Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ghost - Prequelle


For years now, I've always seen Ghost to be "that stupid Scooby-Doo chase scene organ rock band with the dumb gimmick and wimpiest vocalist on the planet", and just sorta let their albums pass me by.  It really was mostly Papa Emeritus's voice that kept me away more than the light music, because believe me when I say that I can dig anything with a strong enough hook (trash talk Madonna in front of me, I dare you).  I never cared that the songs were light, poppy, and catchy necessarily.  The problem has always been those fucking weak ass vocals.  Seriously, there's zero oomph whatsoever!  He sounds like fucking Passenger, he's so spindly and brittle sounding, I could never, ever, ever get behind it.  Oddly enough, what broke me from this roadblock was actually just... ya know, talking to a Ghost fan.  I'm friends with a really normie dude (two of his all time favorite metal bands are Ghost and Babymetal) and I asked him how he can possibly stand Papa's vocals.  He described it as such:

"Well look at it from a different angle.  He's not supposed to be this big imposing creature, the whole point of Ghost is to be welcoming and inviting, it's really easy and catchy music that can suck anybody in.  He's more of a cult leader than a 'fire and brimstone' preacher, much more of a David Koresh than a Jim Jones.  He's soft spoken and harmless because that's how he gets you.  That's how all that Satanist stuff comes into play, nobody would join his 'church' if they knew how evil it was.  He's a friendly, charismatic leader who gets his 'ghouls' to do his dirty work once they've been converted."

I initially brushed it off as a scrambling rationalization, like the people who explain away how bad Final Fantasy VIII is by saying Squall died at the end of Disc 1... but I'll be damned if Ghost's first three albums didn't start making a whole lot more sense once I looked at it that way.

I explained all that to illustrate that I'm a new fan of the band, and a lot of my old prejudices have been thoroughly washed away as I sit here proudly jamming Meliora for a few weeks.  So when I tell you all that Prequelle is really fucking boring, I'm not coming from a place of long-entrenched hate anymore.

To get it out of the way, there are good tracks here.  "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" were the two advance singles and god dammit they are exactly what I want out of Ghost.  Those two songs showcase their strengths incredibly well, being larger-than-life fist pumping arena metal anthems, leaning closer to glam than any sort of neck wrecking heaviness.  These songs are basically two peas in a pod, and I can't help but see them as companion pieces to one another for how similarly they approach themselves.  They're both really upbeat poppy songs that have slightly sinister undertones lyrically but present themselves as completely harmless pop tunes musically, written specifically to be played with gusto at huge arenas and open air festivals with thousands of fans singing along.  You know, the same things that made tracks like "Year Zero" and "Square Hammer" so cool.  "Faith" is a bit more of a grower, being a much less immediate but also more riff-reliant track with more of a slow burning chorus.  Bonus points to the bridge for sounding fucking exactly like the bridge in Metallica's "Through the Never".  Rounding out the good tracks is "Witch Image", which sounds like a half-ballad reimagining of "Dance Macabre" a mere two tracks earlier, but the chorus is a stunner with some super simplistic guitar licks in the background that keep the soothing (but kinda dull) verses from dragging the song down.  Even more bonus points to the guitarists for the solos following the 80s glam template of being epic as shit and always a huge, melodic highlight of every track.

The problem arises with every other track being lame as shit.  When Prequelle is taken as a whole, it's really disjointed and poorly paced, with far too many weak tracks to justify the runtime.  Broken down, you've got ten tracks, two of which are upbeat pop rock, one strong arena metal track, two half/power ballads, two ballads, and three instrumentals, one of which is a mostly atmospheric intro.  That's not goodPrequelle has absolutely no sense of momentum after "Faith" wraps up, as it spends the rest of the time sputtering up and down, stopping and starting, never really moving forwards with any real urgency or thought.  At that point it becomes merely a collection of songs, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but when most of the songs aren't interesting it becomes a huge problem.  In this regard, Ghost shows themselves to be more of a pop act than a rock one, because Prequelle is structured quite poppy in the sense that it's clearly centered around the two singles with a bunch of filler surrounding it, save one or two deep cuts that work out fairly well.  Shit like "Pro Memoria" has no place on any album being released to the general public, nobody wants to hear a weak acoustic ballad that doesn't actually progress. 

The instrumentals fare a bit better than the ballads, but really it's just "Miasma" that works.  That one is festooned with numerous flashy solos, spanning guitar, keys, and elephant, and it's just a fun driving track that keeps the pace up and doesn't get old.  "Helvetesfönster" on the other hand is a corny waltz that goes on for way too long and is sandwiched between a half ballad and a full on ballad to close the album.  Even though "Witch Image" is one of the good songs, it does contribute to the album skidding to a halt across three tracks, which really is my biggest problem overall.  The excitement isn't consistent, and the other moods they try to evoke just fall flat and aren't enjoyable in any real way.  It's not fun to sit through, and that's why it functions best as a pop album meant to have a few standout tracks to throw in a playlist and throw the rest out. 

There's no real place to put this, but I love how the cover is an obvious tribute to Sepultura's Bestial Devastation (look closely, even the background details are identical) despite Ghost being about the furthest fucking thing on the planet from Sepultura besides, I dunno, elevator muzak?

So it's unfortunate that I got around to understanding Ghost right when they released an extraordinarily mediocre album.  Prequelle has some excellent high points with "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" and I can't recommend them enough.  Huge choruses and big dumb hooks are abound on those tracks, and really that's what Ghost excels with.  These more somber and "serious" pieces are just weak and meandering, and the instrumental interludes are torturously long this time around.  I wouldn't call this a terrible album, but it's certainly not a good one either.  The few moments of heavy riffage found early on don't do nearly enough to ground the floaty pop melodies and those melodies themselves really only work when there's a driving force behind them.


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