The detractors may keep flooding in in their vocal droves, but that feels like the point, and one that Ghost are feeding more than anything. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t; they’re at the best place they’ve ever been, and no one can take that away.
For fans of: The Sword, Blue Öyster Cult, Witchcraft
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Prequelle’ by Ghost is released on 1st June on Spinefarm Records / Loma Vista Records.