The ghouls behind the masks and papal garb are back from Bizarro Vatican City (aka Linköping, Sweden) for the third installment of the Ghost story. And what a strange story it’s been, what with the tragic and untimely passing of both Papa Emeritus I and II and the ascension of II’s “younger brother,” III to vocal prominence on Meliora (Latin for “better”). I made no secret of my throbbing love for their Opus Eponymous debut, and made even fewer bones about my disappointment with follow-up Infestissumam. With the band tied one and one and the writing apparently now being handled by producer to the stars Klas Åhlund, I looked to Meliora to determine if Ghost was a flash in the pan or a serious act worthy of the buzz their enigmatic antics earned them. Well, it looks like the Roulette Wheel of Fate landed on “buzzworthy,” as the third time is definitely the charm. The haunting and devil fornicating can now begin anew.
In a nutshell, Meliora is a return to the style of their debut, which means Blue Öyster Cult with extra Satanism for her pleasure. Sometimes the Satanic component comes by way of a recycled Mercyful Fate riff, other times from church organs and the Book of Aleister Crowley lyrics (and for the last time, no you can’t ride the man’s white horse). But what makes this collection of songs shine is how insanely catchy and entertaining they are. This is a vastly more immediate and addictive spin than Infestissumam, where it seemed the band got bogged down trying to distance themselves from their slick debut. By contrast, these tunes feel much more off-the-cuff, effortless and in line with their strengths, and that makes a big difference.
Opener “Spirit” is an easily digestible, saccharine sweet and rocking slice of Blue Oyster pie, not as gobsmacking as classics like “Ritual” or “Elizabeth,” but still enjoyable in that Beach Blanket Beelzebub style Ghost invented. Pappa I, II, III’s vocals are as smooth and stuck in the 60s as always and the trusty organs provide just the right amount of creepy religious zealotry. “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” is one of the best tunes these weirdos have crafted yet, with a laid back coolness and a chorus you’ll be singing before the end of your first listen. There’s a faint whiff of Witchfinder General in the air and the song will stick to your ribs like a prison shiv.
And the beauty of Meliora is that all the songs have a similar charm and appeal. “Cirice” is a great song with another chorus you can’t ignore, and “He Is” has an excellently trippy vibe, sounding like The Mamas and Papas backed by Blue Oyster Cult with traces of the Eagles. This one could be the sister song to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear a Flower in Your Hair)” and that’s quite an offbeat accomplishment to hang from your vestments. “Mummy Dust” is a wonderful title and a lovingly eccentric tune, and “Absolution” is the token Mercyful Fate tribute you can almost hear King Diamond singing. Closer “Deus in Absentia” introduces slight touches of Thin Lizzy guitar-work and there will never be another song about burning in a pyre that sounds this joyous.
There isn’t a weak song to be found on Meliora, and it’s like Infestissumam never happened, with that album’s attempts at trippy psychedelica and lava lamp fetishism banished to the void as the band returns to their rocking core.
Pappa III’s silky smooth, hippie-dippie vocals weave all sorts of hooks and traps, ensnaring all but the most jaded of listeners. His performance gives Ghost a unique sound even as they gleefully rob the vaults of their ancestors for inspiration. To aid Pappa in his unholy crusade, the album features an abundance of wicked guitar work dripping like black candle wax off the coven’s entertainment center/altar of sacrifice. The style and approach may be borrowed from a more established Cult, but it’s wildly effective nonetheless. Performances aside, it’s the high-quality writing that makes Meliora so intoxicating, and horns and hails to this Klas Åhlund character if his involvement resulted in this fine return to form [lol. Hard to imagine. – AMG]!
As for weak points, I suppose the extremely accessible, almost poppy nature of the songs may hurt the album’s staying power after the newness wears off, but I’ve been spinning the bejeezus out of it and still find it richly entertaining. It helps that it’s a short album (just over 42 minutes), as it flies by quickly leaving you wanting more.
I didn’t know what to expect from Meliora, but Ghost got under my skin again and I’m sorry for doubting their otherworldly powers. It’s rare a mega-hyped band lives up to their press, and that’s what happened here, so I officially declare the House of Steel to be haunted once again. Boo-urns!