I sure do love questioning the legitimacy of a band’s metal credibility. Why focus on the music when you can turn the conversation to whether or not one band’s destroying black metal or how much it matters that another used to be a pop act? With that in mind, let’s talk about Ghost. You know the complaints: they’re insufficiently metal; they’re Blue Öyster Cult enthusiasts; their three different singers have all actually been the same guy; etc. But how’s the music hold up on the band’s new, third album, Meliora? Actually, not all that badly.
Ghost needed to hit this one out of the park. Where the band’s first album, Opus Eponymous had been captivating in its mystery and darkness, the follow-up, 2013’s Infestissumam, just felt a bit too comfortable. The latter was their first on a major label, so perhaps that was to be expected, but it found them straying too far, sonically and compositionally, from the path that’d made their debut so successful.
Two years later, the anonymous Swedes have fully re-embraced their evil side on Meliora. It’s a more consistently listenable album from beginning to end: thicker, more focused and, ultimately, a great deal catchier. The ten songs (okay, eight songs and two instrumental interludes) unfold in a little more than 40 minutes — not much shorter than Infestissumam, in truth, but with a sequencing that makes it feel half as long, rather than twice.
What’s also interesting is how much better some of these songs sound in the context of Meliora than they did as advance singles. “Cirice” may have been a killer from the get-go, but its follow-ups, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Majesty” felt a bit lacking in comparison. But on the album, it’s a different story; both are preceded by more dramatic tracks (“Spirit” and “Mummy Dust”) for which their riffy, low-rumbling filth acts as the perfect antidote. (And okay, it certainly helps that the initially off-putting refrains have had a bit more time to grow on you.)
One of Meliora‘s biggest selling points, though, will surely be the mid-album ballad, “He Is.” One of the two aforementioned “strongest tracks,” the song feels like an epic in ways their past attempts at actual epics — the seven-and-a-half-minute “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen” or the six-minute “Monstrance Clock” — never did. In just over four minutes, it crescendos from a quiet, acoustic guitar riff into a full-on, vocal-harmony-laden singalong. If it wasn’t about, you know…Satan, and going to hell…you might even call it “uplifting.”
Naturally, there’s still a bit of fat the band could have trimmed — starting with the two instrumentals, which don’t really offer all that much to their final product. The mid-album track “Mummy Dust” may be surrounded by two of the album’s strongest tracks, but wastes a singularly excellent intro riff by combining it with mediocre verse and chorus parts. And the less said about the cabaret-esque closer, “Deus in Absentia,” the better.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Meliora in the end. It’s a solid album that, if not quite sufficient to make you totally forget about the shortcomings of Infestissumam, should at least succeed in putting the band back into your good graces.
Keep it heavy,