Headphones: Ghost Finds New Sound Composed From Elements Of Traditional Metal

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Swedish heavy metal group Ghost last released a full-length album three years ago when they dropped Meliora. Earlier this month they released an experimental album called Prequelle, creating a new chapter in the group’s discography. While the satanic occult group identifies under the heavy metal genre, Prequelle shows a different side of the group and the softer sounds they are willing to experiment with. The 10-track album showcases Ghost’s distinct, raspy, and dark elements while producing lighter melodies that make their overall sound similar to that of groups such as Pink Floyd.

Ghost began teasing their fourth studio album in April with the release of the album’s first single, “Rats”. The track opens with a simple drum line and powerful guitar riff, eventually leading into the vocals of front man Tobias Forge. Forge has assumed different aliases over the past ten years including Papa Emeritus I, II, and III. For the groups newest album, he has developed a new alter ego in the form of Cardinal Copia. Forge’s vocals appear in a higher pitch than listeners have heard on previous album. His voice flows elegantly with the guitar and introduces the type of vocals to be heard across the entire album. In this track as well as many others, Forge channels the voices of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Syd Barrett into his own to create a higher, more melodic vocal tone. We also hear Forge’s metal roots as he shouts, “Rats”, throughout the song in a much more grimy and harsh tone. The track is an excellent introduction to the kind of experimentation and differentially the group achieves on the album.

“Faith”, the album’s third track, focuses much more on the origins and traditions of heavy metal rock music while still finding ways to be experimental. What stands out the most in this track is once again Forge’s vocals alongside beautifully complex guitar solos showcases the raw talent of the groups lead guitarist. At both the beginning and midpoint of the track we here similar guitar riffs contributing to the overall eeriness of the track. This creepy melody is present in the form of Forge’s vocals as well. Throughout the track we hear him singing in his more traditional higher tone voice with small excerpts of his dark tone in the post-chorus proclaiming, “Because faith is mine!”. Much like “Rats”, “Faith” shows off Forge’s ability to change vocal tones in order to create different moods in the track all the while effortlessly flowing alongside the complicated guitar riffs.

The track “See The Light” marks a tentative shift in the group’s (especially Forge’s) sound on the album. We hear a soft piano riff at the beginning of the track which lead into Forge’s opening lines. The shift in melody we hear in Forge’s voice shows another higher and softer tone his vocal range is capable of reaching. Forge’s voice on this track sounds strikingly similar to that of Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day through the soft vocal melodies they produce. We hear this similarity on numerous tracks throughout the album which creates a newfound appreciation for Forge’s vocals. The way in which he nonchalantly changes the melody of a track with his voice is not only wildly impressive but also enlightening. His creativeness is on full display in this track and contributes to the gritty and raw sound of the group.  

The album as a whole plays with a number of different themes. Satanic worship, personification of death, anonymity, and personal growth and strength are all common themes throughout the album. These concepts are all instrumental in the thematic formation and identification of Ghost and the theories and beliefs their group was built upon. The idea of personal strength and growth stems from the group’s change in group members throughout the years. Last year, Forge was involved in a lawsuit from former group members. They accused him of cheating them out of profits that were rightfully deserved from album releases and live performances.

This lawsuit was not the only controversy that Ghost has experienced throughout their active years. The group has received scrutiny, especially in the US, about the themes and messages produced in their music. The dark tones of their music and the ideals and beliefs they highlight in their lyrics often opposes the needs and wants of mainstream listeners. However, their controversial topics and sadistic melodies have made them extremely popular within the heavy metal and “doom” metal communities.

The album’s second single, “Dance Macabre”, was dropped on May 18th, just two weeks before the album was released. The track produces sounds of traditional 80’s and 90’s hard rock through high octave guitar riffs and cymbal-slamming drums. The lyrics of the track mainly reference a concept of lurking death and the fading life that accompanies death. The term “macabre” found in the track’s title references a concept of a grim and horrifying atmosphere built upon the nature of death. The track is an ironic breath of fresh air in the album. The conflicting concepts of the title and lyrics with the upbeat vibe of the track create a perfectly balanced harmonic masterpiece.

With the talented instrumentalists in Ghost, it only makes sense that they would take some of the weight off Forge’s shoulders on several tracks on the album. “Miasma” is the first instrumental track we hear off of Prequelle and further introduces the skills of Forge’s supporting members. “Helvetesfönster” (translated as “Hell Window”) is the second instrumental track and by far the superior of the two. Throughout the track we hear a number of different melodies including intense yet soothing piano chords and guitar riffs alongside simplistic drum lines. Even without the addition of Forge’s vocals the track still shines and in fact is one of the most impressive tracks off the entire album.

“Life Eternal” is a light and extravagant conclusion to the album. A majority of this album references and analyzes the concepts of death and life beyond death. “Life Eternal” concludes this analysis by discussing theories of mortality and immortality. The track poses the question of belief in immortality and whether or not this is the correct way to live. “This is the moment of just letting go/She said, ‘If you had life eternal’”. The track also discusses the theme of accepting death and one’s own mortality. Track after track we hear Forge sing about death and the grim circumstances of it, with “Life Eternal” acting as the conclusion of this discussion and focusing instead on the acceptance of mortality and the inevitability of death.

Even after just one listen, it is clear that Prequelle is a thoroughly made collection of music that poses all the questions and concepts that Ghost was formed around. The album has also brought Ghost out from the scene of underground metal music and into the mainstream spotlight. Prequelle currently sits third on the Billboard 200 list; an impressive achievement for a heavy metal band competing with top artists of other genres. Prequelle will introduce those not familiar with the genre to an international metal group staying true to their roots and posing fascinating questions about life and death.