Meliora is the Perfect Easter Album

It takes some serious chutzpah to call your album Meliora, but Swedish occult rock act Ghost has the chops to pull it off with style.

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Detailed Review

Meliora, the third album by Ghost, takes its name from the Latin adjective for “better”. There’s a reason for this; according to an interview with a Nameless Ghoul by Metal Injection, they weren’t satisfied with how their previous album Infestissumam worked out.

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That’s fair enough, but I think Meliora is not a mere improvement on their eponymous debut and Infestissumam. Instead, what happened in the studio was almost a Hegelian synthesis, or perhaps a chemical wedding. They took the heavy vibe from their first album and combined it with the catchy melodies and lyrics of Infestissumam to create an album showcasing both.

So, what does Meliora sound like? You should listen to it and decide for yourself, but the crooning of Papa Emeritus III supported by the instrumental work by the Nameless Ghouls creates a sound that makes Meliora a suitable companion to Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare, the Blue Öyster Cult’s Spectres, and classic Judas Priest albums from the 1970s like Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin.

Furthermore, Ghost backs off a little from their Satanic Church concept; the lyrics aren’t all Satan all the time (though to be fair, Infestissumam also had departures like the excellent “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen”).

For example, “Spirit” is a paean to the green fairy, absinthe. “Mummy Dust” is just sinister rock ‘n roll that for some reason reminds me of “I’m the Slime” by Frank Zappa. And one of Meliora’s standout tracks, “Absolution”, reads like a direct attack on the American culture of overachievement in service to capital we shove down our children’s throats:

Ever since you were born you've been dying
Every day a little more you've been dying
Dying to reach the setting sun

As a child, with your mind on the horizon
Over corpses, to the prize you kept your eyes on
Trying to be the chosen one

Never mind the lyrics; “Absolution” deserves attention just for the double keyboards. I can’t think of any other songs that layer piano atop organ, and it really works well here.

If you’re here for the Devil’s sake, however, Ghost doesn’t disappoint. “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” starts off with a fat, dirty, thumping bass reminiscent of Les Claypool and Primus, and is catchy enough to be dangerous to play while driving. “Cirice” is almost a demonic love song, right up there with “N.I.B.” by Black Sabbath, and contains a direct stab at Christianity’s doctrine of original sin. “He Is” is the sort of hymn to Lucifer one might join in singing after a Black Mass. “Majesty” has an intro straight out of classic Deep Purple, and doesn’t let up.

And then there’s “Deus in Absentia”. The lyrics are kinda Satanic, but I’m pretty sure that with the right partner you could dance a tango to this song.

All told, Ghost’s Meliora is an improvement over their previous work in every respect. The production is clean, none of the instruments get lost in the mix, and Papa Emeritus III’s clean, melodic vocals work really well with the lyrics if you aren’t caught up in expectations of how this sort of heavy metal “should” sound.

Videos

Not only does Ghost do excellent music, and give great interviews (By Arioch, I want one of those devil masks), but they bring a subtle, sardonic sense of humor to their music videos for “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Cirice”.

“From the Pinnacle to the Pit”

It is a long way down…

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“Cirice”

I can see through the scars inside you…

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Deezer Sessions: Ghost

This video contains live performances of…

  1. “From The Pinnacle to The Pit”
  2. “Cirice”
  3. “Absolution”
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Further Listening

If you liked Meliora by Ghost, you might also want to check out Part 1 by Phantom’s Divine Comedy. They also obscured the identities of their members, with the vocalist named Phantom and other members named X, Y, and Z.

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Their lyrics have a similar esoticism to Ghost’s, but without the Satanism, and they didn’t get nearly as much attention as the Blue Öyster Cult even though some people have reputedly mistaken the vocalist for Jim Morrison of The Doors. Standout tracks include “Merlin” and “Welcome to Hell”.

Duende Lives Up to Its Name

The name of The Great Discord’s 2015 debut album, Duende, suggests that not only does this Swedish metal act from Linkoping have soul, but chutzpah to match. Contralto vocalist Fia Kempe’s passionate delivery makes this album a must-have for fans of woman-fronted metal.

Table of Contents

Detailed Review

I discovered Swedish progressive metal act The Great Discord’s Duende album just after Christmas courtesy of a Spotify Discover Weekly playlist that included a radio edit of “The Aging Man” that starts with alto Fia Kempe belting out lyrics that sound like:

Guiding my end
Leave me, I like
The quiet, the calm
Good wishes leave me cold

So, let me be
The time I have left
I'll spend alone
Down in the darkness

The rhythm with which Ms. Kempe sings this refrain is driving and catchy, but “The Aging Man” is far more effective if you listen to the full-length studio version instead of the radio edit, which includes an instrumental introduction beginning with a low-key piano that switches to bass, and then introduces the guitars and drums while becoming more urgent all the while.

The rest of the album proceeds in similar fashion, with Ms. Kempe belting out lyrics pertaining to “the mundane as well as the extremes of what you as a person potentially live with”. Because she’s exploring the darker corners and extremes of the human experience, her alto voice is perfectly suited to the material whereas the higher and sometimes sweeter tones of the sopranos more common in woman-fronted metal bands might not work as well.

Fortunately, Fia Kempe’s vocals aren’t the only reason to listen to The Great Discord. Ms. Kempe is also a skilled pianist (which reminds me of one of my characters), and the paired guitars of André Axell and Gustav Almberg along with Rasmus Carlson’s bass provide a rich, sound throughout the album. This is a band equally suited to fast-paced songs like “L’homme Mauvais” and slower selections like “Woes”.

Because of these qualities, Duende can be said to possess its namesake quality. It’s a soulful album as well as a technically excellent one. If heavy metal were to combine with film noir, I suspect the result would closely resemble this album. However, despite several members claiming Genesis and King Crimson as influences, I think that Duende also bears a slight semblance to Opeth’s 2003 album Damnation.

Now I’d love to see The Great Discord cover “Hope Leaves”.

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If Duende can be said to possess a particular flaw, it’s that Ms. Kempe’s lyrics can be difficult to discern in songs like “Deus Ex Homine” and “Eigengrau” despite repeated listening with good-quality headphones. I don’t think the production is the issue; the self-produced album has a clean mix and a wide dynamic range given the state of the Loudness Wars. Nor can Ms. Kempe’s articulation be blamed without doing the lady an injustice.

Maybe it’s because I’m old enough for “The Aging Man” to resonate, but I’m not so old yet that I can’t appreciate an excellent progressive metal album like Duende. It’s just easier to understand the lyrics when I have them on paper.

Videos

If you aren’t convinced yet, Metal Blade Records has provided some official videos from The Great Discord’s Duende.

“The Aging Man”

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“The Aging Man” (Accoustic)

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“Eigengrau”

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Trivia

Not only is “duende” the kind of soul genuinely good art can be said to have, but fairy-like spirits called “duende” also figure prominently in Iberian (Spanish and Portugese), Latin American, and Filipino folklore.

Eigengrau is a color. The name translate from German as “intrinsic gray”; it’s the color the human eye sees in the complete absence of light and contrast. Its hexadecimal value is #16161d. It’s actually lighter than pure black (hex value #000000). Apparently the night sky away from cities looks darker than eigengrau because of the contrast provided by stars.