Ghost have been a somewhat controversial figure within contemporary metal since their first record Opus Eponymous manifested into public consciousness back in 2010. After everything that has been said about that stunning record since its release, let me make one thing abundantly clear: Opus Eponymous is a 21st century classic. Ghost’s debut was a spooky, Mercyful Fate-worshipping carnival ride populated by the catchiest songs this side of Iron Maiden. The production oozed spot-on earl-’80s atmosphere, the lyrics were blatantly Satanic without being silly, and whomever Nameless Ghoul wrote those tracks was a master of hooks and melody. Make no mistake about it, Opus Eponymous deserved every speck of hype that it received. The fact that their sound was a fairly obvious combination of classic Mercyful Fate and Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ is hardly a relevant negative criticism. Seriously, who doesn’t need more Mercyful Fate in their lives?
Ghost’s second album Infestissumam was, almost inevitably, a bit of a letdown. The songs did not meet the amazingly high standards of Opus Eponymous and the production was much too slick. So here we are with album number three; will it be another step towards mediocrity or a return to form? While not exactly the heavy metal epiphany that was Opus Eponymous, Meliora is devastatingly good. This is the follow-up to Opus Eponymous that audiences were hoping for back in 2013. While the production continues to veer away from the vintage early-’80s creepiness that made them famous, the songs are triumphant hymns to the Morning Star that will stick in your head from now until Armageddon.
Meliora is classic heavy metal in the tradition of Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny, Deep Purple, and yes, Mercyful Fate. Some amongst the genre police, most under the age of 30, will argue that Meliora is not metal, ahistorical in their understanding of metal as a genre. There was a time, not so long ago, when a band did not have to scream, down-tune their guitars, or include “mosh parts” in order for their music to be considered metal. Meliora is full of gorgeous, crunchy riffs, soaring guitar solos that hearken back to the abovementioned K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and lyrics about worshipping the devil that you can actually understand.
One of the major strengths of Meliora was also one of the strength’s of their debut: it is short, sweet, and contains absolutely no filler whatsoever. From opening rocker “Spirit” to closing number “Deus In Absentia”, Meliora keeps the listener firmly perched on top of her coffee table, fist raised, head pirouetting, singing along with Papa Emeritus III at top volume. Mid-album, we are treated to the epic Satanic ballad “He Is”, which will have even those with no occult proclivities seriously considering taking up devil worship. Every track on Meliora does its job and the listener is left wanting more at the album’s close.
Ghost’s elaborate image, stage costumes, and cultivated anonymity has been a big reason for their success, but also fodder for their detractors. Some have argued that Ghost is nothing but a marketing gimmick, a flavor of the week packaged in such a way as to compensate for their lack of authenticity. Such voices clearly did not listen to Opus Eponymous very carefully and they will have to be equally inattentive to miss the grandeur of Meliora. Although Ghost’s image and live show are deeply entertaining, it is their songs that make them worth our while. After something of a sophomore album slump, Ghost have come roaring back to sing the praises of Lucifer and remind us that classic heavy metal is still alive and well.