If you’ve never heard Sweden’s Ghost, you’ve probably at least seen the pictures. Ghost is that silly/scary band with the skeleton pope dude singing and a cadre of faceless, hooded ghouls backing him up. Pretty cheesy, right?
So you’d probably expect Ghost to sound like death metal, or gore-grind, or cadaver desecration-core, or blackened tuna – or whatever the proverbial “kids” are calling heavy metal these days.
Well, looks are deceptive. Like the Greek God, Pan, or The Great Deceiver, Satan himself, Ghost deftly employs a host of disguises and a Pandora’s Box of musical trickeries to seduce and cajole unwitting would-be sinners into a life of transgression and an eternity roasting in the hottest recesses of Lucifer’s Barbecue. Yeah, Ghost is metal in that the band has loud guitars. But Ghost also has organs, harps, strings, a harelip choir, tubular bells, angel trumpets, devil trombones, whatever. And the band’s sound is rooted in melody. At its core, Ghost is pop. Yes, pop. In other words, Ghost sounds a lot more like ELO, The Beatles and (especially) Blue Oyster Cult than it does bands like Worm Eruption, Fetalicide, Fecal Internment and Dismemberfication. (What I’m saying is that Ghost doesn’t really fit the contemporary definition of “heavy.” And as far as I know, no bands have been named Worm Eruption, Fetalicide, Fecal Internment or Dismemberfication as of yet. But those are some scary names. Heshers take note.)
Ghost’s third album, Meliora, finds the band at a perplexing crossroads. The 2011 debut, Opus Eponymous, was a Revelation – while the sophomore effort, Infestissuman, was more of an Exodus. Album one surprised listeners with its decidedly non-metal (but still assuredly rock) melodicism, whereas album two jettisoned rock almost completely for a softer, almost completely orchestral sound.
Flagrantly commercial and ambitious from its un-immaculate conception, Ghost has always striven for the big sales. But Infestissuman’s gambit was something of a Faustian deal for the band. The glitch, probably, was that musical Satanism is something of a hard sell in the U.S., no matter how tuneful and accessible. Metal fans have no problems with lyrical transgression, but it’s gonna be a cold day in hell before blasphemy goes top 40. The album was just too pop for the band’s original fans. So Meliora will probably Pan out as being the band’s make-or-break album. Thank heavens, album three actually has a snowball’s chance of reaping the big bucks (and eternal damnation) that Ghost so richly deserves.
This is to say that Meliora is a return to form – a demonic resurrection of the sound that made Opus Eponymous such wicked fun. Don’t Fear The Reaper, the Devil’s rock is back. And rest assured, the masked ghouls in Ghost are decidedly in on the joke – whoever the hell they are. (And on the day of rapture when I meet my maker, she’ll surely condemn me for eternity for writing this cliché-ridden review.)