One would expect that a band as dedicated to deep, theatrical Satanism as Ghost is would court controversy. One would be right to think so, but perhaps not for the reasons that would seem glaringly obvious initially. Firstly, they used to be known in the US as “Ghost B.C.” for the same sorts of reasons Death From Above had to add “1979” to their name (i.e. stupid label reasons). Supposedly that conflict has been laid to rest as of this year, so I’ll simply be referring to them by their intended name.
And no, it’s not the joyful devil worship that seems to bother most people either; our culture has largely moved past the reflexive clutching of pearls at the first mention of Old Scratch. No, the people most riled up about Ghost tend to be actual metal fans for whom the unabashedly demonic band just aren’t metal enough.
And it’s not a completely spurious argument. Ghost aren’t super heavy. And indeed for a Swedish band which features a lead vocalist/lyricist who dresses as a pope with full skull makeup and calls himself “Papa Emeritus III” (he symbolically fired the previous two popes which are also him) and refers to the other four musicians only as “Nameless Ghouls” whose identities are never revealed from under their black cloaked masks, one might expect a storm of noise and double-kick idiocy presided over by Cookie-Monster-Got-Throat-Cancer roaring. Nope. In fact, the music ranges from the mild radio “hard rock” of previous decades to genuine thrash, but always with religious flourishes to distinguish it. Papa Emeritus III (to be referred to henceforth as PE3) sings as though somehow totally uninterested with trying to sound evil, which I think amongst Scandinavian death metal enthusiasts is true blasphemy beyond any church arson. No, he just sings; sometimes it’s quite lovely. This all resulted in two previous LPs that were extremely hit-or-miss, and I would often find myself agreeing with the corpse-painted haters that what Ghost needed was some more muscle behind the evil intent. A little more Grand in the Grimoire, if you will. To my mind, Meliora is an album that has succeeded in doing that, and the effect is as good as I had hoped.
Starting with “Spirit”, the album kicks off with atmosphere: Theremin (really), churchy doomy choirs, booming drums, chugging guitar and PE3’s straightforward tune-carrying leading into a nice chorus and punctuated with proggy synth all over the solo. Not a thrilling start but a nice appetizer.
“From the Pinnacle to the Pit” is one of the singles from the record and a good choice it was. A heavier, groovier track than the previous with some almost Homme-esque guitar flourishes amongst the more traditional thrash sounds. Menacing organ and choral support provide epic religiosity that fans will recognize and appreciate. Stunningly, this song is about Satan.
Full disclosure: most of the songs are about Satan. And most of them are pretty damned good. “Cirice” has a Slayer-ish riff and a sweet, glam-metal guitar chorus. No mention of Satan in that one though I suspect he’s the narrator. “Absolution”, with its fist-pumping gallop and “Majesty”, with its stoner-rock stomp are fun additions, though the latter’s pops of almost radio-ready melody soften the track to an unfortunate degree. It is definitely about Satan though.
There’s even an instrumental track. Surely that can’t be about Satan? Haha what is wrong with you the title is “Devil Church”. That’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like too, and not even a super evil Devil Church. Definitely not like fundamentalists or anything. Super chill Unitarian Satanists maybe.
There’s only one real misfire here and it’s the mid-album “He Is”. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out who the “He” here is. But I swear this is Christian Rock for Satanists. Lyrics such as “He is, he’s the shining in the light without whom I cannot see” are followed by the equally sweeping and somehow saccharine delivery of “and he is insurrection, he is spite he’s the force that made me be”. This is what the boring kids at St. LaVey High School would listen to, to the delight of their parents and youth group warlocks. This is such Christian rock I don’t think even the Satanism could keep me from being uncomfortable listening to it with an open car window. I’d have to lean out at a stop light and quickly explain to the convertible next to me, “it’s cool, man. Satan.” Maybe add a quick metal-horns gesture.
But the album closer “Deus In Absentia” makes up for it. It’s everything I like about Ghost with none of the stuff I don’t. A spooky clock keeps metronomic time for pounding, start-stop drum-and-organ verses that usher in the big guitars and pianos. This is a legitimately anthemic track that might bring out the lighters at a live show if only doing such a thing wasn’t so, I dunno, not evil? I mean, the delivery of the lyrics in the chorus (“the world is on fire / and we are tied as one eternally / a funeral pyre / and we are here to revel forever more”) actually sounds hopeful and celebratory for the love of-
Nobody. Never mind. Anyway, a massive choir (probably Satanic monks) lends the track the requisite Luciferian vibe, and in fact closes out the album with its own dark, unaccompanied coda in the final minute.
There’s a lot to talk about with this album, more than some of it Satan-related I’m sure. But once you dig under the spooky theatrics and silliness of it all, there’s a real band to discuss here. They know who they are, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to churn out the same thing with each effort. Consistent evolution of their sound while maintaining their uniqueness is the end goal of any band with any integrity and so far, Ghost is on the right track. Meliora may not be many genre fans’ idea of a great metal album, but it is a damn good album. Anyone who disagrees can go to Hell.