GHOST - Prequelle
June 1, 2018, a year ago
The mainstream success Ghost enjoys is improbable and just really weird, given that this Swedish group’s discography seemingly begins as an ode to Mercyful Fate and Blue Oyster Cult and also incorporates the sinister imagery of groups in the metal underground. That Ghost will be headlining Barclays Center in New York and The Forum in Los Angeles, both major arenas, later this year is even more improbable. But, then again, Ghost’s success is testament to “it’s all about the songs”, the saying that’s guided so many unlikely bands to fame.
So, if it really is all about the songs (though timing, admittedly, plays a role), Ghost is clearly in luck. Since its 2011 Opus Eponymous debut, Ghost has crafted songs that are retro and genuine, but also immediately memorable. The memorability has followed the band through its discography as each album has become more refined and sophisticated, with the progression of the group’s songwriting always the first element that’s noticed. 2016’s “Square Hammer”, one of Ghost’s most popular songs and a #1 Billboard Mainstream Rock hit, is the best song 1976 never heard.
Which brings us to Prequelle, an album that has the potential to legitimately take Ghost to the next level (though what, exactly, is the next level when you’re already headlining arenas?). Though sounding nothing like them, Prequelle’s spiritual siblings are Metallica’s Black Album and Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, in that Prequelle is seemingly the sound of hard work, big production, and careful analysis and consideration undertaken by a band eager to achieve even wider success. And, like the Black Album and Dr. Feelgood, Prequelle could be the major breakthrough on rock radio that sees Ghost peak and, as we type that sentence, Mastodon’s The Hunter also comes to mind, with “Curl of the Burl” unbelievably bringing that band in the realms of major radio stations nationwide (though, as an aside, the best song on The Hunter is “Dry Bone Valley”, by far).
Prequelle’s strongest songs tell the breakthrough story well. “Rats” comes out blazing like Ozzy Osbourne’s classic “Over The Mountain”, while “Dance Macabre” is true classic rock perfection, the song very much having the potential to be Ghost’s signature track for many lifetimes to come. Meanwhile, “Faith” is rooted in a strong central riff that gives way to a menacing chorus (Prequelle's equivalent of “Sad But True”, if we stick with the Black Album kindred spirits line of thinking) while “Witch Image” at moments reminds of the rock/synth balance Rush was able to pull off effectively during the early ‘80s. That said, Prequelle is also home to tracks that are overwhelmingly saccharine and too operatic, taking the Ghost concept past its endpoints into unsuccessful excess. It’s as if the band’s ambition has it flying too close to the sun, with predictable consequences. That said, these moments don’t define Prequelle as a whole.
Prequelle is both an unexpected and yet very expected move by Ghost. On one hand, how could any of us have foreseen this level of refinement back in 2011? On the other hand, if you trace the evolution through Ghost’s discography, Prequelle is just such a natural (and obvious, in retrospect) endpoint. But where does Ghost take it from here? Does the band climb to even higher plateaus? Or will the next Ghost album be either the dread experimental album or the always appreciated return to the roots? Who knows, man. In the meantime, play “Dance Macabre” repeatedly and marvel at Ghost’s improbable, and just really weird, success.