Ghost - Prequelle: Track-By-Track
The fourth album from Sweden’s occult ABBA metal purveyours, Ghost produce a mixed bag of magic and lacklustre
Phil Weller & Ben Armstrong talk us through each track
Ghost are not just a band, they are a business model. Up until now their masterplan has been buoyed by masterstroke after masterstoke, each album amplifying their impetus and the aura that surrounds them like a plume of smoke. Not even ugly looking lawsuits and the unmasking of their mysterious evil pope frontman, Papa Emeritus, could derail the band from their inevitable and nosebleed inducing ascent. Yet, this time around, not all their tracks are burning with the same fire as their last records. While this is still an album sizzling with some magical moments, there is a fair bit of filler too.
P - Building on a Halloween-inspired, haunting synth line it builds this prelude track invites you immediately into Ghost’s spectral but alluring world.
B - Album intros: you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. This one won’t sway you if you’re already a devotee of the #BanTheIntro movement but it’s perfectly fine. It’s the first minute of Rats and it works well enough.
P - While the build-up of Ashes is kind of nullified by the drop to this track’s drum-led intro – it feels a little chalk and cheese and kills the momentum – this is a great slice of uplifting but slightly perturbed melodic hard rock. Their balance of horror-infused shock rock with something altogether more gritty and gruesome, only to be iced with ABBA flavoured vocals, is acutely mastered here. It’s chorus is simple but memorable while the evil harpsichord motif that sees the song out is absolutely magic.
B - It’s the one you’ve already listened to ad-nauseum so I imagine you’ll already have an opinion on it. Mine is that it’s one of the stronger Ghost songs released so far, with a clear nod to Iron Maiden (unsurprising considering their recent tour), as well a brilliantly devilish harpsichord-led riff to close it out. I can see why Forge [frontman] wanted to release this first. An excellent first single and a nice way to tie in the older Ghost sound with the more 80’s influences prevalent throughout the record.
P - A punchy, neo-classical number, ignited with duelling guitar melodies Faith lurches into a guttural, stomping verse. It’s light-yet-doomy chorus gargles with demonic intent and the song darkens considerably as it progresses, standing like a natural follow-up to Meliora’s mammoth track Cirice.
B - The heavy groover of the record, Faith wastes no time in getting the classic ABBA meets Black Sabbath formula in full swing, with giant guitar riffs and a sing along chorus. Like many songs from Meliora, Faith will surely be a fan favourite and get included in the live show until at least the next album cycle. 2 for 2, then.
See The Light
P - The album’s first ballad, it falls disappointingly flat. It comes across formulaic and insincere; a ballad with a big chorus where the overdrive kicks in placed four tracks in because that’s what you’re supposed to do with an album like this. I know Ghost have created their own little world of ghouls and goblins, but singing about being in love with a demon seems a little cliché, even for a band which has made a glorious art form out of such things.
B - The first real curveball on the album, See The Light, sees Forge stuck inbetween what I’d imagine are his two main goals at this point: creating a legacy people can get behind and making a tonne of money doing it. This is Ghost in ballad mode and whilst the chorus is strong, it could perhaps do with more variation each time it comes around. By the end of it though, I’m mostly looking forward to a return to more riffs. Overall, it’s a decent enough song but kills the momentum of the record and would perhaps be better as a B-Side or bonus track.
P - Upon first listen, you keep waiting – expecting – vocals to kick in and drag this song down a poppy avenue. Instead it’s instrumental and atmospheric, bolstered by some stellar keyboard solos and a glorious bit of sax, even if it is sailing extremely close to a Beat It copyright claim. It feels odd hearing Ghost write an instrumental song like this, but that saxophone steals the show and justifies its inclusion.
B - A pure instrumental bursting with 80’s rock verve, Miasma lets the saxophone, guitars and keyboards do the talking. Even with the absence of vocals, this track is a lot of fun. However, its positioning on the album is strange. It does work as a ‘mid-album finale’ but it just doesn’t feel like we’ve travelled far enough yet, with only three songs gone. I imagine Miasma’s position on the tracklisting was one of the big questions going into finishing Prequelle and, it works... just.
P - One of the record’s standout tracks, they inject a taste of glam rock into their swaggering, occult hard rock and sugary ABBA melodies. It’s pompous and swaggering, but in the flamboyant, over-the-top way that makes Ghost such an entertaining live act. This track was made for the stage and it will thrive there.
