Right now, Ghost have got to be the most divisive band out there. Spanning a period of 8 years, they’ve become monumentally, and bafflingly successful. It’s been some time since a band has polarised so many opinions, spawning an irrational unconditional love for them or an intense, burning hatred. Ghost cultivates such levels of slavish, frothing enthusiasm amongst people that borders on delirium. Your best friend who’s into metal, gave you a lengthy drunken lecture on how they’ve grown out of listening to Cradle of Filth and Mortiis, and why you should too – in the next breath spouts superlatives until the cows come home that Ghost, are the best thing since sliced bread. Yet, despite how many times you listen to Ghost – the whole thing seems extremely overrated. From their stupid anonymous personas, the fact they sound like a giant wholesale rip off of Coven, Blue Oyster Cult, and Dio era Black Sabbath with a badger face painted priest leader who sings with a nursery rhyme voice reminding you of Teddy Ruxpin. The fact they have such powerful onstage imagery; far more dramatic than the scariest Scandinavian black metal band, but with music that feels like it lacks substance – like a heavily watered down Mercyful Fate.
But, as a logical and fair person who believes in giving most things the benefit of the doubt and to leave any confirmation biases firmly at the door – you find yourself searching for “Prequelle” on Spotify. You stick your headphones on, make yourself a cup of tea, and have a good old listen to see what the hell everybody and their dog is yammering on about. You press play, and sit back expecting to be woefully underwhelmed.
It doesn’t happen. You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
The album drags you in kicking and screaming with ‘Rats’, a big stompy rock anthem. Yes, it’s Ghost alright, but they’ve gone for the tactic of going full 1980s AOR rock. Granted, Tobias Forge’s vocals still hold that Teddy Ruxpin-esque quality – but this time it’s not remotely annoying. The sound still has the Blue Oyster Cult-isms you originally threw them under a bus for, but it’s pushed to the background; aiming for hugely addictive hooks that immediately remind you of Scorpions, and even bigger choruses. It could be argued that “Meliora” hinted towards a change in sound, along with the single ‘Square Hammer’ – acting as a useful transition for what awaited around the corner. ‘See The Light’ and ‘Danse Macabre’ are insane anthemic earworms that floor you sonically, with an astonishing sense of beauty in the song writing that heaves with pure emotion. Instrumentals such as ‘Miasma’ sound like incidental music from inspiration parts of 1980s films, where you’d imagine the lead character doing some form of exercise scene. jogging through mountains and countryside at sunrise – with a saxophone solo only serving to fuel the irony. ‘Pro Memoria’ is the crown jewel of the album, with a sweeping orchestra and piano intro that sounds as if Jim Steinman penned it – with the bewitching chorus “Don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend death”. Granted, it’s quite a morbid chorus but it’s incredible how a song about mortality can be penned in such a catchy manner. From this point onwards, it’s practically impossible to stop playback of the album as you’d have to be a tone deaf root vegetable with a heart of stone; with songs such as ‘Witch Image’ that will have you singing and humming the damn thing for days on end, completely inadvertently. Such is the irritatingly catchy nature of the album as a whole.
Tobias Forge has gone for broke with “Prequelle” – laying all his cards on the table and created something that’s living in your head, rent free. Yes, it can be argued that such things have been done before and probably better in the 1980s – but the inspirators are dropping like flies, and their heydays ended a good three and a half decades ago. Right now, rock and metal has become in some parts boring and staid. Ghost, right now – are a rocket up the arse we all need.