Monday, Oct 15 2018

Ghost: Prequelle – Review

Tomorrow is the official release date for Ghost's highly-anticipated new record, Prequelle. With a full-US tour already underway, selling out dates along the way, this may stand as the most important album release for this moderately-new rock/metal act in their eight-year run in the record business. 

Who Is Ghost? The trick to understanding who Ghost is, is to first understand the concept behind the music. Frontman Tobias Forge (who had run the band in anonymity up until last year) initially started the band in 2006 under the guise of costumes and masks. Specifically, donning anti-Catholic imagery as an evil Pope, if you will, while his bandmates were decked out in hooded wear with masks – affectionally known as the Nameless Ghouls. Without fans knowing who was behind the masks, the band unleashed their first album in 2010 – Opus Eponymous – a brooding dark overture to satan himself. (Fun Fact: For the first few years of the band's existence, they were known in the US as "Ghost B.C." – due to copyright restrictions, which are no longer a concern, which is why the band now simply is known as Ghost.) Listening to Opus Eponymous felt like you were at an evil church, with organs and pulsating tracks that made audiences question what type of music Ghost truly classified as. They have always been hailed as a metal act. But something about their music went beyond metal. It was evil, it was heavy, but it also was catchy and poppy. And at times, very soothing (in a twisted way). With 2013's Infestissumam the band took the gothic church-inspired hymns and upped the stakes with more melodies and rhythm – songs like "Secular Haze" and "Year Zero" started to form the band into a different type of act. They were becoming slightly more accessible. But the fun "gimmick" behind the new album's release only added to the popularity, as the lead singer, known as "Papa Emeritus" was ceremoniously replaced with a new Papa (or dark-Pope, if you will). Playing more on the Catholic traditions (or lampooning them). The new Papa was a but sexier. A bit more approachable than the first Papa Emeritus. And the Ghouls evolved as well. And the gimmick is an aspect one can't overlook. In an interview with HorrorHound, Tobias likened the origins of the band to that of the film The Omen (essentially, what if Damien started a band?) ... and the horror-elements of the band go well beyond just being "Devil-worshipping" songs and imagery – the band continually issues albums, posters, and shirts showcasing the various Papas in iconic horror scenes ... from Salem's Lot to King Kong ... Jaws to Phantom of the Opera. If you visit Ghost's official Web site, you'll find an assortment of products blending horror genre imagery. It's very obvious they are having fun with Ghost – and so should we. 

By the band's third album, Meliora (2015), the third Papa Emeritus had become a completely reachable identity that shed tradition and allowed the band to become more pop and mainstream. The album resulted in their first radio hit with "Cirice" and they even started to appear on television, like the Grammys (for this, the band won their first Grammy award, for Best Metal Performance), as well as performing on The Late Show. With Meliora, the band presented their most pop-record to date, with tracks like "He Is" and "From the Pinnacle To The Pit" being stand-out tracks. It was also their heaviest album to date, in terms of tempo and sheer noise. With the release of the 2016 EP Square Hammer Ghost had fully evolved into a radio-ready rock band. The track peaked at #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and was selling out solo tours in clubs across the US. They even spent the summer opening for Iron Maiden – a definite notch in their metal belt. But what was to come next ... may change the band forever. 

