Sound — 9
"Meliora" is the third album by Swedish occult rockers Ghost, a band on many a persons lips these days as their almost meteoric rise in the metal world continues to flourish. The identity of the band, which is to say, ironically giving most of the band no identity at all, builds up on the mysteriousness of Papa Emeritus III and his Nameless Ghouls, almost turning Ghost into an institution rather than just "a band." Often derided by non-fans or critics as mere "dad rock," their music is complexly sourced enough to the point where one could consider them an almost re-inventive group, in the sense that their fusion of '60s beats, '70s prog rock and various aspects of metal is quite a unique sound and somewhat anomalous for such a popular act.
Leading off from "Infestissumam," "Meliora" feels quite different from the roiling and darker feel of that album. Whereas "Infestissumam" had more of a stripped down metal side to it, "Meliora" moves in the progressive side of things more than ever. Immediately from track one, the organ fueled intro-to-double-kick-drum swing draws us into a growing search for the "Spirit" (ahah), one which leads us from euphoric chorus through to a beautifully crafted guitar harmony, ending on a choral high note. And then it turns it around and starts getting down and dirty with "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," a song that has one of the strongest set of riffs you'll likely hear this year. Sweet Salty Jeebus, is it a good riff. But that's not to say the song is all meat and spuds, the chorus follows the same style as the earlier "Spirit": one grand, cathartic movement that is immediately derailed by the next track. There's a lot of individual identity to these tracks, which helps add to the feeling that Ghost are certainly apart from their peers. For instance, "Cirice" opens with this kind of Opeth/Candlemass hybrid riff that still manages to make the floating vocal lines fit surprisingly well. The song also dabbles a lot in dynamic impact, making its chorus ideas one of the best on the album. "Mummy Dust" is a very ridiculous but charming mishmash of Judas Priest, a sprinkling of dissonant spookiness and Bowie camp. And "Absolution" really adds to the prog side of things, with its modern riff funneled through an old-school, er, funnel. It's oddly catchy and brief chorus feels slightly at odds with the main verses but it builds up very nicely to a fantastical bridge that combines all the best parts of this album: the guitar leads, the fantastical piano and invigorating chorus.
In a way, this feels like an example of the outsider iconoclast given musical expression in it's most unintentional form. That is to say, many aspects of Ghost's sound have their polar opposites in other concepts, one that's particularly appropriate would be the genre of Christian rock. Consider this: Both praise opposite ends of the same spectrum (God/Devil dichotomy), Christian rocks' lyrical ideas are often sincere beliefs while Ghost's are not at all shared by the band in actuality. Where (most) Christian rock is often not that inventive and relatively simple, Ghost delves into a lot of musical ideas, combining them to make a full, narrative experience from end to end. This is merely an observation, however, but its fascinating to think about. Fun fact: The opening 3 chords to "Deus in Abesntia" are almost the same to the chorus of "House of Fun" by Madness, and now that association shall be in your head forever.
Lyrics — 8
Given how Ghost have a certain consistency in firing and then hiring a vocalist after an album is done, the expectation is always on how the new Papa Emeritus is going to sound. In this case, quite a lot like his predecessor, Papa Emeritus II. That being said, the writing allows for much more of the vocals to shine, especially in the layered arrangements in songs like "Spirit" and "Deus in Absentia." While it's not the most powerful voice, Papa Emeritus III has a certain charisma and clarity that feels just right. Lyrically, it's been no hidden fact that Ghost's themes are universally Satanic or related in some way. That doesn't mean that the band is a bunch of Satanists, more that these themes are used for the theatric effect, and it works. Mostly, for the overall sound. While the groovy, grimy, dirty metal riffs work, there's a disconnect where the massively bombastic and melodic sound of the likes of "He Is" and "Majesty" feel slightly at odds with the implied darkness inherent to the concept of Satan. Then again, it has worked for bands like Hell, whose album "Human Remains" attempts something similar with interesting results. Again, the parallel between Christian rock is present here, as the same sort of verbal conviction is present but in a much more sophisticated, perversely human way, whereas most other methods of making things memorable rely on simplicity and repetition.
Overall Impression — 9
Another strong release from Ghost, a step up from "Infestissumam" in terms of song-writing, exploratory ideas and production values. Hopefully, depending on your outlook on things, Papa Emeritus III and co. will achieve their goals of subtle and loud, refined and grimy world domination. Or something along those lines, there was an awful lot to read in the manifesto. Anyway, hopefully this turns out to be one of the more popular releases of 2015, as it's a strangely refreshing sounding album amid contemporary rock and metal. Songs to look out for: "Spirit," "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," "He Is," "Mummy Dust," "Deus in Absentia."