In just under a week, Swedish doom metal giants Ghost will be releasing their third studio album, Meliora. The record, which translates as ‘better’, is the third chapter in a continuation of records which follow the story of the anti-Christ ruling the world. It sees Ghost, fronted by the eclectic Papa Emeritus III, traverse new paths and musical directions, sometimes straying away from their trademark satanic doom metal. We’ve heard the whole record, and below we’ll be taking you through a track-by-track preview of it.
The record opens with the intricate utilization of a theremin, which accompanies eerie synthesizers and a lone, mesmerising triangle. It quickly dies down, being vaporised by chugging riffs and pounding drums courtesy of Ghost’s tight, anonymous rhythm section (nobody will ever find out who performs under the guise of a Nameless Ghoul). “Throw yourself into the vessel of possibilities” declares Emeritus III during the verse, before the chorus hits with a bold claim of “Spirit! Absent!” It’s notable that Ghost haven’t hit with an as menacing tone on Meliora, at least in comparison to their previous releases. The atmosphere is more subdued, and the lyrics are a whole lot simpler than before. The only thing which Ghost seemed to have amped up on Meliora is the bombast, as it’s hardly unmissable over the course of the album’s 10 songs. Spirit builds up to a powerful and suspenseful climax, with the book of Meliora open wide enough for Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls to set sail through the afterlife.
FROM THE PINNACLE TO THE PIT
Dark undertones remain in a rockier environment on From the Pinnacle to the Pit, with a fuzzy bassline and absurd riff combination kicking the track into shape. “You have the power, you wear the crown” sings Emeritus in a personal dedication to his beloved Satan, his vocals sounding as menacing as ever before over a dark mix of guitars and drums. The organ is a notable absence here (as it is throughout the record), yet this is made up for in an abundance of effects-laden guitars. This song is the sound of a journey being undertaken at full speed, almost as if there’s no stopping Papa Emeritus in his conquests. It can only get darker from here on out, even if the lyrical content on Meliora doesn’t necessarily reflect that claim.
An opening acoustic guitar intro builds the suspense here, making way for strings and distorted guitars, the latter of which eventually take control and destroy everything around them. As the menacing riff progresses, the strings build up in eerie emotion and lead into a massive, chugged dynasty of riffs. “Can you hear the rumble that’s calling?” asks Papa during the first verse, directing his vocals at the woman who was the subject of both previous records. On debut album Opus Eponymous, she was impregnated with the anti-Christ, giving birth to and raising it on follow-up Infestissumam. Now, on Meliora, the anti-Christ has taken over the world, something which lays claim to the more relaxed moods presented throughout. The world has succumbed to a new leader, and Papa Emeritus is preaching its reign through Meliora. The album artwork even depicts what such a world would look like, with Emeritus’ face adorning every wall and facet visible. Cirice builds up nicely, climaxing with soared vocals and classic 70s backing vocals which hark back to the early days of heavy metal and classic rock. As comeback singles go, Cirice is every inch the menacing rocker it sets out to be.
After the chaotic thunderstorm of Cirice, Spöksonat presents a short cool down period which is lead by a lone harp. Its sprawling melodies are eerily beautiful as they set a nasty tone and prepare for what the rest of Meliora has to offer.
He Is, the only ballad (read: 80s power ballad) on the record, opens with major key acoustic chords and shockingly positive lyrics from Emeritus. Meliora is the first record on which Ghost openly sing about love and passion in a manner which is not grisly or disgusting (see the Infestissumam artwork for clarity), and it actually comes across quite well. The song doesn’t lean on any metal undertones which the sextet have tended to rely on, instead making it a downbeat dedication to the devil, something which is so wrong, yet so right. Emeritus sings of Satan as a close family member, his grisly vocals underpinned by classic rock solos and downtempo piano segments. “He is the shining in the light without whom I cannot see” sings Papa during the bombastic chorus, one which increases in power as the track progresses. It may well be one of the most picturesque songs Ghost have ever created, with the focus very clearly on instrumental quality and storytelling, more so than ever before.
