And Now The Thing You've All Been Waiting For: My Review of Meliora
Initial Observation: Mind Blown
I loved it at first listen. I bought it with my Uber money and listened to it the whole way through, "Spirit" to "Deus in Absentia". Of course my two favorite songs, "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" and "Cirice" were given special attention, "Cirice" being the album's single. I found myself wondering how Meliora fit into the overall concept of Ghost, why it seemed like this album was different somehow from Opus Eponymous and Infestessumam. I found myself looking to reviews to explain it, only to be brutally disappointed to see negative feedback like, "The new Papa sounds bored", or "Not as good as their previous albums."
I was stunned. I went back to it and listened again, and got some help with this album that made me realize that anyone who has something negative to say about this album does not understand it, and not only that, but they do not understand Ghost, and they need to be exorcised from the flock (I write a blog and not for a brand, so I can say that).
"Meliora" is Latin for "the pursuit of something better". The word "ameliorate" has its roots in this word. If we accept that Ghost's logical progression from Opus Eponymus as Purgatorio (grounded in worldy evil embodied by figures like "Elizabeth" Bathory) to Infestissumam as Inferno (the presence of Satan among us, incarnated in the song "Year Zero"), then we should now ascend to Paradisio to round out the entire poetic conceit. Ghost does this with a concept in Meliora that was not at first apparent to me, probably because like most Millenials, I stumbled upon the singles first and then tried to fit them into the album before I knew what I was doing. This is why the Internet sucks sometimes.
Loudwire Magazine's review of Meliora changed my entire outlook on the album, but it changed it in such a way as to shed some light on the album's concept and how the album ties into Ghost as a whole. If Meliora is the Paradisio of the poetic conceit, it is because the search for something better has inevitably left us searching in vain. What we're hoping to achieve in the divine saving image of organized religion is both comforting yet unattainable. We are blinded by bright lights and shiny idols into believing in the hypocrisy of the righteous, the lunacy of believing that a few days at church can ameliorate us in the eyes of the Savior and forgive us for a lifetime of sins.
To preach this message of futility, Meliora has turned to the concert "rituals" themselves as a tool for this album, which is meant to be listened to in it's entirety as a sermon from start to finish, as stated by Loudwire, "complete with worship songs", songs like "He Is" and "Majesty", and with songs that call the congregation together ("Spirit"), and hymns that end the service on a good note, like "Deus in Absentia", proclaiming to us all that "the world is on fire, and you are here to stay and burn with me." Songs that threaten, like "Mummy Dust," songs that seduce and render the listener vulnerable, "like Cirice".
Seen below is the live performance of Ghost on the Halloween Eve airing of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this year, unusual in that Ghost does not make their rituals televised.
Live Performance of "Cirice" on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert October 30, 2015
The audience participation recalls the live rituals Ghost is so well known for, but also revisits the purpose of the song, "Cirice", in which Papa, his roll as the pontiff solidified and given a figurative, if not literal, pulpit to stand at. He reminds the parish that "you're lost without me," calling attention to the idolatry of the holy man, whose job in so many ways is not to bring you closer to God, but to keep you on your knees. Notice the discomfort of some audience members, the tightness of the introduction, the "I don't really know what to do with this" feeling, and the almost obligatory applause. I chose the live video over the official video because though audience participation is present in both, it's important to experience Ghost live, to feel the quaking wrongness the simple parishoner is inexplicably drawn to, yet powerless to escape.
The new concept belies the usual casual air of evil oneness which the band is usually known for, giving Meliora a more didactic tone. It has drawn some rather harsh criticism from many die-hards.
Criticism and Rebuttal
For those whose primary argument is Papa III "sounds bored", that might almost make sense if you overthink it. Most of the time a career preacher gives the same service over and over again to a congregation of people who are there in body only, not in spirit. Our preacher stands at the pulpit and lets his message fall on deaf ears. Think Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons, disillusioned of the notion that there might be some good in everyone and ultimately too smart for his own good; when faced with two sides of the religious spectrum: apathetic, even blasphemous Homer Simpson and the radically moral, unreasonable Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy looses his love for the job quickly. I'm also pretty sure it aged him prematurely.
There the notion that Papa III is bored ends. I find Papa III to only lack some of the creepy weirdness of Papas I and II. This suits the album perfectly. Where Papa I and II seemed like you should not get too close to them--and definitely don't let the children near them!--Papa III is fresh on the scene, seductive. He is less frightening and more compelling. Like the rest of the album, he has, if anything, more power than Papas I and II, which made "FtPttP" and "Cirice", and "Mummy Dust" feel more like Power Metal songs, recalling "Con Clavi Con Dio" of Opus Eponymous and "Zombie Queen" of Infestessiumam. Papa III's look might be a large part of what turns old-school fans off. The new concept calls for new leadership, and though the traditional raiment and vestments can still be seen, Papa III's new look removes that creepy wrongness I mentioned, bringing him down to our level and speaking to us not from on high, but writhing with us in the machine of life assembly line as we're trundled one by one into a mass grave.
|Papa Emeritus III ready for the ritual to begin.|
Which brings me to the second most ignorant of criticisms, the idea that this album is different from the others and that is somehow a bad thing. No doi this albums is different! It's a concept album! And besides that, most albums experience some change during the evolution of the band. The front man Papa Emeritus is like a reincarnation of the Doctor, fundamentally the same, but somehow just a little different. Ghost is finding themselves at a point that is unusual for this band: popularity on an international scale. Three major albums in, with a presence on social media and record label representation, it's hard not to change, if not impossible. Yes, Ghost is addressing a new audience; yes, Ghost is the same band as it always was; yes, Ghost is allowed to change to meet the demands of new and old fans; Ghost is obliged to change tactics--how long can you beat a dead horse anyway? Bands that cannot adapt and who are not allowed to evolve fail. I think it's safe to say we'd rather Ghost go on as a band rather than fade into the void to be remembered only as those guys that had those weird costumes. Whatever happened to those guys? That Fate is not for Ghost.
Meliora is a concept album that has brought the rest of the albums together to round out a poetic conceit that Ghost has been working tirelessly in the studio, on screen, and with their rituals to achieve. Meliora is Ghost defined. The emergence of a new Papa Emeritus and the amalgamation of the old audience with new fans has infused new blood into a band that is by no means becoming obsolete or grasping at straws. Despite criticism from supposed die-hards, the band has had no shortage of fans all over the world, and popular opinion places Ghost among the greats of Progressive Rock. Meliora is not only the legacy of the band's enduring spirit, but also the gateway to something new and unexplored.
Though I think my favorite album is Infestessumam, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Meliora, but mostly because it's just good fun and I was introduced to Ghost with "FtPttP".
The next time Ghost comes through Texas, I will not sit idly by and be content with my albums and music videos. I will be at the ritual, and I will greet the unholy father with outstretched arms and become one with the band, the phenomena, and the spirit that is Ghost.
Too Long, Didn't Read: Hail Ghost!