Ghost is that dividing line within today’s metal scene; you either love them or hate them, there is no middle ground. And somehow that middle ground is deceptively easy to fall into. I’ve given more than enough time to fall in all kinds of metal love with the once mysterious turned pop metal sound, but still find them good at best, with a few stellar tracks in their now four numbered string of full length albums. Prequelle is the fourth album and the funny titled sequel to 2015’s highlight in Ghost discography, Meliora, that once and for all saw the cult break into the mainstream. And they’ve certainly come some way since their beginnings with the ominous mysticism that surrounded their first two albums. Rats, the lead single and opening track, excluding intro Ashes that does invoke a mysticism that remains elusive through the rest of the album, harkens back to the old days of Opus Eponymous while also feeling new and different. Unfortunately it is wholly forgettable, with the minor exception of the twist that starts the chorus; rats.
Prequelle isn’t that awesome, to put it bluntly. The cult surrounding Ghost will weed out the fanboys from the metal fans. You will either hate it or love it, usually predetermined before you’ve even heard the album. It has plenty of pitfalls, the simplification of the metal sound to appeal to a broader audience being an obvious one, emptying the album of depth. Several songs dance close to balladry, nervous around appearing too close to the band’s biggest hit to date, He Is, while also wanting to capitalize on its success. In other words, Ghost are looking for their next big radio hit. Perhaps Dance Macabre is that hit, sounding in some ways like a Ghost version of Living After Midnight (which I love, damn your blood), with the radio friendly rhythm pumping and guitar absence that envelops it, with Cardinal Copia’s vocals at a melodic high for the album. It’s silly as all heck, but it’s too catchy not to fall in an emoji kind of hearts for eyes love with.
Curiously, the finest selection among these ten is an instrumental affair, of which the album offers two; Miasma and Helvetesfönster (Swedish for ‘hell window’, or ‘window to hell’). Now while the latter remains fairly forgettable near the ass end of the 41 minute runtime, the former brings serious business at the middle of the album, drawing heavy rhythm play and guitar antics that sound just like Ghost always need to sound, and invokes a larger image without a single word sung. The saxophone added towards the zenith is pleasurable and just that quirky kind of awesome that has you nodding your head while being perfectly appropriate for the song. It’s right then, at the middle of the album when you’re yanked off your feet that you think maybe shit’s about to stir, but unfortunately it only lasts through Dance Macabre for cooling down once more.
Prequelle is a catchy piece of idolry, I’ll give it as much, because the Ghoul Writer clearly knows a heckin’ lotta more about pop songwriting than I do. But it’s catchy in comparison to Meliora like the way British Steel was to Stained Class; the entire sound, the emotive pull, everything simplified and made more accessible with any semblance of depth removed, except for a few rare cases. That said, British Steel remains a timeless classic being as how it brought Judas Priest into the NWOBHM, making heavy metal a more accessible part of pop culture way back in 1980. Prequelle does something similar, but in many ways it feels artificial and hollowed out. Perhaps it’s even Ghost’s weakest effort to date, but it’s still a good album - obviously not up to Meliora’s standard (which I called Ghost’s ‘The Number of the Beast’, back then), but still an entertaining listen, if nothing else. Perhaps in a few years we’ll get Meliora’s actual sequelle?
Standout tracks: Miasma, Dance Macabre