2015 marked half a decade since Swedish occult-rockers, Ghost’s, artistic debut. Opus Eponymous was released unto the fold, establishing a clear connection with Satan and 70’s, Sabbath-esque riffs. Infestissumam thrust them into the prying eyes of the media and musical outcasts, with tracks like ‘Secular Haze’ and ‘Year Zero’. But it was 2015 that tolled mainstream success, with their third record, Meliora.
Latin for ‘the pursuit of something better’, Meliora carefully crafted its narrative, weaving the themes of humanism, greed, decadence and the absence of God to its parish from start to finish. The album’s opener, ‘Spirit’, is a five-minute gold mine of almost science-fictional riffs, complete with the band’s new, sexually-charged Papa Emeritus III preaching of the absence of god. ‘Spirit! Absent!’, Papa shouts, perfecting verse after verse with a flourish of elegance. It might not be as strong or memorable an opener as the previous two records (‘Con Clavi Con Dio’ will always stick in the mind of many a Ghost-head), but it’s powerful nonetheless.
‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’ was one of the big favourites from the album, featuring their heaviest bassline yet and harking back to the metal roots that introduced them. ‘You are cast out from the heavens to the ground…’ resonates with all of us at some point, and as the wonderful anti-Pope lets loose his more ferocious tones, you can’t help but bang your head. It’s a new era for Ghost, one warning the consequences of human greed. An era that, ironically, brought about their international success.
Ask any Ghost fan of their biggest song, and you’ll likely get a flurry of answers. ‘Square Hammer’, ‘Year Zero’, ‘Rats’, the list will go on. But the song that won them a Grammy for Best Metal Performance that year was ‘Cirice’. It’s a six-minute non-stop anthem of a track, chugging with its opening riff and powerful verses. But at the chorus, as Papa stares down the microphone and sings, ‘I can hear the thunder that’s breaking in your heart, I can see through the scars inside you…’, it’s a chilling reminder of the poignance of Ghost, and the genius of songwriter (and man behind the mask) Tobias Forge’s lyrics.
‘Spoksonat’ and ‘Devil Church’ are short, one-minute bursts of chilling, almost medieval instrumental. There’s even a riff eerily similar to the opening hit off their next album, Prequelle, here (this is deliberate). They’re okay but not songs to be adored in themselves.
‘He Is’ shows off that softer, gentler side of Ghost again. Unexpectedly becoming a fan favourite, it tells the tale of someone in love with their deity. ‘He Is… he’s the shining and the light without whom I cannot see…’, our Papa recalls, no doubt referring to the antichrist as opposed to God. Either way, it’s a hauntingly beautiful moment, and flawless when performed live.
‘Mummy Dust’ is possibly the heaviest song Ghost have ever done. Where on their debut Forge perfected the simple, ‘pre-metal’ riffs of old (as he dubbed them in a recent interview), here he went all out. This was the present day, the current moment. When greedy corporations ruled for money and tyranny was formed in the way of bank notes and pennies. The sonics needed to reflect that. ‘In God you trust… the mummy dust,’ Emeritus hisses magnificently, as if to emphasise the song’s message of how money is futile, wrong, and defiles all. ‘I was carried on a wolf’s back to corrupt humanity, I will pummel it with opulence, with corpulence and greed,’ makes for an exquisite first verse. You’d almost think Ghost were anti-Satan here, if Papa were not draining every word of its power and lacing it with superiority.
The next track, ‘Majesty’, has one of the best openings in the history of metal, and certainly Ghost. It’s everything you want in a riff, echoing the chords of Ritchie Blackmore and adding twice the power. The rest of the track – at nearly five and a half minutes – is, however, not quite as memorable. ‘Old one, master…’, Papa recalls at the chorus, which somehow doesn’t fit the rest of the song. It packs a lumbering beast of an intro, but a relatively placid remaining four minutes.
‘Absolution’ is Ghost back on top form, with catchy verses and intricate lyrics. Well, ‘Ever since you’ve been born, you’ve been dying’ isn’t Shakespeare, for Forge more than makes up for it with his biblical imagery and power-hungry demands, ‘Put your hands up and reach for the sky, cry for Absolution’. I love that this fairly deep cut is still played live – it makes for a striking opener.
And then the album is over, but not without granting us one final sermon. The six-minute, Latin-laced ‘Deus In Absentia’ (meaning ‘God is absent’, which should set the tone for you) sounds like a track directly from the Papa to you. ‘The world is on fire, and you are here to stay and burn with me. A funeral pyre…’, Emeritus’ vocals have never been more polished and beautiful than on this track, delivering shattering verse after verse until finally we reach the climax. The finale of this epic opera. A full choir sings us out, chanting Latin in a move very reminiscent of ‘Monstrance Clock’ from the band’s previous effort. They know it works, and it does. It sounds beautiful, if a little ominous, and that’s Ghost in a nutshell.
It’s not hard to see why this album was critically acclaimed and won numerous music awards around the world. The heavy riffs and chords matched only by Forge’s penmanship, fused perfectly with the sexual charisma of the band’s new frontman, Papa Emeritus III, was a formula forged in heaven. It brought out everything the fan’s wanted in a new Ghost record. Metal riffs, choral arrangements, scary Latin, and messages of humanity’s decadence and futility, all wrapped up in big choruses and big guitar solos. Ghost deserved to be recognized for what they are after this: everything.