B - This is more than likely going to end up as the really big single off the record and the one which will see Ghost jump from Iron Maiden’s support to even brighter things. Like Square Hammer from the previous EP, Dance Macabre is pop, plain and simple, but delivered with that trademark swagger that only Ghost know how to deliver. On an album where Forge is trying quite a lot of new things, this feels the most like a solid future direction for the band. It’s catchy, unpretentious, and a hell of a lot of fun.
P - Ballad number two starts with stirring strings and a sense of bubbling, impending drama. Instead it drops to piano and vocals and sounds like an uninspired musical cast-off. The line “don’t you forget about dying/don’t forget about your friend death” is cringe-worthy. It feels half-baked and a world away from the Ghost we’ve all been convinced are on their way to world domination.
B - Well at least it’s consistent. Prequelle has been picking up a considerable head of steam for the past ten minutes but Pro Memoria brings with it another drop in tempo. Do you like ballads? This one is the campiest the band has ever recorded and feels like it’d fit snugly into a rock opera. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the album never really felt like it built up to it enough or kicked my ass hard enough to need a break at this point. I feel like this is going to go over well live as a singalong, but I don’t like it as much as He Is from Meliora, or See the Light, from twenty minutes ago.
P - Rich in melodic nuances and a soaring chorus, the likes which we have come to know and love from the band, this is one of the few tracks of magic that lie lurking across Prequelle. Another song sure to be a great addition to their live set it’s bright and fun, again mastering that balance between pop and Hollywood horror rock n’ roll.
B - The flip-flopping continues as Ghost deliver a song I really, really like. It’s my favourite on the album, perfectly blending the great riffs, solid drumming, harmonised guitar leads and infectious choruses that make the band great. There’s not much more to say about this one. I’m not sure it’ll get played live or be released a single but it’s an album track which makes me want to listen to the record again, which is more than can be said for Pro Memoria, to be honest.
P - The dark to Miasma’s relative light, the second instrumental track on the album finds haunting tones and chilling, intelligently arranged instrumentation, sounding like a triumphant but blood-curdled film score while again it feels a little out of place on a Ghost album, their desire to push their own boundaries and break out of a solidly pop metal mould has to be admired.
B - Swedish for ‘Let’s go into the forest and write foresty things’, Helvetesfonster is a very strange choice for the penultimate song on Prequelle. More than that, it’s a poor one, and not because it’s an inherently poor idea, but just because it’s not Ghost. I’m all for experimentation and for interludes, but this is the longest song on the album (and the album is a short one at 40 minutes). I’m left scratching my head as Forge conjures up the outcome of Jethro Tull performing portions of Opeth’s Heritage. Between this, Miasma and Ashes, over a quarter of this album is left without Forge’s vocals. Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s a bold choice to make on a record which is so committed to delivering quality radio singles.
P - By this point I’m done with ballads and this, once more, is lacking in that special something. Their inspiration isn’t hitting its usual heights here. It’s a weak, watered down and disappointing way to end an album. Halfway through and I’m already going back to listen to Faith again.
B - And so we end with another ballad. Another bold move after an already sedentary five minutes. In short, this song is nowhere near as effective a closer as Monstrance Clock or Deus in Absentia, being largely forgettable in the grand scheme of things. As I mentioned in my comment for the ‘mid-album closer’ Miasma, it doesn’t feel like we’ve travelled far enough or long enough to warrant a song like this. At this point, I wish Forge would have just written 10 ridiculously catchy singles and not tried to tie them together into an experience of ups and downs.
P - Rats, Faith and Witch Image – and possibly Dance Macabre too – are high quality Ghost tracks. They add further prestige to the band’s already glittering repertoire. But with the exception of the average at best Miasma, every other track feels like filler. In that sense, this is arguably the band’s weakest record to date, but in truth it also achieves its most probable target in adding a handful of bangers to their live set. The rest will be forgotten about fast. However, the fact that, four albums in this is the only record with some songs that aren’t all that great is a massive achievement in itself. Their batting average is still very high, and those aforementioned tracks really are excellent.
B - Prequelle, then, is a bit of an enigma and its quality fluctuates pretty wildly depending on the stick against which you judge it. On one hand, it introduces several new tricks into Ghost’s live repertoire which will certainly benefit the show, especially with the additional ballads to slow things down and the 80’s floorfillers to keep things moving. On the other, as a cohesive collection of songs, it too often fails to carry its own momentum and shows less care than previous records in its construction. For me, what ended up being Prequelle could have been condensed into a five track EP and front-loaded with Square Hammer to provide a few new bangers for radio and some fresh live ammunition. Instead, we got an incredibly awkward listen structurally speaking, which is hard to forgive for an album this brief. Some great songs - perfect for playlists - but a great record this is not.
To give Forge credit, I suspect it’s a detour by design.