The cover art of Meliora implies a grand-scale effort on the part of Ghost. From the non-descript hillside church of Opus Eponymous to the dawning of a new age adorning Infestissumam, things have progressed yet again. What we see is a kingdom so faithful in the message of Papa Emeritus III that the landscape literally resembles his face. Considering the music's progression between the two earlier records and their increasingly epic covers, Meliora's artwork should logically represent its corresponding sound.
Except artwork that would truly convey the monolithic size of Meliora's music wouldn't be at home on the front of this album. Instead, we'd take road trips to see it in a museum and wonder how a piece so fantastic was accomplished. So what makes Meliora deserving of such a proverbial masterwork?
Let me paint a clearer picture.
Unlike the previous two Ghost records, Meliora doesn't take its time to kick in. After 30 seconds of a pulsating organ, distant choir, theremin and glockenspiel playing what sounds like the intro passage to a 1980's horror flick, the band comes in full force with a headbanger of a riff and Papa Emeritus III's familiarly eerie voice.
One thing that's immediately noticeable about "Spirit" is the strong keyboard presence and heavily layered vocals in the chorus. It's a song that grows in instrumentation as it goes on, yet keeps all the different components of it easily discernible. It's worth noting that Ghost kept its promise of making this record heavier as well, as "Spirit" errs much more on the side of Opus Eponymous than it does Infestissumam. Think of this song as appreciating the Satanic empire Papa Emeritus III has come to reign over as a whole. Now, to enter the church…
"From The Pinnacle To The Pit"
We know this one already, but coming off "Spirit" it's a jarring transition. An empire of strings, voices, soaring guitar solos and multi-layered vocals comes suddenly crashing down into a grimy bass line and eventual theremin-like guitar melody. The song follows a similar construction as "Spirit" does, though with the differences in mood and hierarchy of instrumentation here, it's nothing that'll jump out at you unless you're looking for it.
"From The Pinnacle To The Pit" seemed like one of the hardest rockers from the record when it first came out as a single. Compared to some of the other songs on this album, it's more of a well-aimed jab to jaw rather than the ultimate riff sledgehammer. As a transition from the opener, "From The Pinnacle To The Pit" does exactly what Ghost needs it to do- it keeps you jaw on the floor and your interested wholly piqued.
I still cannot get over the menacing majesty of this song. Think of the record so far like this- "Spirit" is thecredit roll to His Infernal Majesty's kingdom, "From The Pinnacle To The Pit" allows you to see a few mystifying figures within, certainly up to no good, and "Cirice" is the marriage of the two into one horrifying portrait.
"Cirice" takes the hugeness of the music back to the feeling of "Spirit," albeit much darker. It also contains the first keyboard solo we get on the record, despite having heard them be such fixtures in all three tracks. When it comes down to it, you're not getting "Cirice" out of your head no matter how much you want to.
"Spöksonat," roughly translating to The Ghost Sonata, is a 50-second interlude that employs distant orchestral washes and up-front harps and pizzicato acoustic instruments. Coming off such a powerful song as "Cirice," it's nice to drop back a bit and give the listener some disturbing, hushed ambiance before the next track.
Whether this song has anything to do with, or was inspired, by the play written in 1907 by Swedish playwright August Strindberg titled Spöksonaten remains a mystery.
"He Is" is in the vein of the band's cover of "Crucified" by Army Of Lovers. It's a mid-paced ballad that kicks off with two harmonizing acoustic guitars and eventually gives way to prominent orchestral and piano work. It feels less like an obligatory ballad for the sake of having a ballad and more of a logical continuation of what was going on with "Spöksonat" instrumentally. The different between the two is that while "Spöksonat" is airy and brooding, "He Is" has a very mournful, misty-eyed lightness to it. The contrast is clearly planned and executed perfectly.
The first verse of "He Is" is especially interesting because it contains some of the lowest register vocal work Papa Emeritus has ever done. It gives the song a gothic vibe and, considering at that point it's just the two guitars, balances everything out really well.
