The not-so Dark Ages, the Swedish metal outfit’s take on the black death.
It has been a difficult and troubling time for Ghost leader Tobias Forge in the last two years, following a very public lawsuit leading to his ghouls being fired and him taking up arms to helm an album entirely of his own vision with new talent onboard.
The resulting release is the 2018 album Prequelle which follows three years after the highly successful breakthrough album Meliora and is headed by Cardinal Copia (Forge) as the cult’s newest leader.
How does everything come together? Well in a word, polarising. There’s no doubt that what we are hearing is that of Ghost, there is the same focus on the old school sound and of course Forge’s operatic high vocals soaring across every track. However, It’s the song structures that have changed the most, as the sinister atmosphere and depth of prior records have been somewhat reduced and lost in translation in favour of more sweeping catchy choruses and conventional songwriting.
Instrumentally, Prequelle boasts some of Ghost’s best work yet with a real influence on the technical and rhythmic side being brought to the forefront as the 1980s flare is worn on its sleeve. Ghost are no longer a band mimicking that of Mercyful Fate or Blue Oyster Cult, this is instead a whole new interpretation of the material and it is demonstrated as that of an experience, a singular flowing dark show of epic proportion.
Yet it is in that side of the presentation where some of the cracks begin to show on the record. Prequelle’s high points are some of the highest that the band have ever reached before, case and point; Rats, Dance Macabre and Life Eternal taking center stage as quintessential songs from the band that can stand on their own as flawless metal tracks in their own right.
With that said, the songwriting takes a severe hit in the lyrical department. Unfortunately, the backstage drama of the last two years has crept its way into the songs on this album too in a way that is difficult to look passed. See the Light is about Forge coping with people giving him abuse online and tarnishing his reputation following the accusations brought up against him and it is presented in quite an unpleasant way where Forge is almost adding insult to injury.
This is a different Ghost and this is very much Forge’s vision now wholly, he stated in interviews that the album would tackle a lot of dark subject matter and would do it whilst being bright and optimistic at the same time; wearing its heart on its sleeve and with a tongue firmly planted in cheek.
What we have here is a fantastic album but it leaves me wanting a lot more and asking where the other third of the release really is. There are two main instrumentals and whilst both of them are wonderfully performed, they mainly serve as roadblocks to halt the steady flow of the album. As a result, there is never a consistent tone or speed to a lot of what we hear. The release starts really strongly and winds up at the very end with a beautiful and moving closer however that still leaves the middle portion lacking.
Pro Memoria for instance starts strongly but goes on for way too long and the instrumental lead in is used several times to daisy chain the other songs to it as if its being led up to. Yet, the song itself does not really go anywhere special in its almost six minute long run time. It’s equally as confusing when considering that it is sandwiched between the great Dance Macabre and the haunting, classic sounding Witch Image.
To summarise, Prequelle is a valiant effort that has a lot of good ideas and isn’t afraid to step out of the comfort zone and try something new and daring. Not everything pays off and the execution and questionable choices leave room for speculation, but these small issues do little to tarnish what an intriguing and catchy album that this album truly is. Sometimes when taking a bold step forward you have to take risks and not everything will pay off and I admire Ghost for taking that step, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.