Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Ghost - Meliora
When previously unknown and enticingly anonymous Ghost debuted in 2010 with the critically lauded Opus Eponymous, the heady idea of artistic progression was evident from the word Satan. The rhythmic hooks, confidently creepy vocals and firm reimagining of vintage hard rock blended seamlessly with the on-the-nose satire evident in each verse and chorus. The incorporation of keys, organs and subtle choral elements smoothed the edges. It was the feeling of it all, however, that made Opus the most confounding hit of that calendar year. Nobody could figure it out, and yet the joke was an inclusive one. It was the artistic equivalent of diverting the attention of your judgmental grandparents, who sort of once listened to Blue Oyster Cult and Jimi Hendrix, away from your black t-shirt with an upside down crucifix by telling them you understood the 70s better than them.
Fast forward five years. Ghost have released their third full-length Meliora, and now, for the first time, the joke of infernal comedy is on us, and it is wonderful.
It's definitely unfair to skip over Ghost's mostly-misunderstood second effort, Infestissumam, especially when considering how brave of an effort it was due to all its stylistic tinkering. (Editor's Note: Jack still listens to Infestisummam on the reg, and has gotten into arguments over how good he thinks it is, so he's trying to be objective here. He is also the one writing this note. Pay no attention to this fact. Thank you.) The truth is, however, that Opus remained Ghost's calling card through all the pre-release hype and marginal disappointment over Infestisummam, despite how well received portions of it were, like live staples "Year Zero" and "Per Aspera Ad Inferi." The specter of all the intrigue and surprise over the success of Opus hung over Ghost's growing popularity in the mainstream like the visage of Papa Emeritus I himself on the album's cover. And if Infestissumam and the reign of Papa Emeritus II are to be understood, for better or worse, as the era of Ghost's growth, then Meliora and the freshly papified Papa the 3rd are sure to be considered part of their ascension to the throne of modern heavy music.
All this is not to let Meliora off the hook for being less than digestible upon first listen. Not unlike the odd 50s pop and circus tune influence found on Infestissumam, Meliora is rife with stylings that initially seem out of place, if not down right silly. But, unlike their sophomore release, this is precisely how and why the record grips and doesn't let go. It's a very deliberate and creative assault on the preconceptions of Ghost and the culture surrounding their music. The best example of this is, without question, the fifth track and conceptual cornerstone of the album, "He Is". Let's put this in very plain terms; this is a worship song. Sonically, it could follow a Joel Osteen sermon and nobody would bat an eye. Hands would be in the air, open palmed, reaching towards the heavens. Blue hairs would have goose bumps. And then, inevitably, someone would hear the subtle subversions of common Christian terms and glowing references to Armageddon, and shit would get really uncomfortable. And oddly enough, a lesser degree of pandemonium for the seasoned metal fan is likely the goal of "He Is," and for that matter, the entirety of Meliora. Dissections of Ghost's sound, thematic approach and appearance have been written and spoken ad nauseum since the fall of 2010 when they first took the stage following the release of Opus. Meliora proves they've been listening the whole time, ready to throw a counterpunch so sneaky that Chuck Liddell's bald head would blush.
The true triumph of Meliora is that while its most profound moments come in the way of tracks that simply don't play like songs that belong in the catalog of a heavy metal band, the meat of the album is in the three tracks that were pre-released by the band. "Cirice," "From The Pinnacle To The Pit," and "Majesty" are bound to become not just live staples for the band, but will likely be eventually understood as some of the best songs they've written. This is especially true for the first of those three, "Cirice," which is possibly the most cohesive track the band has written since their inception. It combines their technical talent, satirical chops and songwriting prowess to a place previously not achieved, showing off a level of trust and unity between each musician that have made bands like Tool the envy of the modern rock world. "Cirice" also showcases Papa Emeritus at his absolute best. The chorus is simply transcendent in it's emotion, and the high note the demonic frontman hits near the end of the track is undeniably hair raising.
There are also certain elements throughout the album that show a level of confidence Ghost has in themselves that is wildly promising for what may come after Meliora. The use of keys and organs is the significantly more prolific than their previous efforts, and adds an accompaniment to the atmosphere of their sonic footprint that has always been hinted at but never fully realized. Increased experimentation on the lower end is also clearly portrayed, with rhythm and bass lines weaving through tracks like ironically dyslexic tour guides. "Mummy Dust," arguably the most "metal" song on the album, exemplifies just how intrepid Ghost have become with their mastery of riffs and head-banging chuggery, as the drums and bass flit through the track to the point where it becomes progressive. Most surprisingly (at least upon realization) is the lack of any direct use of Satanic infernal terminology. It's almost as if Ghost challenged themselves to pen an album so rife with eerie, hellish themes without the use of their most understood crutch, and if that's the case, they aced it.
Understandably, it will take the metal community a long time to understand Meliora as a whole. The record is unrepentantly progressive for Ghost, and suggest a level of maturity and growth for the band and the aura surrounding them that seemed to be dimming. The prevailing feeling, however, is that Ghost have recaptured the straight forward magic of Opus Eponymous, harnessed the experimentation and arena-rock aspirations of Infestissumam, and boldly stepped forward into their own future with the backbone of one who knows that All Mighty Dark Lord Himself is behind them to clear any obstacles in their way. Meliora is a triumph of artistic approach, a beacon for those in heavy music who are just as interested in concept as their are in musicianship. The joke is on us, and yet, we're still in on it. Hail that guy who everyone knows we're talking about at this point. Yeah, Satan.