Rating: 8 out of 10
I can’t recall ever being more conflicted about my feelings for a band than I have been about Ghost. Like many people, my first exposure to them was visual. I saw a photo of the band onstage back in 2014 and immediately dismissed it as a gimmick without hearing one, single note of music. I thought this is just what the world needs, another death metal act wearing masks, making noise and growling Cookie Monster vocals about the devil. I didn’t give the band a second thought after that even though they were hard to ignore. Every music news website and magazine that I read kept expounding on this band that was on the verge of exploding. I continued to ignore the music until I was listening to Mark Strigl’s podcast at the end of 2015. He played the song “Absolution” as one of his “best of” moments from that year. I was ready to fast forward, but figured it was now or never. I may as well see what this band had to offer. I was blown away. Not only by the music, which was good, but by how wrong I was to judge these guys based on nothing more than their appearance. By the time the song hit the dual guitar solo outro, I was hooked. I immediately purchased their 2015 release Meliora and started digging into the back catalog.
Ghost’s music expertly blends hard rock, pop, and 70’s style AOR sensibilities with a little bit (ok a lot) of Satanic lyrics thrown in. 2016 saw the release of the Popestar EP, and their first real flirtation with a hit song. “Square Hammer” catapulted the band further into the mainstream and received airplay on modern rock radio. An opening slot on the North American leg of Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls Tour, offered mass exposure to old guard heavy metal fans. You could feel that this was a band that was building towards a moment. The moment is here, in the form of their excellent new album, Prequelle.
Tobias Forge, the mastermind behind this operation and his nameless ghouls have written and recorded a 10-song cycle ruminating on the bubonic plague, the decay of society as we know it, and a whole lot of death. With that being said, the album is a joy to listen to. They are pushing the boundaries of their blend of 70’s rock and metal about as far as it can go. After the intro piece, “Ashes”, the album starts with an arena shaker, the first single, “Rats”, and then it’s off to the races. The chugging riffs of “Faith” will keep the metal heads banging, while “See the Light” offers a change of pace preparing the listener for the journey that is the instrumental epic, “Miasma”. This song is a stunner. It is the coolest song that Uriah Heep and Blue Oyster Cult, never wrote. It needs to be heard to be understood.
Current single “Danse Macabre” will be the lightning rod on this album. It’s an unabashed pop song. The introductory riff rocks hard, but make no mistake, it’s pop and it’s catchy as hell. If the band continues to grow in popularity and actually receives mainstream acceptance, this song will be the reason why. It’s undeniable after one listen. “Pro Memoria” is a mid tempo piano driven ballad that channels Elton John, and “Witch Image” is another rocker with pop sensibilities and the irresistible lyric “While you sleep in Earthly delight, someone’s flesh is rotting tonight.” I challenge you to not smile as you are singing along to it. The bridge from “Witch Image” to the final song on the album is another dynamic instrumental piece, “Helvetesfonster”. I sense the band channeling mid 70’s Queen in some spots on this track and it segues perfectly into the album closer, “Life Eternal.”
This album is a massive step forward for Ghost. They are taking some chances as their sound is evolving. It’s refreshing to hear them stretching out. They could keep the costumes and continue rewriting the same songs for the next 10 years and easily sell out theaters around the globe. Prequelle shows that they are interested in more. I’ll be happy to take the ride, wherever it may go.
Written by Sam Supey. Follow him on Twitter: @SamSupey