Back in 2015, Ghost released Meliora, a huge success – their most successful record as a matter of fact and sales wise, it held the highest chart positions for the band ever. But after the also very successful tour that followed the biggest talk has been about band leader and lead singer Tobias Forge, who played the part of Papa Emeritus I, II and III, firing his band of Nameless Ghouls and replacing them with hired guns for touring which had a few of them suing him, a case that still goes on. It’s, of course, about money – some of the Ghouls claims that they were as much as part of Ghost, both in song writing and when it came to ideas about the band’s shows as Forge while the evil Pope himself says Ghost was his from day one and that he recorded the three albums mostly by himself with assistance of studio musicians when he needed any. Sad stuff, especially when Meliora was such a masterpiece. The talk should have been about the music and nothing else.
But this don’t mean that Forge have been sitting idle, doing nothing. Nope, instead he made sure that a new chapter have been written about the band – the new album is the first where Forge’s identity is revealed in the open, by himself, even though most people have known that Forge was the Papa for quite a while by now. Speaking of Papa, Emeritus III was superannuated for this record, just like his predecessors were but this time, no new Papa was engaged, no this time a Cardinal is the frontman – Cardinal Copia – and it looks like he’s on a try-out for becoming the fourth Papa. How that will turn out, we just have to wait and see. What’s clear though, is that because Meliora was such a success – personally, that album totally floored me – expectations are high and I guess there are some really tough pressure on Forge to come up with the goods here. But how do you top an album like Meliora, one might ask? Beats the hell out of me, we just have to listen and see.
Having been exposed to first single “Rats” a month or so before this album’s release, I had a hunch that we would be in for a treat this time around as well, which sort of raised my expectations even further. But before that song sets in, the album opens with the intro “Ashes” that sounds like if Alice Cooper and King Diamond got together and wrote a nursery rhyme – spooky, creepy and eerie while the kids’ voices chanting the old plague rhyme “Ring A Ring O’ Roses”. This is very effective, folks. Which leads us into first single “Rats”, a more straight-forward Hard Rock tune that holds a brilliant “Bark At The Moon”-ish riff, a striking melody line and a chorus so catchy it hurts. The song might be more in-your-face but it’s easy to hear that this is a Ghost tune due to Forge’s recognisable melodies – and the song screams HIT! a long way. Brilliant!
“Faith” continues with a dark atmosphere and a heavy and big groove. This is Hard Rock that meets Metal signed the 70’s and holds a sinister vibe that feels very horror movie-like. But on top that lies a huge refrain that’s very memorable and almost hit-friendly. Awesome! “See The Light” goes into ballad territory but with 70’s symphonic twists which makes this tune very pompous. The tune is slower in pace and holds an amazing piano arrangements and a whole bunch of Queen influences. It’s definitely a tune made for arenas and as the chorus is power ballad über-catchy, it’s not a wild guess that it will turn up as a single in the future – its full of hit potential. Brilliant! The album takes a different turn with the 5+ minute long instrumental “Miasma”. The track comes in a mid pace and goes down a 70’s pomp rock route and also contains a big synth sound. The tune speeds up and even though it keeps the pomp it goes more classic Hard Rock with some really cool riffs. It also sends a not towards AOR here and there and just when you think you had the tune figured out, a cool saxophone solo that would make Clarence Clemons proud sets in. I think the song is great but I can’t help thinking just where this song could have gone with a cool vocal on it.
Ghost takes yet another turn with “Dance Macabre”, Forge’s most pop-metal / Melodic Rock track ever. Take a good dose of the Scorpions’ “Big City Nights”, mix it up with a twist of Treat and borrow a few melodies from ABBA and add Forge’s typical Ghost-melodies and viola, you have a hit in your back pocket. Because this must be a single. Forge flirts shamelessly with AOR and 80’s Stadium Rock and in all honestly, this is a Pop song in a Hard Rock disguise. The song’s main melody is ridiculously strong and the refrain is just out of this world – it’s so catchy my bones hurt. This is a hit, make no mistake – and a fucking amazing song! “Pro Memoria” is a totally different beast – this is a heavy, orchestrated tune, full of strings and a piano at the bottom which brings thoughts to a musical or even a small opera, very theatrical and majestic. It holds a ballad vibe but with a big 70’s pomp-rock influence and it feels really dynamic and powerful – and extremely catchy. Amazingly good!
“Witch Image” is a more straight-forward, uptempo pop-rocker with a big Arena Rock feel. But then there’s this ominous atmosphere that Forge’s so damn good at creating, crawling in and that’s what makes this tune not just another Melodic Rock track, that’s what makes it Ghost. Still, the tune is so full of hit-potential it will burst if they don’t release it as a single. Fantastic stuff! Another instrumental – the 6 minute long “Helvetesfönster” (Hell Window, in English) – comes along. It starts slow with piano and flute but soon speeds up into a fat groove. There’s a medieval element in there and a 70’s touch, the orchestration makes it quite bombastic but the melody lines are all very catchy and even hummable. The soft middle break with only synth and acoustic guitar also bring another dimension to the song. As a whole, it’s very dramatic, grandiose and theatrical. Great stuff! As a closer, Forge & co brings us an epic grand ballad called “Life Eternal” that mixes 70’s pomp with 80’s power balladry. The piano arr is just fabulous, the sound scape is huge and a choir that chants “forever” until the song ends in a crescendo. Talk about a grand finale. Bloody fantastic!
For the deluxe edition, the buyer gets a couple of covers. The first, “It’s A Sin” by Pet Shop Boys, stays pretty close to the original but in a Rock way, of course. Still, Forge has a very personal way to interpret other artists’ tunes which makes it sound like Ghost no matter how close to the original the cover version is. I think it’s great. The other one’s a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche” and since I more or less only know Cohen by name, I have no prior connection to this tune which makes me oblivious to how close Ghost’s version is to Cohen’s. But to me, this could have been a Ghost original. It’s dark, evil and creepy sounding with a cinematic feel to it. It’s also heavy, rough and punchy and to me it’s a winner. Would I go for the deluxe version? You bet!
For Ghost’s three first albums, I think they got better and better with each release, so did they manage to top Meliora with this then? Well, it’s a toughie because I think Meliora is a masterpiece, a clear 10/10, so it’s damn hard to better. So, no, they didn’t. But they’re damn close and maybe in a year’s time I might think differently. Because this is a brilliant album. It’s bloody fantastic. And it is a natural continuation of its predecessor both in style and in sound. And speaking of sound, this album sounds huge and it stands clear that the team of producer Tom Dalgety and mixer Andy Wallace – and of course Forge himself – has gone out of their way to make sure that this album sounds just as good in your car, at home or though your phone. I’m dying to know how the vinyl sounds. Yes, Forge has done it again and thinking of how great this record is, Cardinal Copia will be the fourth Papa in no time if he plays is cards right on the upcoming tour.
More Ghost reviews:
4. See The Light
6. Dance Macabre
7. Pro Memoria
8. Witch Image
10. Life Eternal