The cooling period which the last two songs made for has now been well and truly washed away on Mummy Dust. Its fast-paced chugs and demonic riffs contrast with sudden organ swooshes and tempo changes, as Papa sings of “corrupting humanity”, human greed and ruling the earth. A choir enters the frame later on during the climax, but not before the much ignored organist has his fair share of ad-lib moments. “In god you trust” sings Emeritus demonically, his vocals harking back to the days of early Ghost for a rare flashback. When listening to Meliora, it’s important to remember the story it’s continuing. Now, Emeritus is no longer singing of what he desires; rather, he’s singing about what’s happened and how humans may feel.
Majesty is Emeritus’ crowning moment, sounding almost like a rock classic that many a mullet-clad guitarist would be proud of. This is the one moment on Meliora where not just Papa rises, but his Nameless Ghouls too. This is Emeritus singing to the human race, clearly a victor in his actions. The organs are more present here, underpinning the vocals nicely and occasionally having their own moment to shine ahead of the chorus. The chorus itself is anthemic, yet it’s what happens before and after them which stands out the most. As with a majority of the record, the guitar work is absolutely spot on; better than ever before. Each solo is pulled off with sleek precision, each riff with menacing monstrosity, and each verse with just the right amount of pivotal backing. All three of these elements are most prevalent on Majesty and Absolution, with the latter yet to come.
Devil Church is the time to shine for Ghost’s organist, his opening melody taking charge of the whole track sublimely. It makes way for spiralling guitars and powerful bass, both of which help carry the record towards its grand finale.
Album highlight Absolution is the one song Ghost should be proud of more than anything. It combines elements from across all three studio albums, encompassing dark riffs just as much as it features their newfound anthemic 70s sheen. The riffs are ongoing and various guitar licks jump in and out of consciousness throughout, all leading into one hell of a massive chorus. “All those things that you desire, you will find them in the fire” sings Emeritus ahead of the stadium-ready chorus, one where all the instruments come together and form like a steam train careering through the gates of hell. Once the song reaches its solo, it’s like heaven has started to coexist on hell. Both guitars come together and play in sync, the high notes so precise that they’re capable of producing happiness-induced tears on behalf of the listener. Everything that Meliora has worked towards comes together on Absolution, with its solo the absolutely monstrous climax point. The song comes to a cataclysmic ending as the guitars crescendo in an absolutely disastrous manner. You’ll be hard pushed to find a hard rock song better than Absolution in 2015, as it really is that good.
DEUS IN ABSENTIA
The sound of a ticking clock rings in Meliora’s curtain call – Deus in Absentia. It’s the most bombastic and theatrical track on Meliora, with its rhythmic pattern centring totally on the ticking clocks (almost in a similar fashion to 2013’s Monstrance Clock). “The world is on fire, and you are here to stay with me” sings Emeritus in utmost grandeur, his vocals sounding equal parts demanding and grisly. “We are tied as one eternally” he continues, before a brief interspersed choral sections makes way for the big finish. Emeritus sings of, “all your imaginations running down your face” during the closing section, before a hugely emotive solo carries the track to a burning ending like a flaming horse to water. A final appearance of the ticking clock flies by swiftly, bringing the track to a choir-led ending. It’s the first (and last) instance on Meliora where the choral sections have been so urgent, having been notably absent during the preceding nine songs. Nevertheless, it ensures that Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls receive the dark and gloomy ending they deserve.
Meliora’s dark ending means that the three-part story of the anti-Christ has technically come to an end. He came, he saw, and now he has finally conquered. So where can Ghost go from here Only deeper; deeper into the darkest depths of hell. Here, they’ll be able to reach back into the underworld and present you with their darkest wishes effortlessly. Unfortunately, Meliora lacked this slightly. It had too many ‘positive’ vibes which don’t entirely suit Ghost’s music. It also featured somewhat lacking lyrical content, particularly in terms of topics. Aside from the fact that it only has eight full songs, though, Meliora is a masterpiece. It’s the pinnacle of Ghost’s career, and definitely a record which not only the band can be proud of, but one that rock music can be proud of. Never has the instrumentation on a hard rock album spanned so many different styles whilst still remaining ‘metal’, and never has a rock album itself sounded so tight-knit and precise. Translated into English, Meliora means ‘better’, and Ghost have definitely achieved that here. Jack Parker
Meliora is out on 21 August via Loma Vista.