SWEDEN: Prequelle - Ghost
Updated: Nov 1
A metal album that breaks all the rules with sprinklings of disco, funk and jazz
Regular readers of the site will be aware of my recent conversion process to being not exactly a hardcore fan of the heavy metal genre, but at least somewhat accepting and understanding of it – granted under some very specific and particular circumstances. Dinosaur and dragon costume-donning, Hevisaurus, recently had me wholeheartedly entertained with their heavy metal album Jurahevin Kuninkaat. However, if I am forced to be critical, what their extremely exuberant and boisterous record perhaps lacked was perhaps a sense of intellectual stimulation, which is of course understandable when one considers that the Finns made the album specifically for children. Well, it just so happens that another set of unique circumstances have come around leading to me being rather complimentary of another heavy metal album, albeit for very different reasons.
“What can only be described as musical mastery, the instrumental track is a wild crusade across a plethora of genres whilst still working within the framework of the dark soul of heavy metal.”
Fellow Scandinavian band Ghost are often considered a hard rock artist by so-called true metalheads. I would firmly disagree with that point of view and instead would simply state that Ghost are most definitely a metal act but what sets them apart is that they are rather unique in their choices to play with the form, not relying merely on lowest common denominator tropes of the genre to appeal to herds of long-haired, black t-shirt wearing oafs and Satanists (notwithstanding their obligatory leather jacket adorned with patches and pins to boot, like they want to show off their successful year with the girl scouts), but instead incorporating elements of funk, jazz and even disco into their music.
Full disclosure, at first I didn’t love the darkness of this album like many fans might, and no matter how impressed I am by its ingenuity, I am probably not the band’s target audience. For me a soppy romantic soul song or an upbeat disco banger in which I can remain in ignorant bliss of all of life’s perils are typically where I find myself in my element. That said, after further research it seems that my impulsive reaction to initially switch off and assume that notions of darkness and death were just standard depressive metal themes promulgating misery, were in fact structured around something very prescient. The rather ominous opener in which lead singer Tobias Forge’s daughter sings “Ring a Ring o' Roses” leads onto a rather depraved-sounding song, Rats, which I initially thought was a silly song literally about the rodent creature. Instead, I have since come to realise that the theme of the album is plague and specifically the black death. What I would have once upon a time described as self-flagellation listening to that song, to me now even evokes a wry smile; in fact, I can admit that I rather enjoy the Elton John-esque keys that are smoothly incorporated into the track.
Listening to the smooth transition from the end of the next track Faith into See The Light, in which Ghost implement orchestral and choral sounds, for me was the first time I was truly aware of the Swedes’ crazy inventiveness. This is the point where I found myself even unironically enjoying the lyricism of the album, particularly the line in the chorus “every day that you feed me with hate I grow stronger”, which feels like a rallying cry to channel other people’s negative energy into something positive. However, for me it is the next song, Miasma in which Prequelle reaches its absolute peak. What can only be described as musical mastery, the instrumental track is a wild crusade across a plethora of genres whilst still working within the framework of the dark soul of heavy metal. What absolutely blew my mind was not just the very inclusion of my favourite instrument, the saxophone, in a solo in the latter half of the track, but the fact that its presence wasn't just a gimmick, but in fact enhanced the quality of the tune.
Though the rest of the album fails to reach these dizzying heights of creativity again after Miasma, it is certainly not through a want of trying. Dance Macabre’s intensely fun ‘70s vibe feels like an apocalyptic final blowout. Metal that could seamlessly be played alongside the music of gay icons such as Diana Ross and Donna Summer under the bright flashing lights of a disco dancefloor, is quite mind-boggling, but trust me, it works. Meanwhile, the other instrumental track, Helvetesfönster, is almost a beautiful ambient number at points, were it not for its percussive beat that reminds you of its bestial and somewhat macabre roots. Now, if I have to nit-pick, I cannot pretend I love Forge’s voice, nor is this an album that I would regularly choose to turn to. Nevertheless, any pre-conceptions that one might have about the limited nature of the heavy metal genre are completely burst by Ghost in this extraordinarily ambitious recording. Perhaps other heavy metal artists should take a leaf out of their book and not fear the damning criticism of their die-hard fans…after all, isn’t fearlessness and risk what metal is all about?