"He Is" ends with an ensemble of instruments letting one note ring, though a distorted guitar holds out longer than anything else…
…and one pick scrape later, a snare drum leads the guitars and bass through a winding path of palm-muted patterns and then dives headlong into one of the best heavy riffs Ghost has ever written. It's a riff that's straightforward as far as rhythm goes, though its usage of a delay pedal at points and refusal to stay in one position on the neck adds a very catchy, fluid-like quality to it.
That lick disappears during the verse and a distorted, grainy Papa Emeritus III comes into frame overtop a spaciously heavy version of the introductory patterns. Then there's the chorus of Emeritus III crooning "In God you trust / my mummy dust" with a high-register piano melody laid overtop and an eventual Dream Theater-style keyboard style, all topped off with an out-of-nowhere gargantuan ending reminiscent of "Spirit."
If Deep Purple or Spiritual Beggars heard "Majesty," they'd turn red and leave the room in fear of being mocked for not having come up with this earlier. "Majesty" kicks off with big, fat rock riff that's quickly doubled by a Hammond B3-sounding organ. The song relies on a "chug, chugga chug, chugga chug" type rhythm you'd hear played faster in bands like Iron Maiden, though in this context the sluggish stride of the cadence works like magic.
The choruses open up a little bit more, airing out a teetering vocal melody that coincides with a few odd chord choices, but manages to stick the ending flawlessly every time. Also back on this song are the higher vocal melodies, which again add an angelic quality to the vocals. I'm starting to wonder if those signify something within the Ghost canon, as they've never shown up before and now only seem to appear on a specific type of song.
"Devil Church" is a minute long fanfare with a choir alongside a typical rock band. If you've ever seen a movie where there's a grand opening to a store or establishment, then you've heard this type of music before… sans the ominous overtones and Opus Eponymous intro-style organ that kicks the whole thing off, of course. It's a little ditty that ends with the last sustained note being detuned, as if someone put their finger on the tape.
As if all hell was about to break loose.
"Absolution" is the culmination of everything you've heard up to this point. This is the song where everything comes into place and the chills won't stop trickling down from your head throughout the song's five minute duration. Every off-kilter melody you've heard comes into play here, every heavy riff gets outdone and every blackened glimmer of potential evil explodes into an overwhelming nightmare.
"Absolution" is a no-holds barred prelude to the end that never once lets up in terms of insane energy and hellish drive. Things just barrel along as if the whole record were pieces of a summoning ritual to bring whatever unstoppable demon this is to the world of Ghost, and you'd be insane to even attempt to slow its roll. Invisible oranges be damned for "Absolution," you'll be stretching out your arms in an attempt to stranglehold the sky itself.
"Deus In Absentia"
This is it. The sound of the end is the ticking of a clock against its narrowly-spaced walls. If "Absolution" was the sound of the the world outside sighing its last, then "Deus In Absentia" is the soundtrack to the epicenter of the events. The song moves to the ticking of the clock, though in melodic stabs that don't hold themselves out. Every word sung by Papa Emeritus III is accompanied by notes and percussive digs, but nothing.
The chorus is just magnificent A short symphony of tumbling pianos, seas of voices and a band reigning as kings in the center of it all. Emeritus III, in all his infernal glory, sings with the masses…
The world is on fire and you are here to stay and burn with me.
A funeral pyre and we are here to revel forever.
The world is on fire and we are tied as one eternally.
A funeral pyre and we are here to revel forever more.
The band finishes and there's nothing left except a congregation of voices singing a sorrowful hymn about an absent God.
The voices get lower, the voices become more disjointed.
The voices enter a final, hopeless chord and disappear.
Meliora is a career-defining record for Ghost that leaves Papa Emeritus III and his devils standing high atop the hard rock and metal landscape. Meliora is an unforgettable ride through the reign of Papa Emeritus III and his expanding congregation that leaves you with goosebumps all over, residual chills running amok and nothing to be desired by the time it's over.
All hail Ghost and its masterwork, Meliora.