(Loma Vista Recordings, 2018)
“Don't you forget about dying. Don't you forget about your friend Death. Don't you forget that you will die.” Oh, don't worry, Ghost. No listeners to “Pro Memoria” are likely to forget their own mortality anytime soon. This holds true for a couple of reasons: 1.) These rather morbid lyrics are repeated several times, and 2). The vocal melodies of this chorus are more infectious than the bubonic plague circa 1347 (how's that for some creepy morbidity, eh?) What's more, the telltale metal lyrical themes of darkness and evil are – somehow both tongue-in-cheek and un-ironically – ubiquitous in Ghost's songs.
The thing is, the total package of this proverbial musical specter is greater than the sum of its parts. Ghost's music – which effectively toes the line between traditional metal, ‘70s hard rock, progressive rock, and yes, bona fide pop – simply wouldn't sound as biting or creepy without the pensive pleas to Lucifer or eulogies to dying lovers; the fact that singer/songwriter/Ghost supreme overlord Tobias Forge (currently aka Cardinal Copia) sings these scary words so cleanly and beautifully only adds to their psychological impact. But the band's music would not be nearly so impactful without that unique blend of power, melody, mysticism, and dynamism. On Prequelle, Ghost's fourth album, Forge and co. have created another compelling gem.
Now, it is by no means a secret that Ghost loving and hating is very much in vogue. Either they're the greatest gift to metal-kind or the most overrated pile of musical milquetoast imaginable, depending on who you ask. While I don't subscribe to either extreme viewpoint, the sheer quality of Ghost's songwriting places me much closer to the former camp than the latter. Perhaps it shouldn't have helped the band's momentum and consistency when all former band members/Nameless Ghouls quit prior to the recording of Prequelle. But Forge has, ahem, forged bravely onward with a fresh set of Ghouls and an inspiring, instant-classic collection of tunes.
Any longtime Ghost fans will not be surprised at the limited amount of speed and aggression on Prequelle. Sure, heavier moments are not abandoned altogether; rather, the metallic elements are used more like a spice to complement the melodic sensibility of these songs. The album's heavier nature is mostly front-loaded: “Rats,” the debut single and first proper full-length track, is a driving, galloping rocker that deftly conjures Priest, Deep Purple, and B.O.C. The sheer catchiness of the vocal melodies creates an eerie discordance when combined with the lyrics: “Them filthy rodents are coming for your souls/never to let go/Rats.” Next up, “Faith" delivers a doomy vibe with a groove-based, Sabbathy main riff; here Cardinal Copia beautifully scours organized religion: “The Luddites shun the diabolical/a fecal trail across the land/although it…/stinks, feels, and looks identical/a pack of fools can take the stand.” Later, Ghost bust out the bluesy hard-rock riffs on the mid-paced ode to the Black Death, “Witch Image.” More importantly, such sinister and morbid lyrics have rarely sounded so sublime: “While you sleep in earthly delight/someone's flesh is rotting tonight/like no other to you…/what you've done you cannot undo.”
Forge's ability to intertwine stylistic diversity and a concrete musical vision really sets Ghost apart from the pack. He's not afraid, for instance, to write slow songs in major keys that feature the most gorgeous choruses imaginable (“See the Light"); “Dance Macabre” rides power chords atop a danceable pop beat and super-saccharine chorus. I want to “bewitch you all night,” too, darling. The aforementioned “Pro Memoria,” which showcases a lushly-orchestrated arrangement, may be one of the most brilliantly-written and memorable songs of recent years. As for closing piano-based ballad, “Life Eternal,” a more touching and melodic eulogy to a soon-to-be-lost loved one can scarcely be imagined.
Again, Prequelle won't win many awards from the more-metal-than-thou elitists. Yes, perhaps some greater variety in tempos and an increased aggression level could have upped the excitement factor here. But man, these songs are so damn good it hardly matters: “Can you hear me longing for you — forever?”
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot
--Tracklisting: 1.) Ashes 2.) Rats 3.) Faith 4.) See the Light 5.) Miasma 6.) Dance Macabre 7.) Pro Memoria 8.)Witch Image 9.) Helvetesfönster 10.) Life Eternal