The fourth album from Swedish theatrical metallers Ghost sees the band on the cusp of breaking through to major success. As with every album, the act has unveiled a ‘new’ frontman for its anonymous troupe of Nameless Ghouls, identified only by elemental names such as ‘Fire’ or ‘Water’. The difference this time around is that the masked vocalist has taken on an entirely new persona (dubbed ‘Cardinal Copia’), instead of variations of the Papa Emeritus character he has portrayed since the band’s inception. It’s also become public knowledge that all of these characters have been played by the same person, vocalist Tobias Forge. His identity was widely known among fans already, but since he was the subject of legal action (still ongoing at the time of writing) from some former members of Ghost, he was ‘outed’ as the brains behind the band. None of this has affected the band’s rise to prominence, and this album was eagerly anticipated after they had gained a substantial amount of new fans on their last tour, at one point even opening for the legendary Iron Maiden.
Lead-off single ‘Rats’ gave a good indication of what was to come, it’s a catchy, even poppy song (including a ‘whoa-whoa’ bit in the chorus) but with sufficient heavy metal guitar riffing to appease the headbangers. The video showed Cardinal Copia resplendent in a natty outfit with moves reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Lyrically, it alludes to the Black Death, and how that destroyed many lives. The whole album is broadly based around death (‘don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend death‘ – Pro Memoria). So it may be an album full of catchy pop/rock songs, but it is as dark as you are going to get in its song lyrics.
The band took to the road in the US before the album’s release, so much of this material has been heard by fans, both at the shows and through social media as clips of the new show have been shared. Ghost also previewed parts of it in their video shorts which introduced the Cardinal Copia character; ‘Faith’, ‘Pro Memoria’ and ‘See The Light’ were teased. ‘Faith’ is one of the heavier moments of the album, but still accessible. If radio programmers weren’t listening too closely to the lyrics, they might even deem this album radio-friendly!
The big surprise of the album is instrumental ‘Miasma’ (it refers to a foul stench, associated once again with death, for example with unburied bodies such as happened during the Plague). For a band made up of anonymous musicians, where only the lead singer is known, to perform an instrumental (in fact there are two; ‘Helvetesfönster’ – literally ‘Hell’s Window’, towards the end of the album recalls ‘Pro Memoria’ in its melody) is surprising enough. For there to be a saxophone solo is an even bigger surprise! It’s quite a prog-rock style number, and when performed live, it featured Papa Nihil (the ‘elder’ Papa shown on the video shorts) on the sax! ‘Dance Macabre’ (no relation to a similarly-titled song from Delain) is a dancefloor classic in the making; I can picture this one filling the floor at your local rock night.
Already, this album has divided Ghost’s fans; while many have taken to it for the immediate impact of the songs, others have been scathing about it being ‘too commercial’. In truth, Ghost have never been the sort of po-faced black metal band of the sort you see in forests prowling around in corpse paint; rather their take on the whole ‘satanic’ thing is humorous, they are taking the mickey with the concept and set out to amuse, rather than terrify their audience. If you’re a fan of 1980s hard rock bands, particularly the more ‘glam’ style, this album will probably appeal to you more. Certainly many of its songs will latch into your brain quickly, Forge has that knack of writing a hit – if the powers that be decide it’s a hit that is!
The other 1980s thing about this album is that it is quite short! The ten tracks which make up the standard album add up to a running time of around 40 minutes. For anyone who still tapes albums onto one side of a C-90 cassette, you’ll love this! However, it has little in the way of filler – the material is strong throughout.
As an old-school rock fan myself, I can see where a lot of Forge’s ideas come from, but he does have a talent for songwriting, and has created a world of characters to illustrate his music, which helps fans ‘buy into’ the whole concept. I think this album will stand the test of time, long after the image has been forgotten about these songs will still sound good in 30 years time. Someone else will have to verify that for me though, since I will likely be part of this album’s concept myself by that stage!
Listen to ‘Prequelle’ for yourself here via Spotify: