Review by Greg Maki
Ghost’s third album, “Meliora” (2015), is a masterpiece, one of my favorites of the current decade. Its fourth, “Prequelle,” is the record that will take the occult-themed, formerly niche band into the stratosphere of superstardom.
Outed last year in a lawsuit brought against him by former bandmates as the man behind the mask, Tobias Forge has stuck to Ghost’s central conceit, introducing “Cardinal Copia” as the “new” frontman while still being backed by a band of “Nameless Ghouls.” He also has shifted the sound away from the muscly metal of “Meliora,” pumped up the keyboards and given it a brighter, 1980s-style sheen that emphasizes hooks and the theatrical nature inherent to the band.
The move works spectacularly, resulting in a record packed with insanely catchy songs tailored specifically for large halls while retaining an adventurous spirit. Some may lament that the album includes only seven “proper” songs, with “Ashes” serving as the intro to the first single, “Rats,” and “Miasma” and “Helvetesfönster” being completely instrumental. The latter two tracks, though, are filled with proggy twists and turns—including a saxophone solo on “Miasma”—that should hold the attention of even the most skeptical listener.
Of the traditional songs, three fall on the softer side, the best being the piano-driven and orchestrated “Pro Memoria.” Among the more up-tempo numbers, “Rats” stands out with its ‘80s-metal riff and the bold decision to withhold its biggest hook until the end of the song, while the disco-inflected “Dance Macabre” features Ghost’s catchiest chorus to date and some ingenious wordplay; it could be the crossover hit that breaks the band fully into the mainstream.
For those doubting, “Prequelle” is very much a rock record, boasting an abundance of riffs and guitar solos. It’s surprisingly upbeat, though, especially considering it’s largely inspired by the time of the Black Death, which was responsible for the death of nearly half the population of Europe in the 14th century. Forge, however, has his focus on the survivors—and by extension, those who persevere and overcome any adversity or time of hardship. With his elegant songcraft, he’s created one of the most beautiful and uplifting pieces of art about death I’ve ever come across.
(Loma Vista Records, June 1, 2018)