THEPRP REVIEWS

Ghost Prequelle

2018 Loma Vista Recordings

A welcome death.

Ghost - Prequelle

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Sure, on paper writing a conceptual effort of sorts on a plague (The Black Death) that decimated Europe in the 1300s and circling around to tie it to modern situations would seem a bit foolish for most bands. But then again, Ghost‘s whole career has pretty much been a challenge. I mean really, who ever thought that a once anonymous, ghoulishly masked band singing Satan’s praises would ever take home a Grammy?

Prequelle“, the fourth full-length from this outfit masterminded by Tobias Forge, ties it all together neatly however and somehow along the way manages to put a charmingly positive spin on the inevitability of death. As the group have done throughout their career, each release has ramped up the production values.

This time around they might as well be a full-blown ensemble theatrical production, as their sound and vision has graduated from theatres to opera houses. The group’s sonic palette has expanded drastically and the material included upon this album is some of their most immaculate to date.

Thanks to borrowing heavily from the aesthetic of 70s/80s hard rock, the band have mildly shifted away from the trappings of arena rock by becoming more of an arena attraction. Piano and keyboards in particular serve as a big part of this revised course, as whirring synth and what sounds like woodwinds even populate some of the latter tracks. Honestly, the instrumental “Helvetesfönster” could probably wind up on a latter period Jethro Tull release with few batting an eye.

By now you’re likely familiar with the lead-off single, “Rats“, a song which unashamedly pursues the charm of early 80s Ozzy Osbourne-styled stadium rock. In a macabre twist though, the tone of it finds girls and hard partying cast aside in favor of combing through occult texts and ritualistic exploits.

Songs like “Faith” survive on more contemporary marauding riffs, but it’s the digitally aided pregnant vocal pauses and hovering background harmonies found on it that remain the most magnetic element.

To be clear, with “Prequelle” we’re talking Queen level operatics, but without the intrinsic flamboyance. Forge and co. instead stay firmly in character with their paeans of death and the afterlife, littered with Satanic subtexts and choral overtures.

Even with the dark subject matter, this is by no means a dour venture. As with all things Ghost, there’s always a tongue pressed firmly in cheek. “Miasma” in particular takes a Rush reminiscent instrumental and drops in a boisterous sax solo seemingly lifted right out of a ripping 80s rock track that delightfully elevates the mood. Seriously, it might as well be considered band’s own “Orion“.

Then there’s the sullen piano-tinged ode to surrendering to your fate that is “Pro Memoria“, with its haunting refrains of “Don’t you forget about dying. Don’t you forget about your friend death. Don’t you forget that you will die.” That the band are able to frame such morose passages in such an empowering, almost uplifting context, is practically their trademark at this point.

Diving in further, the lush acoustics and 80s synth that help flesh out “Witch Image” feel like an addendum to some great late 70s/early 80s rock record. But it’s not all fun and games. There clearly is some real emotion lurking under the surface and the group channel that into perhaps their most emotionally charged track to date: “See The Light“.

That song in particular balances new wave styled bleakness with an undeniably triumphant chorus, complete with tongue rolling vocal inflections. It’s a powerhouse album highlight that showcases just how much Ghost have grown and a stunning accomplishment in empowering songwriting, even if vocal techniques employed relay a bit of modern angst.

As is the case with Ghost albums, things draw to a close with a big finale (“Life Eternal“) and this time around it’s a funereal organ hued ballad that gradually builds from a vulnerable plea into a grandiose rock opera. It’s a fitting send-off for an album that perhaps outside of their cover work, represents some of their most diverse songs to date.

Fans of their more riffier ventures may be left wanting as this record is more velvet glove rather than iron fist. It’s also a touch front-loaded with the latter half sporting a diminishing momentum, stuffed with a few songs that are perhaps a bit too slow to unfold for their own good.

Still, if you can appreciate the scope and occasional pomp of what the band thave crafted here, you’ll be handsomely rewarded with some of the classiest and theatrical occult rock to ever be created.

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