The Devil’s Got the Best Tunes: Ghost’s Meliora

‘Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, [and] the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee’. Isaiah 14:11–12*

Late last year, I reviewed Taylor Swift’s tacky mall grimoire, the philosophically abhorrent 1989.

Admittedly a gloriously produced effort, it nonetheless spruiked a manifesto of superficiality, narcissism and mental illness, young Tay Tay’s spiritually bankrupt offering represented a nadir of 21st century SWF nervous breakdown trauma porn.

Sample lyric: ‘Remind me how it used to be; pictures in frames of kisses on cheeks; and say you want me, yeah, yeah’.

The wholesome, home schooled Swift is, of course, a generational bulwark — a plasticky distillation of all that’s sour and broken in contemporary western society, more concerned with Christian Louboutin’s than espousing any particularly (allegedly) Christ-like values.

Which is darkly ironic, considering this year’s premiere, immaculately produced, sweetly seductive suite of pop gems comes wrapped in the diabolical, unsettlingly empathetic metaphysical musings of Swedish Beelzebub-botherers Ghost.

If you’re one of the rapidly decreasing number of people who’ve yet to clock the arcane sextet, Ghost is…well…just look at ‘em.

Revelling in the carnivalesque theatricality of your Alice Coopers and (whisper it) KISS, Ghost embraces a lurid Hammer horror take on saccharine sweet, occult rock riffing with a spoonful of arsenic, an infernal ABBA convening the Black Mass with King Diamond.

Led by the enigmatic dark pope Papa Emeritus III (really just Papas Emerituses I and II with a new coat of corpse slap), Ghost’s five eternally masked Nameless Ghouls deliver a canny brew of meaty chops, spectral meditation and bombastic anthemic songcraft.

Meliora (better, in the ol’ Latin), is their third descent into the underworld. This ten track collection represents a considered compromise between the Pentagram-referencing garage metal of their debut, Opus Eponymous, and the ambitious, bonkers prog of sophomore effort Infestissumam — derided (unfairly) in some spheres for its melodic, riff-eschewing majesty.

Here, we have Ghost’s most assured set to date, a delirious, cheekily blasphemous riposte to happy clappy kitchen fridge tosh like: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’.

I’ll take: ‘Even now when you’re here you are moving, hysterically seeking out what needs improving, and you’re still asking for the sun. All those things that you desire, you will find there in the fire’.

Watch out, me mum, come Christmas time.

Gleefully upending their original penchant for penning hymns dedicated to the virtues of Old Nick, here Ghost waves a skeletal middle finger at the trite motivational homilies of your Tay Tays and such. Instead, framing this loose concept album around the absence of god and icky concepts like individualism and mischief, rejecting the material, and opting for self-reliance and pragmatism.

Heavy stuff, eh?

No chance.

Tongues planted firmly in decaying cheeks, in some senses Ghost fills the void left by the sad passing of sardonic pop-metal genius Peter Steele (Type O Negative), winking at the infernal while filling your auditory canals with uplifting, majestically arranged symphonies — equal parts Lennon/McCartney and Hetfield/Ulrich.

Meliora’s eight psalms (there’re two instrumental interludes in there, one bucolic, one portentous) clock in at an efficient, leave ’em begging, forty-odd minutes — never wasting a hook, and compelling back-to-back listens as its sophisticated and raw, inspired musicianship is revealed.

Papa III’s seductive, malevolent lounge croon is all hemlock lullaby, mesmerising his congregation as the band dispenses with eerie riffery and sinuous melodic chops, a filthy rhythm section summoning Ragnarök up the back. Barnstorming thrash riffs intertwine with camp stabs of synth, guttural whispers, flirtations with Wings-style strings, early Priest meets Allman’s dual guitar attack and towering, get-to-fuck dalliances with the Hammond-powered glories of Stormbringer era Deep Purple.

Meliora is produced by former Teddybear Klas Åhlund, whose resume includes a murderer’s row of shiny Scandi bubblegum credits, not to mention Katy Perry and ‘our’ Kyles. All this further reinforcing Ghost’s tricky proposition as a cheeky, convention defying set of accessible throwbacks, sort of along the lines of ‘Boston Goes To Hell’.

(Oh, and it’s mixed by Andy Wallace, who, you know, has a pretty tight pedigree, too.)

One cannot stress enough the need to secure Meliora on vinyl (buy a turntable, if need be) — not only is the thick, Type O Åhlund/Wallace production better served by the analogue format, begging for dirty headphones sessions, but you’ll be treated to returning cover artist Zbigniew M. Bielak’s divine artwork at 12×12 LP scale, including a stunning booklet of illustrations depicting each track’s lyrical themes. It’s well sexy.

Swerving expertly from sickly ear-worm canticles to rock operatic flourishes via woozy soundtrack to romantic, pastoral AOR sunshine, Meliora’s serpentine musical trajectory bears testament to Ghost’s continually evolving, provocatively accessible agenda — they just want to rule the world, alright?

This is monolithic stuff: ambitious, assured and addictive. That makes it three for three, and ample, fiendish proof positive that the Devil gets the best tunes. And has way more fun.

(That said, Tay Tay’s still much, much scarier)

“Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn, no longer in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy. Nor his accepted brethren, whom, tyrant, he calls free: lay the bound or build the roof. Nor pale religious letchery call that virginity, that wishes but acts not! For every thing that lives is Holy”. A Song of Liberty, William Blake (c 1792) **

Buy it (on vinyl) here.

* Yep, I’ve levelled up to portentous Bible quotes.

** There, have some Blake as well.

Originally published at www.hopscotchfriday.com.