Since the release of their debut album in 2010, Swedish act Ghost has divided the Metal community like no other band has for years. Frequently berated for a seemingly endless list of equally meaningless reasons, you just know the band are laughing themselves stupid underneath their masks each time the latest horde of terminally outraged cynics appear, summoned to their keyboards, as if by magic, whenever the word “Ghost” is mentioned on the internet, to inform the world using block capitals that “they’re just ripping off Blue Öyster Cult and Mercyful Fate”, “they’re not metal”, or “they’re only a gimmick anyway” etc. etc.
The latest completely valid and not at all silly reason to complain about Ghost is the recent SHOCKING REVELATION that the masked musicians known collectively as “Nameless Ghouls” are, to all intents and purposes, hired hands, and that frontman Tobias Forge has secretly changed the line-up over the years, something that many fans had actually pretty much guessed.
As everyone with even a passing interest in the band should know by now, the main attraction of this Swedish sideshow has been Forge’s charismatic alter ego, Papa Emeritus. Reinvented at the beginning of each new album cycle, the Ghost frontman has already gone through a number of name, wardrobe, and character changes, but for latest album Prequelle (Spinefarm/Loma Vista) Papa is gone – replaced by the equally enigmatic and wonderfully moustachioed Cardinal Copia. Immediately proving himself to be far more limber and spry than his aged predecessors, the Cardinal leapt and danced into the limelight on the quite magnificent Lamberto Bava meets ‘Thriller’ video for ‘Rats’, the first single to be lifted from the record.
Drawing parallels to modern times through its loose medieval theme of death, plague and doom, Prequelle begins appropriately enough with ‘Ashes’ as children sing ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’, a song which, despite most historians rejecting the theory, has become synonymous with the Black Death over the years. Shifting towards ominous twinkling keyboards, and synths straight from a 1980’s horror film, the fairly short introductory piece leads into the aforementioned ‘Rats’, a tour-de-force which not only sounds like early eighties Ozzy Osbourne, with guitar licks straight from Blizzard of Ozz (Jet), but features a chorus so insistent that it gnaws into your brain and won’t leave your head any time soon, and a gloriously macabre final riff.
Arguably the heaviest track on the album, ‘Faith’ could almost be the evil bastard son of ‘Jigolo Har Megiddo’ from Infestissumam (Spinefarm). ‘See The Light’ begins with a darkly pulsing Gothic Europop beat as Ghost’s more commercial side mixes seamlessly with their more familiar sound. ‘Miasma’ finds the band at their most creative and also their most playful – only Ghost could write a keytar-driven instrumental which features several shifts in mood and tempo before suddenly hitting you from left-field with the most awesome saxophone solo since The Lost Boys. ‘Dance Macabre’, with its uptempo disco vibe was the second song to be released prior to the album and is, quite simply, massive.
‘Pro Memoria’ is this album’s darkly devilish torch song. Slightly heavier than ‘He Is’ from Meliora (Spinefarm/Loma Vista), the chorus of “Don’t you forget about dying, Don’t you forget about your friend, Death” is yet another melody which will stay with you long after the album has ended. The lyrics take centre-stage once again on ‘Witch Image’ with yet more titanic vocal hooks; “While you sleep in earthly delight, Someone’s flesh is rotting tonight”… well, that’s just lovely, isn’t it?! Third and final instrumental ‘Helvetesfonster’ draws its strength from ‘Pro Memoria’ but adds so very much more, while ‘Life Eternal’ closes the album in a sombre, yet strangely uplifting manner…
Just ask yourself, if you wanted to spread the word of Satan to the widest possible audience, which would be the best way to do it? Screaming and bellowing unintelligible utterances against headache-inducing blast-beats, or doing it quietly, melodically and insidiously, so people with no real knowledge of the content can unexpectedly find themselves happily singing along to tunes containing sacrilegious lyrics about the church, human sacrifice, and the cloven-hoofed goaty one? Prequelle is Ghost at their finest; heretical and brimming with sensational retro guitar, synth solos, and some magnificent Abba style melodies, where each song delivers catacomb sized hooks, infecting and polluting the poisoned-mind with one rotting earworm after another in a musical display of infernal majesty.
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