Album Review: Ghost – ‘Prequelle’
Prequelle is the fourth album by Swedish arena-metal outfit Ghost, a band making waves with their theatrical bent on uplifting, anthemic metal. While ‘theatrical metal’ lends itself to a lot of interesting space to explore, Prequelle rests on symphonic ballad tropes, serving only existing, die-hard fans of the subgenre, and doing little to break any new ground in a meaningful way.
The album opens with the feeling of impending doom you’d expect, and despite some tinkling pianos seemingly lifted from a c-grade horror movie, it does a pretty good job at making you feel like the world is coming to an end. Nothing new, but fans of the genre will appreciate the mood here.
The starting moments of ‘Rats’ are also promising, with clear, crisp drums and a crunchy guitar tone coming together to form a powerful beat. However, things start to fall apart when the lyrics kick in.
Tobias Forge’s over-produced vocal begins delving into metaphors about the black plague, and starts to feel cheesy. It’s only when it hits a harpsichord breakdown that one’s skin truly starts to crawl, as the medieval jauntiness becomes too overpowering to really focus on any other aspect of the song.
‘See the Light’ drags listeners further down the vortex with soft, aspirational pianos and lyrics about climbing generic, metaphorical adversity, juxtaposed with thunderous arena choruses that feel so watered down of any true menace or anger that it sounds like diet metal.
However, the album reaches its absolute meme-worthy peak with the aptly titled ‘Miasma’; a 5 minute instrumental that concludes with a sickeningly upbeat saxophone solo. While this had potential to be interesting, it feels like an outrageously 80’s Kenny G meets Iron Maiden afterthought, breaking the entire mood this album had seemingly been trying to work towards.
While the use of such unorthodox instruments would normally make for interesting moments, Ghost makes it feel superficial here.
While the album does manage to recover ground with songs like ‘Dance Macabre’ and ‘Witch Image’, it quickly stumbles and falls over itself with songs like ‘Pro Memoria’, with the confusingly jaunty chorus “Don’t you forget about dying… Don’t you forget about your… friend… death”, repeated ad nauseam.
“Dance Macabre” is perhaps the best song off the album, but it’s more a pop rock song with the distortion pushed up a bit. The spectrum swings more towards Bon Jovi than Burzum.
The production on Prequelle is its strongest asset, thanks to the work of Tom Dalgety. Each instrument feels well mixed, polished and clear. With the exception of Forge’s ridiculously overproduced vocal tracks and a strong focus on keys, the consistent production here helps the metal ballads to be much more palatable than they potentially could have been.
Prequelle’s biggest problem is that this style of album has been done a million times over by several other artists in this space, and, in many instances, far better. Bands like Kamelot and Nightwish have explored similar territory, and while cringey at times, they have done so in much more creative and inspiring ways, balancing light and shade.
Ghost seem to double down on the camp factor instead of bringing anything new or balanced to the table, leaning on derivative 80’s style hooks and shoving random instruments in, in the hope it will keep you interested. There’s too much going on and not all of it good.
The waltz beat of ‘Helvetesfonster’, the shimmering twinkles on ‘Life Eternal’, that goddamned saxaphone, all of it would be permissible if it was leading to something more creatively clear or challenging on the whole. But Prequelle’s delivery is as straight as an arrow and drenched in cringe.