Meliora is Latin for ‘the pursuit of something better’, although Swedish occult rockers Ghost would be hard pressed to top 2013’s Infestissumam. That album was a masterful blend of seventies rock, heavy metal and theatre, and sky-rocketed the band to international superstar status. Delivering a proper follow-up to that is a tall order for any new band, but Ghost manage to do so, and with relative ease to boot. But is Meliora actually something better? Let’s find out.
Of course, the judges are still out on the final verdict. Meliora is a multifaceted beast that makes it extremely hard to form a definite opinion about in the first week of release. So far, I don’t like it any better than Infestissumam, but that album has been spinning rounds for two years now. I know Infestissumam like the back of my hand, and it has gradually morphed into that over the past two years. Meliora doesn’t have that advantage yet. It’s new, it’s fresh and it takes some work getting into off the back of something you’re extremely familiar with. It’s a grower though.
With a running time of little over 41 minutes, Meliora is an extremely lean album. It’s five minutes shorter than its predecessor, and it feels like a much tighter album for it. I love Infestissumam to death, and it contains a lot of highlights, but there are some lesser, almost filler-like moments on it as well. Meliora does not have those. It blasts off with Spirit, builds momentum and keeps it going until the last notes of Deus in Absentia. It has been a very long time since I’ve heard an album, be it rock, metal or otherwise, that is this consistent throughout, and it evokes memories of The Beatles’ Abbey Road, ABBA’s The Visitors or Iron Maiden’s Powerslave. Utterly brilliant and consistent in quality from start to finish. If that sounds like extremely high praise, it’s because it is, and it is well deserved.
The album opens with an old-timey, science fiction-y intro before it gets to business with Spirit. From the get-go, you’ll notice that Papa Emeritus III and his Nameless Ghouls have made good on their promise to deliver a more guitar-centric album. The riffing, whilst still not full-on heavy metal, is a lot heavier than on Infestissumam, and it gives Meliora a lot more punch. From the Pinnacle to the Pit and the first single output Cirice builds on that, offering a splendid combination of haunting, catchy melodies, excellent riffs and an abundance of twin leads. Front and centre is the vocal work of singer Papa Emeritus III who, like on both previous albums, manages to strike a perfect balance between creepy frontman, soulful crooner and rock singer. It’s as effective as ever, and you can’t help but marvel at the performance, which is as underplayed as it’s convincing.
After the short harp-interlude Spöksonat, the band dives into what might very well turn out to be the real highlight and fan-favourite song He Is. A tribute to Dutch artist Selim Lemouchi (of The Devil’s Blood fame) who took his own life last year, it’s a triumph of songwriting. There’s an unprecedented sense of harmony between the lyrics, and vocal melodies and the (acoustic) guitar work. The song is as subtle as it’s massive sounding, and I wouldn’t be surprised if He Is will top fan polls for years to come when it comes to their favourite Ghost tracks. It ranks up there with Monstrance Clock and Year Zero as the highlights of Ghost’s songwriting.
Speaking of Monstrance Clock and Year Zero, it should be mentioned that although the overall quality of Meliora is sky-high, the only thing lacking is a couple of towering highlights. He Is looms over the rest of the album as a sole pinnacle in the middle of it. The first part of Meliora builds towards it, and the rest tries desperately to keep up. The angry riffing of the creepy Mummy Dust is excellent, Majesty oozes seventies prog, Absolution should be the next catchy single and Deus in Absentia doles out brilliant melodies and choruses left and right, but you can’t help but feel that the album has been built around the grand centrepiece He Is. Infestissumam centered aound Ghuleh / Zombie Queen and Year Zero, and ended with Monstrance Clock as its high point. Meliora is so good throughout its entire 41 minute length that nothing else really stands out. And if it becomes a complaint that one song is even more brilliant than the rest, you know you’re doing something right as a band.
Meliora proves that Ghost really is more than a one-hit wonder. More than lightning in a bottle or a temporary buzz. More than just theatrical antics and a couple of good songs. It’s the perfect culmination of both its predecessors; it combines the metal vibe from Opus Eponymous and marries that with the melodies from Infestissumam, creating a real masterpiece in the process. Do I like it better than Infestissumam? I’m not quite sure yet. I think I do, but these things take time, and Meliora is still a seemingly ever-changing beast which hasn’t quite rooted itself in my (un)consciousness yet. It’s a brilliant album though, one that should propel these ghouls to even greater heights, and it comes very highly recommended.
Label: Loma Vista Recordings
Release: Out now
- Spirit (5:15)
- From the Pinnacle to the Pit (4:02)
- Cirice (6:02)
- Spöksonat (0:56)
- He Is (4:13)
- Mummy Dust (4:07)
- Majesty (5:24)
- Devil Church (1:06)
- Absolution (4:50)
- Deus in Absentia (5:37)
- Papa Emeritus III − vocals
- Nameless Ghouls – all instruments
Review by Ralph Plug