Enter ... Cardinal Copia: As 2017 was riddled with fan-turmoil about the ins and outs of a lawsuit, in which unmasked bandmates opened questions regarding the authenticity behind the band itself – the creator, Tobias Forge, was unmasked, and the next step was crucial. With Square Hammer being the final release under Papa Emeritus III's run, Tobias had the massive undertaking. How do you premiere a new Papa, along with a new album, and put to rest any questions or concerns that he was not the true mastermind behind the band's evolution in sound and look. How do you premiere a "new" frontman, without confusing the populace who do not fully understand the intricacies of the "gimmic," as it were? The answer? Don't replace Papa III at all. Kill him! We were introduced to a new "character" known as Cardinal Copia. A would-be Papa who needed to prove his worth before being given the mantle of Papa. Almost mirroring real-life, Tobias brilliantly conceived of a plan to not only rebuild Ghost themselves, but to use the unfortunate bruising of the band's momentum to make audiences reevaluate the band on a totally different level. Not to ask, "Can Ghost survive and grow, with the unmasking of Tobias"?, but "Can I buy into Ghost without Papa? Can I buy into a new look for the Ghouls? And can I buy into a new gimmick altogether"? The overload of questions was put to rest with the release of "Rats," the first single of the new album, Prequelle. Hitting radios and the web in the same day, Ghost is a rollicking heavy track that sets up the concept of the new album altogether. An album that is about the Black Plague itself – a 1300s pandemic that devoured Europe, killing upwards of 200 million people during only a few years. Spread by rats, the plague is one of the most sinister possible focuses for a "metal" act to focus an entire album on. And to further separate this new Cardinal from our traditional Papas? I music video was release, showing the dressed-down "new" lead singer dancing in Footloose fashion to this heavy, yet catchy track, surrounded by death and the carrier-of-death ... the rats.

 

PREQUELLE – REVIEW:

The new record from Ghost is a dark treasure. It's essentially a concept album about the Black Plaque, even opening on an intro track titled "Ashes" (which is a very dark take on the song "Ring a Ring o' Roses" – a song about the Black Plague itself). From there, we jump into "Rats," which is fitting. Since the rats were believed to have brought and spread the plague that wiped out so many lives. The song is followed by hands-down the heaviest track on the album – "Faith" – the reasons for this being the follow-up to "Rats" may be overly-obvious. The impact of the Plague following the rats almost commands the heaviest of all tracks. The song itself may lead the listener on a journey in which the victims of this plague may have taken themselves, as death took hold in the world, all they had to turn to was their own faith. "I Am All Eyes. I Am All Ears. I Am the Wall. And I'm Watching You Fall" ... the lyrics question if the faith is falling upon deaf ears in their God, or are they being mocked by Death himself? These torturous lyrics are dark and penetrating. The guitars are melodic and relentless. This song is also our first glimpse at Copia delivering lines in a harsh gritty manner. It makes the hair on your arms stand! From there we delve into a much slower, and lighter track known as "See the Light." This song can almost be compared to Ghost frontman Tobias' own struggles in the past year. "Of all of the Demons I've Known. None Could Compare to You," he sings. "Every day that you feed me with hate, I grow stronger" .... Is he talking about Death, the devil himself, bragging about the world he has crippled during the plague? Or is he talking about his former bandmates who unmasked him and risked everything Ghost had been built into? Regardless of that answer, "See the Light" is one of the album's highlights and also brings into evidence the amazing ability Ghost has to develop what is technically a slow, melodic song – but it's powerful. It's evil. It's heavy on many levels. Few bands today can balance this act. Ghost excels at it. "Miasma" is almost an odd prologue, a track that serves as an old-timey intermission within the story, while also musically having odd comparatives to 1980s influences, video game tracks (the song almost reminds me of a backing track on a level of a Mega Man video game) ... and it ends in a sax solo. Weird? Definitely. But you can't help but listen and enjoy. Fans of "Genesis" (Opus Eponymous) will definitely love this song. Following "Miasma" is "Dance Macabre." This song will be a make or break for most listeners. It has the vibe of a 1980s montage rock song. It has hair-metal aesthetics while I've also heard others compare it to bands like Abba or the disco tracks of the 1970s. No matter what – the song is a new sound from the band, and in an interview with Tobias, he mentioned how the song was inspired by a moment in history of the Black Plague when the people of Europe, under the conviction that they were doomed, decided to party – as Tobias said in Revolver Magazine, "All the brothels and pubs were thriving because people started partying literally like there was no tomorrow because they were gonna die. They were just going for it. “Dance Macabre” is capturing that joyous nocturnal sort of life in a disco song." ... Ghost released an Instagram video for "Dance Macabre" showcasing various individuals and celebrities jamming to the song ...

