How many landmark releases does it take before a band can truly be considered great? Ghost are now at number four (EPs notwithstanding) and somewhere along the lines everything changed; going from a kitsch cult (kvlt?) phenomenon into genuinely becoming one of hottest acts in heavy metal. Three albums in and the band had finally reached the point where they could headline festivals, but with the reveal that Tobias Forge was the mastermind behind the whole project it seemed the magic was in serious danger. Not deterred, Ghost didn’t just (ahem) forge forwards on the same path they had before – they doubled down on the mystique, upping the ante on the narrative and introducing Cardinal Copia – a drastic departure from the more reserved Papa creations of old, flamboyantly strutting around stages bigger than the band likely ever dreamed originally possible. But (ignoring the fact you’re reading this as part of an ‘albums of the year’ list) was the record good?
Prequelle is the crowning achievement Ghost have been striving towards, a record so massive it cannot be filed away as a niche release from a genre whose heyday is long past. Yes, we’ve had Code Orange, Gojira, Mastodon, Architects, Behemoth and so many other stunning releases this decade. But where metal is enjoying the most creatively fertile periods in its history, the genre has fractured so far into its own niche that even the biggest bands and records are largely incompatible with the mainstream. Ghost somehow circumvent every signifier of modern metal whilst largely avoiding the sell-out accusations that plague more or less everybody else (largely – metal is still a jealously guarded bastard). Where Meliora saw the band combine their initial primordial metal vibes with the arena-conquering imperiousness of Metallica, Prequelle is a beast of an almost entirely different flavour; building bigger anthems than ever before whilst leaning hard into their ability to craft a song which sounds ready-made for radio.
One comparison comes up again and again for Prequelle, and that is to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In so many ways it’s right on the money – the achievement of an artist at the pinnacle of their power, conquering the world and reaching a point of ubiquity that they are cemented in public consciousness. Except – Ghost aren’t at their peak yet; they’re heading to the top of the mountain for sure, but this is a band that still have so much room for growth. Prequelle is the moment Ghost come into their own, redefining their image and streamlining their style to the point where the necessities of the past (cloak and dagger mystique, B-movie satanics) no longer dictate what the band can do. Prequelle isn’t Thriller, it’s Bad – the record which transformed an artist’s style, dictated their pop culture image and streamlined everything that came before it.
This is a band who are on the road to greatness, their back catalogue already brimming with enormous anthems that most bands would kill for. ‘Rats’, ‘Faith’, ‘Dance Macabre’ and ‘Pro Memoria’ are bona fide anthems, destined for the bigger stages Ghost now inhabit. And they did it without sacrificing any of their quintessence, managing to make massive choruses of everything from the plague to the joys of impending mortality (the number of times I’ve caught myself singing “Don’t you forget about dying/don’t you forget about your friend death” is disconcerting), even managing to stick a cheeky bit of word play in for good measure (‘bewitch you’ sounds so full of 80s pomp that the subtle satan-ery could easily slip past undetected).
Prequelle is everything that was great about Ghost, everything that is great about Ghost and a hint towards exactly where they can go. Some records this year have offered riffs for miles, others enormous breakdowns and choruses aplenty – but Ghost came along and trounced the competition, putting themselves at the top of the metal world with a record which in 12 months could very well be clocking in on ‘top records of the decade’. It’s flashy, it’s grand and it’s more flamboyant than a sequinned velvet jacket, but good goddamn if it isn’t heavy metal through and through. Plus, if you can find any record that can make the listener burst into laughter from sheer glee so much as the surprise saxophone solo in ‘Miasma’, I sincerely urge you to get in touch, because after the last few years we all need a damn good laugh.
1. Ghost – Prequelle
2. The Armed – Only Love
3. Marmozets – Knowing What You Know Now
4. Turnstile – Time & Space
5. IDLES – Joy As An Act of Resistance
6. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
7. Table Scraps – Autonomy
8. Nervus – Everything Dies
9. Kaoteon – Damnation Memoriae
10. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends