As far as album reviews go, there’s nothing more entertaining to write about than good metal. Ghost waver back and forth, even with fans, between silly and serious—and their refreshing outlook on heavy metal and the culture it’s soaked in is every bit as mesmerizing as GWAR’s similar viewpoints.
The Swedish doom sextet are better known state-side for their controversy than for their albums—all of which, in their own right, are phenomenal and introspective records filled with just enough bite to lure in heavy metal fans while being just Swedish enough to appeal to music nerds outside of the metal field. The band, anonymous musicians who play in satanic masks, robes, and in the case of their singer Papa Emeritus, a demonic “anti-Pope” outfit, are heavily influenced by a love of horror films and the traditions of Scandinavian metal. Instead of an aggressive vocalist to match the heavy lyrical content, Ghost’s Emeritus has a great vocal register and sings in English, rather than Swedish.
Meliora is not so different from the band’s previous releases, 2010’s Opus Eponymous and 2013’s Infestissumam, but is infinitely more streamlined and thunderous in comparison. The album stays mostly solidly locked within modern metal tropes, with a few notable exceptions like mid-album “He Is”, which plays more like an ABBA track with an electric guitar solo than a heavy metal piece. As far as odes to Satan go, the track is about as tame as it is humanly possible to create for that purpose, right down to the completely cheesy bass-line and chorus.
Part of what makes Meliora so enjoyable is this dichotomy at play, though. “He Is” is followed up by the Metallica-inspired “Mummy Dust”, a complete 180 back into the realm of chugging guitar and “Master Of Puppets”-style drumming. Seeing just where and when Ghost get away with the level of tongue-in-cheek that they obviously enjoy is just as entertaining as the music itself—although sometimes I can’t help but feel the album might have benefited from lyrics that I couldn’t understand.
North American audiences may still be up in arms over Ghost’s anti-Christianity slant and album artwork that largely features 16th century depictions of orgies, but the truth of the matter is that for all of Ghost’s theatricality their music is hardly against-the-grain. Instead, Meliora celebrates that theatricality and schlock-horror cinema to great effect—especially on tracks like “Absolution”, which perfectly blend a modern metal tone with ’80s nostalgia and straight-faced melodrama. The Grammis-nominated band have come up with another lovingly-crafted metal album that somehow manages to both avoid, and embrace, all of the tropes that make metal so good to some, and so silly to others. Ghost may just be the best meta-metal collective on that side of the Atlantic.
Review by Fraser Dobbs