By: Rylee Strange
For those not in the know, Ghost is a Swedish band shrouded in secrecy. Their singer, who goes by Papa Emeritus, is the only member with a name, as the band itself are merely known as Nameless Ghouls (each denoted by a different elemental symbol, fire, earth, water, air and æther, respectively). Papa dresses in satanic papal robes, complete with a miter, and Día De Los Muertos-esque skeleton makeup. The Ghouls, themselves, don matching black outfits and silver demonic masks. It would be reductive to call them a “gimmick band”, but clearly they’ve found the niche that works for them.
Their music is definitely indebted to the metal of the past (70s through early 80s). It relies on big crunchy guitars, a good chorus (or at least some cultish, chantable line), and a distinct lack of cookie monster vocals. Some might see this as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise extreme metal climate, while others might hear it as an ill fit to otherwise “heavy” music (and possibly the antithesis of the metal genre as a whole). But make no mistake, Ghost is a heavy band. They’re not extreme, but they are deep, powerful and really fucking evil. It doesn’t take blast beats and distorted screams to be truly terrifying.
2015’s Meliora is the next logical step from Satanic gimmick band to one of the most hard-working, exciting metal acts in recent memory. Their evolution is clear only in hindsight. Their debut album, Opus Eponymous (2010), sounds positively garage-band in comparison. Meliora is rife with big production, orchestration, strings, keyboards, satanic choirs, the works. And that’s not to mention the dual-lead guitars, the fat, thumpy distorted bass and round, reverb-drenched drum parts.
Right from the opener, “Spirit”, the listener can tell they’re getting into something big, as the album starts with organ, choir, church bells and a Theremin for good measure. Then the chugging metal riff arrives and the set really kicks into gear, right into the thumping groove of “From The Pinnacle to the Pit”, and the first single off the album, “Cirice” (which includes one of the best keyboard solos in recent memory).
From there, the album takes a turn to an interlude track unlike anything they’ve done before: a fifty-six second harp piece called “Spöksonat”, which itself is a reference to an early 20th century Swedish play, “Spöksonaten”, or “The Ghost Sonata”(spök = spook, or ghost, and sonat = sonata). It is a creepy and subdued piece that leads into the best trilogy of songs on the album, and ties the two halves of the record together quite nicely.
“He Is” is a glorious, spiritual love ballad to the dark lord himself, and could even be called beautiful in its majesty. “Mummy Dust” has big keyboards, and a ridiculously catchy, hissed refrain over a spooky piano part, an easy shoe-in for a fan favorite album cut. Speaking of majesty (which seems to be an over-arching theme of the album as a whole), the following track, “Majesty”, is another groovy rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early-80s Saxon or Judas Priest album.
An organ-based interlude, “Devil Church” ties the track to “Absolution”, the last great song on the album, and possibly the best chorus of any song on Meloria. The album closes with “Deus in Absentia”, possibly the only misstep on the album which, by any standard, would have been a great song if not preceded by such a superior set.
All said and done, Meliora is proof that Ghost isn’t done pushing its boundaries yet. They are becoming less and less like another KISS and more and more a “serious” band, although anyone who follows them on social media will definitely see a clear humorous streak, tongue firmly planted in cheek. The humor does little, if anything at all, to detract from keen songwriting and a brilliant set of tunes, though, and like all good bands shrouded in mystery and mystique, Ghost seems to have quite a few tricks left up their sleeves.