With their frequent dalliances with the occult, NWOBHM-inflicted Satanic pop-metal and the obvious factor that no one actually knows who they are, the idea of Ghost wouldn’t be perceived as one conducive to any sort of mainstream admiration. That didn’t stop 2013’s sophomore effort Infestissumam from crashing into the UK Album Chart at number 35. How it happened is as mysterious and unknown as the Nameless Ghouls that make up five sixths of the band’s lineup, but it was interesting all the same to see this most unlikely contender for chart success achieve just that.
But things have moved on since then, and the third era of Ghost has begun. Talismanic frontman Papa Emeritus II has abdicated, and in his place is his three-months-younger brother Papa Emeritus III, leading the Ghouls on their third effort Meliora. And while it’s still an attempt at making apostasy radio-friendly that will undoubtedly make Behemoth fans baulk, it’s the actual music that should be Ghost’s defining factor. Unfortunately, it’s not too great.
As has become the norm, Meliora sees Ghost once again breaking out their traditional combination of rudimentary 70s rock and campy Swede-pop in a typically overblown fashion. And the while the music itself is functional to a certain extent, it’s the insistence on pomp at every possible turn that’s massively off-putting. Opener Spirit attempts to channel something epic but ends up falling flat, and choral interlude Devil Church is just simply pointless. There’s a feeling that, in these moments of bombast that Ghost manage to weave throughout Meliora, there’s a definite aim for something impressive, but they just come across as liabilities at best.
The worst offender is Papa’s vocal performance. While it may be true that none of Ghost’s (supposedly) three vocalists have had the greatest voices ever, III’s just seem to drag a lot, and with very little cadence or – somewhat appropriately – life in his vocals, it doesn’t exactly paint the most rousing picture of Ghost as a whole unit. It doesn’t help that the music itself suffers from the same problem – Cirice and closer Deus In Absentia could easily have a minute shaved off and still achieve the same effect, such is the extent to which that on offer is mercilessly prolonged.
Ghost are at their best when they cut out the faffing round with theatrics and just focus on making decent music, and fortunately Meliora does have a couple of examples of this that are its saving graces. From The Pinnacle To The Pit and much of Cirice have a pleasant crunch to them, while Absolution embraces its poppiness to great effect, and Mummy Dust – easily the album’s best song – is the best performance from all those involved, with Papa’s vocals adopting a much more palatable rasp, while the Ghouls impress instrumentally with a surprisingly competent solo. There may be moments of gold peppered throughout also, but the album’s impressive instances still find themselves outnumbered by sub-par ones.
It’s unlikely then, that Meliora will be another surprising chart success under Ghost’s belt, and while some circles will undoubtedly enjoy it, it still falls flat overall. It would be absolutely perfect to be able to end with some quip about how ‘meliora’ is Latin for ‘something better’, and how the music on Meliora matches up, but it would be untrue. Instead, it has more in common with Ghost’s moniker than anything else – pale and lifeless.
For fans of: Blue Öyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Meliora’ is released on 21st August on Loma Vista Recordings.