PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Ghost's 'Prequelle' Subverts Metal Clichés and It Has a Strong Sense of History

Underneath the catchy melodies and snazzy artwork, Ghost have created one of the cleverest heavy metal records in recent memory.

Prequelle
Ghost

Loma Vista

1 June 2018

As much as critics like to declare acts as "the next big thing", it often takes longer than anticipated for a band to cultivate a large mainstream following. From the moment Darkthrone founder Fenriz praised the mysterious Swedish band Ghost in 2010 – remember MySpace? – many in the underground metal scene were enraptured by the band's sumptuous combination of 1970s heavy metal, overtly Satanic themes, and inspired art direction. Being on UK metal tastemaker Rise Above Records didn't hurt either, and by the end of the year, the debut album Opus Eponymous easily ranked as one of the most acclaimed metal albums of 2010.

For all the hype surrounding Ghost's lucrative signing with Loma Vista, it was nevertheless a slow build. Led by the creepy, papal-inspired Papa Emeritus, the faceless, costume-clad sextet honed its musical chops on the road, working the North American touring circuit especially hard. 2013's dark, murky Infestissumam showed signs of inspiration, but was a commercial disappointment. However, things started to turn in the band's favor two years later. Meliora ingeniously expanded upon the original idea of Opus Eponymous, boasting lavish production, heavier riffs, and a strong sense of theatricality, best displayed on breakthrough tracks "Cirice" and the gorgeous, blasphemous ballad "He Is". 2017's stopgap EP Popestar accelerated that positive momentum, thanks largely to the incessantly catchy single "Square Hammer", which topped the American mainstream rock chart.

Undaunted by a tempest-in-a-teapot metal blog "scandal" that saw former band members launch a lawsuit against singer/songwriter Tobias Forge for royalties, exposing his identity as Papa Emeritus in the process – one of the worst-kept secrets in the metal scene – Forge and Ghost regrouped, hit the studio, and primed itself for a very big 2018. The result is Prequelle, a stunning fourth album that simultaneously builds on the winning formula of "Square Hammer" and "He Is", and at the same time shows a side of the band that few could have expected.

For those who fell in love with "Square Hammer", Prequelle will prove immensely satisfying. "Rats" is a high-energy homage to the staccato riffing of '80s guitar greats Jake E. Lee and Vivian Campbell, while "Faith" immerses itself in the heavy flamboyance of King Diamond circa 1987, adorned with the kind of lead guitar flourishes we rarely hear in mainstream heavy metal anymore. "Witch Image" features pitch-perfect hard rock dynamics, the light and dark interplay rivaling the best work of Blue Öyster Cult in the late 1970s. And speaking of Blue Öyster Cult, "Dance Macabre" is a masterstroke of melodic hard rock expertise, a combination of the gloomy tones of "Don't Fear the Reaper" and the upbeat hooks of "Burnin' For You". One of Ghost's best characteristics is how Forge juxtaposes occult themes with contagious hooks (you attract more flies with honey than vinegar) and the line "I wanna bewitch you in the moonlight" is as good as pop metal gets.

As strong as those immediate highlights are, the deeper cuts are even more fun to explore. The venomous "See the Light" beautifully captures the theatricality of Alice Cooper's "Steven", and staying with the Coop theme, "Pro Memoria" hearkens back to the psychodrama of "Pass the Gun Around" from 1983's DaDa. Literally translated as "Hell Window", instrumental track "Helvetesfönster" is an inspired mélange of Jethro Tull, the early '70s Alice Cooper band, and Opeth (Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt even contributes to the track) gracefully wending its way through movements both pastoral and foreboding. The real jaw-dropper, though, is the mesmerizing "Miasma", which starts off as a heavy metal version of Yes, including keyboard solos that soar into Rick Wakeman territory, quickly accelerating to a breakneck, '80s metal pace, only to have a saxophone burst in from out of nowhere, adding just the right amount of camp to the proceedings.

That saxophone solo is the kind of wink to the audience that makes Prequelle so endearing: heavy metal has always been about camp, about gimmicks, and Tobias Forge is fully cognizant of the fact. There has been much hand-wringing of late among metal pundits about Ghost's marriage of pop, Satan, and image, but whether a metal band is about social justice, gore, Vikings, or wearing masks onstage, it is all a contrivance. It's all a means to stand out amongst the crowd, to sell records. Forge has always excelled at embracing that fact, but Prequelle is particularly special. It subverts metal clichés; it has a strong sense of history, but at the same time it searches for new ideas within that framework. Underneath the catchy melodies and snazzy artwork, Forge and his band have created one of the cleverest heavy metal records in recent memory.


9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.