It is testimony to how far our favourite Scandinavian Satan botherers, Ghost, have entered the heavy metal consciousness that that much of the internet chatter regarding their latest album of curiously hummable tunes – the enigmatically titled Meloria (Spinefarm) – is magnificently divisive. Meloria, apparently, is proof of another “masterpiece” or, by contrast, it’s proof that they are blowhards and charlatans of the highest order.
When did this happen? When did the release of a new album from a band seemingly force everyone into Camp A or Camp B- that bands are either geniuses of the highest order or they are all steaming piles of horse manure?
This curious one-upmanship of “my band is more amazing than yours” can only end in a depressing ever-decreasing circle of self righteous stupidity which also belie the facts – not every record released is a classic and not every record you don’t like emanated from the stable yard.
Whatever happened to having, as Geddy Lee once put it, an open mind and an open heart?
Having set this mindset firmly in place, Meloria can be righteously ticked off as a really good album; in parts, exceptionally so. This is the album where Ghost have consolidated the tricks and tropes that drew us into their strange vaudevillian universe to begin with and the album that will hold us there for some time more. It is a lot more focussed than its expansive predecessor, the often brilliant but occasionally uneven Infestissumam (Sonet/Loma Vista) and is much closer in tone and outlook to the band’s debut the brilliant and otherwordly Opus Eponymous (Rise Above).
Earlier this year, in what has now become part of the annual ritual underpinning the Ghost circus, the band replaced – for the second time- the band’s lead singer, Papa Emeritus II, with, yes, you’ve guessed it, Papa Emeritus III. His “younger brother”, apparently. Whether you give a monkeys about this sort of thing is very much a personal choice but the new vocals sound, well, like Ghost. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.
Aesthetically, Meliora (roughly translated from the Latin as the “search for betterment”) has many 1970s rock influences – there’s a dash of Black Sabbath here, a nod to AC/DC there and it’s all imbued with that occult-lite that they have become renowned for (and which tends to get up the nose of those who take this sort of thing very seriously indeed). Where Infestissumam decided to go on artistic flights of fancy, Meliora is a much more direct affair and one’s response to it will depend on whether one regards classic song structures and tunes a hindrance. This writer doesn’t.
As a consequence, Meloria sees Ghost honing all their tricks into one accessible and often infectious package. The Hammer horror stylised intro to the crunchy guitars of ‘Spirit’ sets the tone well – the drumming sounds uncannily like Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’ which may or may not be a compliment, depending on your world view. ‘From the Pittance to the Pit’ is a ridiculously hummable call and response tune that will be many people’s earworm for some months to come. ‘Cirice’, the lead off song for this album is an absolute corker of a riff with all the expected tropes firmly in place; the faux satanic undercurrents, the impending sense of doom, the inveterate twinkle in the eye.
Elsewhere, the enigmatic string led instrumental of ‘Spoksonat’ and its companion piece, the love letter to Satan of ‘He Is’ are both highly evocative, properly entertaining and ever so slightly spooky, which one suspects was entirely the point.
‘Mummy Dust’ brings the tempo and the direct aggression up a notch or two and ‘Majesty’ will have Angus Young cocking an inquisitive ear in search of the culprit who nicked that riff from his mid 80s period. ‘Devil Church’ is a playful if lightweight instrumental interlude which presages the album’s two strongest cuts – the moody heavy ‘Absolution’ and ‘Deus in Absentia’.
‘Absolution’ could easily have cropped up on Opus Eponymous, it’s all eerie and plaintive piano but with a chorus bigger than Donald Trump’s ego. ‘Deus in Absentia’ sounds like the distillation of all the tricks and lessons of Ghost to date – big chorus, epically styled structure, choir, rolling piano. I suspect that a portion of Beelzebub’s kitchen sink is in there as well. It is completely ridiculous and completely absurd. You will, naturally, love it.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that Meliora is a massive step forward on an artistic level; it patently isn’t. However, it is absolutely a record that has plenty of vim, vigour and occasional flourishes of inspiration. Meloria will not convince the naysayers but will doubtless build the Ghost congregation and, for that alone, we can all praise Papa.
Meloria is an aural pantomime for Edgar Allan Poe fans. And yes, PR guy, you can quote me on that.