Following "Dance Macabre" is "Pro Memoria" – another slower-paced track that was sampled on one of the Ghost short videos leading to the release of "Rats" ... this song will be welcomed with open arms by most hardcore Ghost fans, as it carries many of the sounds and lyrical structure found throughout the band's catalog. It has a sound reminiscent of a Goblin song, haunting pianos, and a chorus that demands singing along with ... "Don't you forget about dying, don't you forget about your friend Death, don't you forget that you will die!" ... try not singing this around strangers. ... the lyrics remind us of the story Ghost are telling – following the partying and festivities of "Dance Macabre," there was no escape from the Black Death. So, don't you forget that you will indeed ... die ... this reviewer's personal favorite track on the album comes next in the form of "Witch Image." A straight-up rock song. "Witch Image" is a focused piece of music art that boasts dark lyrics you want to hear in a Ghost track. This song is ready for prime time and if given the chance, it could stand as the break-out song on the album. It also furthers the story being told throughout the album. ... "While you sleep in Earthly delight, someone's flesh is rotting tonight" ... the Black Plague is said to have wiped out upwards of 60% of the population. The ninth track on Prequelle is yet another instrumental, titled Helvetesfönster. This track will be the one that splits its audience. Personally? I dig it. But it can be a bit much, breaking up the jaunting rock tracks that surround it. It carries a Renaissance-vibe. I can see this song be played in a grand theatre with a full Orchestra. It has leanings of a Dio song but contains so many of the same sounds that make Ghost who they are (once again, likening itself to "Genesis" off Opus Eponymous). It almost serves as a reprise in a stage musical – retelling the story in a singular music form – but also serving as the funeral notes of the finality of the plague itself. It's the longest song on the album, clocking in at 5:56. Following it is the epic "Life Eternal." If Ghost ever wrote a song that could be globally accepted as simple, accessible, and beautiful songwriting – this is the song. "Can you hear me say your name forever? Can you see me longing for you forever ..." this is a love song. It has no immediate evil or devilish inclinations ... a song about loss, about letting go of those you've lost. Those you love. The perfect finale to the tales weaved throughout this album. As the song beats along its four-minute runtime, it gets heavier, more emotional, and more impactful. You find yourself chanting the lyrics even upon the first listen. 

Prequelle is a masterpiece in songwriting and, although some may find flaws in the lack of overtly-METAL songwriting – including the inclusion of (essentially) three instrumental tracks, or the fact that the songs have a more pop sound – and a style lending itself to more of a mass-consumption ... well, it's because that's what Ghost has been leading to this whole time. By the end of Prequelle you no longer question the ability Tobias Forge has to develop thoughtful and meaningful albums. And as for his current persona, Cardinal Copia? He has proven himself worthy of the Papa mantle. Whether that's the direction Ghost goes is to be seen. Will we see the first ever crowning of a Papa'ship from the lowly Cardinal position? Will we see Copia dawn the Pope-like robe and Papal tiara? How about some skull facepaint? Time will tell. But until the next chapter of this story begins to unfold, Prequelle is a worthy successor to everything Ghost has built. You can order the album today by visiting Ghost's official Webs site at www.ghost-official.com. 

OH YEAH! We can't forget. A special edition release of Prequelle also includes two bonus tracks. "It's a Sin" (originally by the Pet Shop Boys) and "Avalanche" (a Leonard Cohen song). "It's a Sin" carries itself as a great companion piece to a song like "Dance Macabre" and was destined to be covered by Ghost. It's such a good cover, you don't even question why it is included. "Avalanche" is a bit of an oddity. At first, I didn't like this cover. It is so different from everything else Ghost have recorded ... but the vocal grumbles are more likened to those heard in the chorus of "Faith" ... it's a much darker song and may be the song that hardcore fans of Ghost's more dark and sinister songs are longing for. After a handful of listens, it becomes quite the stand-out song – the lyrics lend themselves to the subject matter of Prequelle, and the heavy gothic tones go well with classic tracks like "Prime Mover" or "Death Knell" ...