Ghost, Prequelle (Loma Vista)
The potential for Ghost to metamorphose into a major headlining rock/metal act was always there, which is why Loma Vista signed the Swedes to a lucrative deal in 2012. Since the 2010 cult favorite Opus Eponymous it’s been a slow build, but over time more and more curious listeners have been drawn to mastermind Tobias Forge’s devilishly delicious blend of accessible hooks, blasphemous lyrics, and a carefully honed visual aesthetic that hearkens back to the shock rock glory days of the 1970s and ‘80s. Personally I’ve been a huge fan of Ghost since 2010, dating back when an editor strongly urged me to check out this mysterious Swedish band’s MySpace page, and over the course of his decade it’s been enormously fun watching them steadily become one of the biggest draws in metal and hard rock. Its been a work in progress, though, but the singles “He Is” and “Square Hammer” started pointing Ghost in an interesting direction, where hooks took precedence over mood.
Fourth album Prequelle was the one that hurled Ghost over the top, thanks in large part to the blockbuster singles “Rats” and “Dance Macabre”. However, there’s a lot more than pop-friendly melodies on this ambitious record. Forge tips his hat to the garish heavy metal of King Diamond (“Faith”), the theatrical balladry of late-‘70s Alice Cooper and Queen (“See the Light”, “Pro Memoria”), and the perpetual influence of Blue Öyster Cult that looms over the band (“Witch Image”). However, the most revelatory moments are found on the instrumentals “Helvetesfönster” and “Miasma”: the former reminiscent of vintage progressive rock band Camel, the latter an uproarious, wildly entertaining soundtrack to a giallo film lurking in Forge’s vivid imagination. All year long this was a slam dunk for my favourite album of 2018: it embodies everything I’ve loved most about heavy metal for 35 years: escapism, theatricality, a perfect balance between riffs and hooks, plenty of healthy blasphemy, and a little mystique. It feels perfectly suited for me, and there’s no better reason to name it my Album of the Year.