Remember back in the seventies and eighties rock bands really rocked and metal bands scared your parents, angered your church and left your neck sore as hell from the whiplash of insane headbanging while throwing out those devil horns? Well, full disclosure, I don’t really. Truth be told, by the time the metal community saw The Black Album as Metallica selling out, I was more heart broken that my parents took away all my Pee Wee Herman swag than I was about Metallica’s slick production. But still, there was a time when heavy metal and Mr. Herman himself reigned supreme. And if the collective unit of Cardinal Copia and his band of Nameless Ghouls we call Ghost has their way, we may just be about to witness the second coming.
During the late nineties, musical acts like Rob Zombie, Marylin Manson and Slipknot emerged with beautiful brutal acts of musical aggression. High on concept yet higher on image. Like their forefathers Kiss, David Bowie and Alice Cooper, these bands saw the power in crafting not only in your face, aggressive music but the power in combining it with an aesthetic richness and a mythology to elevate their existence to that of juggernauts of the craft. Ghost, with the release of their latest offering, Prequelle sit poised to join the hallowed ground as the rightful successors of the metal brotherhood.
Prequelle, the band’s fourth full length album serves as the solidification of this notion. To the uninitiated, Ghost is a true hard rock/heavy metal tour de force. Musically, an amalgamation of seventies’ classic rock, eighties’ thrash metal and beautifully dark poppy hooks with head-spinning Satan-influenced lyrics. For a band that had shrouded themselves in such anonymity, a recent lawsuit by former members brought to light the inner workings behind one of rock and metal’s most prominent acts. Additionally, it reviled the true identity of the band’s leader, the man who previously donned the front man characters Papa Emeritus I, II & III. Tobias Forge; the man now referred to as Cardinal Copia.
If anyone thought though that the perceived drama surrounding Ghost and the musical maniac of a front man would dilute the band’s image- or worse- music, well, think again. “Rats”, the lead single from Prequelle keeps one foot rested comfortably in the world of huge choruses, soaring vocals and haunting melodies they have become known for while firmly looking to the future and their own evolution.
While dark, bleak and at times overly bizarre, the lyrics of “Rats” do speak a hint of truth to our current musical state. On “Rats”, Cardinal Copia sings, “In time of turmoil, in times like these, belief’s contagious, spreading disease”. There is a definitive belief that rock and metal, especially in America, are passé styles of music. And the belief spreading being the death of hard rock. Ghost unequivocally prove they are the band that single handedly may be leading the next big wave of metal music.
Never short on themes, the one domineering theme of Prequelle is evolution. When you look at their discography as a whole, Ghost has succeeded in creating a vibe that can exist whether the individual song is an absolute, headbanging burner (“From the Pinnacle to the Pit”)- or a melodic, melancholy tale (“Ghuleh/ Zombie Queen.). But despite their image, Ghost consistently has shown that looks can be deceiving.
With moments of undeniable pop bliss in the form of washing choruses and ridiculously catchy vocal melodies, “Dance Macabre” shows Ghost at their zenith of control over song-writing. The disco-infused rocker is paid off with its unabashed dancy beat and a hook that fellow Swede natives ABBA, would appreciate. It’s a weird comparison and one that could cause a double take just as quick as the band’s repeated reference to Lucifer, but Ghost find a way to make this kind of song come off flawlessly. Undeniably, the piano-driven track is a great throwback to the synth-heavy era of eighties new-wave filtered through Ghost’s soaring guitar attack. The song is perfectly crafted for the live stage with its sing-along-ability and a chorus that will no doubt leave you infected.
Under the guise of Cardinal Copia, Forge’s vocals sound more refined and polished than on previous efforts. A possible effect of returning producer Tom Dalgety’s familiarity with Forge and his ability to push the singer past his boundaries is the maturity in his voice. His vocal attack consistently comes off unsuspectingly because again- if you were basing your impression off looks, you wouldn’t necessarily expect that kind of vocal range. Time and time again, Forge’s vocals impress and inspire.
This leads to the shocking realization that the song of the album is without a doubt “Miasma”. The instrumental track takes everything Ghost does perfectly (sans the vocals) and packs them into a weaving, exciting five and a half minutes. The only thing more unexpected than the excellence of this instrumental track is the insane saxophone solo. It’s like hearing a wild guitar solo transcribed for the sax. According to my best friend, “it’s what it would sound like if Gerry Rafferty loved Satan”.
The progressive “Pro Memoria” harkens a feeling of a post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd while the one-two punch on “Helevtesfonster” and “Life Eternal” are epic in the way “November Rain” is to Guns N’ Roses. The scope of the sonic onslaught and the ambition of the song-writing are top notch examples of the seemingly limitless potential Ghost inhabits. Closing the album on that note no doubt leaves a lasting impression.
June 1st, 2018 will no doubt sit as day to be remembered for metal fans. Prequelle will be the launching point of which Ghost rises to the top of the music world- placed firmly along with American metal bands Mastodon and Avenged Sevenfold and legends like Metallica and Megadeth as the epitome of heavy metal. The album provides everything we’ve come to expect from Ghost- the sweeping, dual guitar harmonies, the bombastic drums and the high-concept lyrics while gracefully leading into the next phase of the band’s already extensive existence. By extending their musical scope to include a barrage of influences, Ghost have opened the flood gates wide open for their musical conquest while retaining their true form. Given the opportunity to speak directly to The Clergy, I think I’d simply say, Thank You.