Ghost – Meliora
“Why are you frightened? That ain’t no ghost – it’s a reflection of you
We all know that there’s more inside you that you haven’t shown” – Ghosts, The Jam
The point opened up by the above quotation – that the band Ghost functions as a mirror – is an interesting one to consider when listening to their third record, Meliora. From the very beginning, the anonymous group have been both tactical and self-aware in their strategies to engage a wide audience, at once bringing attention to their mysterious guises and simultaneously denying their importance. We’ve been told that the music is what matters, not the image – yet it is impossible to imagine Ghost succeeding without their many internalised gimmicks. Of course, it’s these kinds of paradoxes that make the band so compelling and unique in the modern metal scene (of which they both are and aren’t a part), and these, I believe, are a result of very careful planning rather than just chance.
We can hold Ghost up as a mirror to satirise groups who utilise gimmicks over substance because after all, the band have always backed up their bravado with quality music; we can see Ghost as a lens through which to view over forty years of rock, metal, pop and folk music with a powerful, modern twist; we can see Ghost as the ultimate embodiment of pastiche and as the masters of the jumbled, derivative internet age. At once transparent and opaque, the anonymous Swedes have crafted something quite beautifully balanced and alive in the way that they present themselves.
Meliora, the latin for ‘better’, continues and foregrounds the self-referential leanings of the band, suggesting in its subtext that the first two records were just ‘good’ and that this album is their true opus, at least so far. I remember reading somewhere that the band had planned several records in advance to be released in a set sequence, and if this is true, their full vision has come to be realised five years after its inception. The first two records, as with everything Ghost, were very similar and, at the same time, worlds apart. Both were incomplete visions, each a glance at a specific aspect of the band but neither keen to reveal the full picture. Opus Eponymous gave us a preview of the riff-oriented side of Ghost and the knack which Papa Emeritus has for a seismic, silky vocal hook. Infestissumam illuminated some experimental, psychedelic tendencies, with keyboards taking a far more important role in lieu of the guitars. Production values improved drastically, too, but some of the grit and toe-tapping riffs were lost in the transition from crowd-pleasing nostalgia to forward-thinking pop. Meliora stands as this band’s true début album, the moment at which they transcend the image, the gimmicks and the pomp to deliver forty minutes of undeniably fantastic and quite possibly timeless material.
The journey begins as the newly appointed Papa Emeritus III urges us to ‘throw [ourselves] into the vessel of possibilities’. As an M.O., this statement bears significant weight in regards to the diverse and challenging array of songs here. Spirit opens with a typically King Diamond horror-movie inspired melody and builds with a powerful drum groove in what is the most affecting introduction to a Ghost record thus far. The song treads the line between upbeat whimsy and menace, mixing in a classic sounding organ and a healthy balance of riffs and vocal hooks. As with all great albums, Spirit isn’t the best song offered up here, but it is the best choice as opener – encompassing a little of everything the group has to offer.
Singles From the Pinnacle to the Pit and Cirice follow, upping the tempo and foregrounding the colossal riff work of the Ghouls. These songs are perhaps the best representation of this new, complete imagining of Ghost; combining the best of Black Sabbath brand doom and Blue Oyster Cult’s pop sensibilities. The choruses to both of these songs are excellent and illuminate the subtle changes the band have made to make their first ever fully cohesive and dynamic record, namely that each song is built on a winning formula – the mix of a strong vocal hook, and a truly memorable instrumental. On previous records, tracks like Ritual stood out above the rest because of their eagerness to infect the ears and demand repeated listens. On Meliora, the band make this their new focus to incredible results.
Structurally, Ghost have built this record with both restraint and purpose. In the same vein as Protest the Hero’s Fortress, Meliora is broken up into three ‘mini’ albums divided up by two shorter interludes: Spoksonat and Devil Church. The second of these segments begins with a huge statement in He Is, the most melodic and distinctly un-metal song the band have penned to date. Sonically, Ghost explore a combination of Scandinavian folk, Abba and REM in what stands as a highlight of this record and of the band’s discography so far. I’ve always wondered what a full blown Ghost pop song would sound like and here it is, in all its glory. A magical moment. Next up, in an interesting one-two punch, Mummy Dust is the true horror-rock classic we were all hoping for, with creepy B-movie piano melodies, a thrashy groove and suitably menacing vocals from Papa. The band seem to have mastered the way to switch up genres fluidly between songs in a huge improvement over their last release, and it pays off in a big way. It’s these quirks and flashes of diversity that make Meliora feel like an album twice its length, whilst remaining lean at a cool forty one minutes. I guarantee that you’ll replay this thing to death. The second act concludes with Majesty which is everything its title suggests. There’s a big classic rock groove to open up the track with some NWoBHM leads played over the top to add some colour. The band progress with the sound established on Pinnacle/Pit with more lurching riffs and that chilling and uplifting vocal which only Papa (I, II and III) can deliver. This is classic Ghost on fine form, and we sign off with the surprisingly happy interlude Devil Church as we move into Meliora’s final third.
At this point in my notes, I got excited. I knew that we were two songs away from a near-perfect Ghost record the likes of which I always hoped they’d deliver. Of course, they did. Absolution may just contain the band’s most technical and ear-wormy riff so far with some great atmospheric backing on the production side. Another stellar chorus, this time laden with piano, gives us another song which would be perfect for a Ghost live set (alongside just about every other song on this disc). There’s also a huge nod to The Who in the bridge of this one, with some unmistakable Baba O’ Riley-esque synth work. Finally, Deus in Absentia brings Meliora to a close in a truly memorable and bombastic way – serving a similar purpose to previous swansong and live staple, Monstrance Clock. A ticking clock (another subtle nod to its predecessor) leads the track in and Papa’s verse vocal is eerily reminiscent of Madness’ House of Fun. Then we get the traditional evil Disney style singalong section - “The world is on fire//and we are all one eternally” - for a few minutes before the song collapses into choral chanting to conclude this magnificent record.
During these forty one minutes, I found Ghost reflecting back at me just what I’d always wanted from them – a fun, consistent, daring record with big riffs and even bigger vocal hooks. Meliora is, lyrically, all about the way humanity copes in the face of losing God. Deus in Absentia (literally: god is absent) gives us a solution in its urging us to bond together during times of adversity. It’s a common Satantic trope to worship oneself instead of a theistic power, but Ghost provide a more co-operative, hopeful solution to the crisis. We must stick together at all costs. More poignantly, perhaps, when god is dead and there’s no-one to turn to – we should heed the words of Roky Erickson…
If you have Ghost, you have everything.
Words: Ben Armstrong
Image: Ben Armstrong [Left]/Dan John [Right]. “Meliora” gets its premiere on Styrsö, an island in the Southern Archipelago of Gothenburg, Sweden.