Ghost announced they would be playing arena shows in New York and Los Angeles back in April. The news came as a bit of a shock, initially. The Swedish band is quite new compared to the rock bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden who typically play in large arenas. Those bands have been around for nearly 40 years at this point. Also, a band with the sort of dark aesthetic doesn't usually get the chance to play the Barclays Center. Still, Ghost pulls it off. Their meteoric rise is certainly no fluke either; this has been brewing for quite some time. The proof is in Ghost's newest studio album, Prequelle, even if it has its missteps.
Tobias Forge returns, not as a new Papa, but as Cardinal Copia—a new lineage, one with a knack for interpretive dance. Copia's image and the obvious abandonment of the Papas are quite symbolic of the ever-evolving style of Forge and his Ghost. The occult rock is gone on Prequelle. In its stead is a glimmering and somewhat sinister arena rock. As a whole, Prequelle is ambitious; it is Ghost diving biretta-first into '80's-esque, radio-friendly anthems about the dark ages and the Bubonic Plague. Though the subject material is quite morbid and foreboding, many of the songs are highlighted by sing-along choruses, soaring riffs, and synth-heavy sections.
After the ominous "Ashes"—an 80-second introduction punctuated by a group of young girls singing "Ring A Ring O'Roses"—lead single "Rats" is a perfect distillation of Forge's vision for his band's future. He stated he wants "…Ghost to sound like the band from the 70's you never heard." With a big opening riff and a simple yet commanding hook, it certainly captures the aesthetic of early classic rock. The rest of the album's first half follows this infectious suit.
"Faith" and "See The Light" could easily have stood in place of "Rats" or "Dance Macabre" as singles for this record though. All four of these tracks embody Ghost's charisma and evolving penchant for soaring stadium anthems. "Faith" captures a lot of the band's overt wickedness from Meliora and Infestissumam through Forge's hisses and the ghouls' score. "See The Light" possesses an almost hypnotic chorus and a driving synth line guaranteed to wiggle its way into a listener's brain. Yet, "Dance Macabre" is Prequelle's peak. Every band with mainstream success throughout the 80's had that one power ballad that pushed them to the top of the charts. For Ghost, capturing that glamourous aesthetic comes by way of "Dance Macabre" and it's sickly sensational rhythm. It's the perfect love song for that special demon in your life—if they contracted the Black Death.
The songs following "Dance Macabre" become a bit of a minefield, however. "Pro Memoria" simply falls flat. It is almost too over the top. Ghost has a knack for balancing dark and typically metal subject matter with classic rock on Prequelle. Still, this track tilted too far in the latter's direction. The existential chorus, unfortunately, comes off as rather cheesy and ill-fitting for the composition. "Witch Image" never really seems to get going either. "Helvetesfonster," the second instrumental track, is superfluous. It's a bit excessive and unnecessary to have two instrumental tracks on this album when its safe to assume that Ghost is pushing for greater accessibility and mainstream success with it. Also, "Miasma" is an excellent track and certainly satiates any need for an instrumental on this record.
Thankfully, the album's closer, "Life Eternal," is a powerful and operatic conclusion; it's a great snapshot of the dramatic flair that Ghost possesses and what they tried to capture with this record. While Prequelle has its misses, there is more good than bad with this album—and those good moments are excellent and damn catchy. This is a band coming into global domination so the process is bound to have its hitches at times. Yet, it doesn't do much to detract from Ghost holistically. Forge and his bandmates are wildly exciting and this is another step towards rock supremacy.