In a recent review, I described Dimmu Borgir’s latest as “what may have happened if Andrew Lloyd Webber had started his famous partnership with Anton LaVey instead of Tim Rice”; obviously, at that point I had not experienced Ghost’s latest offering, Prequelle, an album which knocks any other contemporary rock opera completely off the musical theatre lists. In brief, Prequelle is ten tracks  combining Broadway’s camp, Alice Cooper’s grand guignol shtick, The Alan Parsons Project’s concept album approach and ABBA’s songwriting chops, all structured around pleasant, family-friendly themes like the Black Death  and the glory of Satan.
This is the real reason I love Ghost: their unashamed celebration of Lucifer, death and darkness via the vehicle of radio-friendly rock ‘n roll. Their primary message may be no different to that of Watain or Dark Funeral (to stick to Swedish examples), but if either of the latter were played in a common-or-garden coffee shop, patrons would be offended. Not so with Ghost, whose insidious evil is an absolute triumph of marketing acumen.
Musically, Prequelle continues in the trend of Meliora’s pop sensibilities, stepping away from Infestissumam’s sinister atmosphere and Opus Eponymous’ raw occult rock – but this fits perfectly with the character of the assigned “frontmen” of the band. The latest, Cardinal Copia, is obviously a camp, over-the-top creation perfectly suited to the “bigger” sound on Prequelle – more instruments, more layers, more background mythology  and, based on current live shows, more ghouls performing.
Even if you’re not keen on “Rats”, you should still watch this video.
The sheer volume of music packed into the album is the real achievement, though: ambient instrumentals like “Helvetesfonster” (transl: ‘Window to Hell’), itself a reprise on a theme begun in “Pro Memoria” (that contains traces of the famous “Once More With Feeling” musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the anthemic “Dance Macabre”, “Rats” and “Witch Image” or the rock opera showstoppers of “Faith” and “Life Eternal”. “See The Light”, though, is my personal pick of the bunch – not just for its pulsing bassline or dynamic arrangement, but its motivational chorus: “Every day that you feed me with hate, I grow stronger.” I can think of no better motto for the disaffected and disgruntled, the left-field kids who don’t fit in.
In all honesty, there is nothing I can find wrong with this album: despite all the negative press regarding frontman Tobias Forge’s recent antics regarding his treatment of former bandmates or grumblings by other long-term fans that Ghost is getting “too big” or “too mainstream”, Prequelle is a toe-tapping, sing-along delight, from the creepy kids rhyming on opener “Ashes” right through to the choral ‘forevers’ in the closing bars of “Life Eternal”. This album proves that Ghost is destined for massive things: I foresee this outfit becoming the next KISS, filling stadiums across the world with eager, rock-hungry hordes.
The beauty behind this, for me, is the success of a carefully crafted, ever-evolving identity entirely eclipsing the actual person behind the mask(s); historically, this is no novelty – the aforementioned KISS hid behind their greasepaint for years, David Bowie’s chameleon nature has been extensively documented, Madonna’s Material Girl reinvented herself with practically every new release. Even in contemporary terms, bands like Slipknot or Die Antwoord rely on curated onstage personae, whether in the form of physical masks or prosthetic personalities, to “sell” their performances and, ultimately, their music. Ghost’s Papas Emeritus and Cardinal Copia are just a new, exciting and gloriously blasphemous revision of a long-running concept in music – their metal background just means that their music is so much better, built around actual instruments and musicians capable of playing them, not autotuned, looped, reality TV monstrosities grown in studio laboratories.
Check out the previous song and video, “Cirice”.
Prequelle Track Listing:
04. See The Light
06. Dance Macabre
07. Pro Memoria
08. Witch Image
10. Life Eternal
Run Time: 41:48
Release Date: June 1, 2018
1. Unless you buy the limited version, which includes cover versions of the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” and Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche”.
2. Consider the first single, “Rats” or the Plague Doctor masks being sold as part of pre-order bundles.
3. Their “Message From the Clergy” video series typifies their excellent grasp of social media content marketing.
4. The Thin White Duke himself would have approved of the saxophone solo on “Miasma”.