MELIORA – Released August 21, 2015 via Loma Vista Recordings
Let me tell you why reviewing albums is kind of a sucky and laborious process. It obviously isn’t a difficult enterprise, it’s not like I’m digging ditches or roofing in the middle of summer, but it is time consuming because, the way I see it, I owe each album a minimum of three listens. So, imagine the worst album you’ve ever heard. Now imagine a pile of equally crappy albums. Then imagine listening to each one three times and trying to formulate some coherent way to describe the garbage you just listened to. That is the sucky and laborious part (I will admit, some albums let you know one way or the other after one listen. They’re either superb or horrid).
The first listen is done at home, in front of my meticulously designed and crafted audio dissection workstation (otherwise known as my computer). This is a formal listen done without distractions. During this listen I’m obviously forming initial opinions about the songs themselves, but also about the mixing and mastering (some bands have MAJOR problems in this area), song order, cover art, etc. The next listen is done in the car. This is a much more relaxed listen. This listen is all about how the album feels. Does it make me want to play drums on the steering wheel? Do I have a natural inclination to listen to it loud? Am I wanting to sing along? Or is it embarrassing garbage that I turn WAY down at red lights so nobody thinks I actually enjoy this trash? During this listen I will turn my car radio up all the way to test the limits of the mix. Does the mix hold true at all volumes or does the low end start to overpower? Do I hear any distortion that was maybe covered up at lower volumes? That shit is important. With all the Tools (pun intended) available in the studio these days there is no reason for a poorly mixed album (unless you’re one of those lo-fi ignoramuses and that’s what you’re going for). During the third listen I go song by song and decide whether or not I think this song is good enough to be in the band’s live set. A good album will have a majority of it’s songs be ones that you’d want to see live. One or two strong songs and a bunch of filler doesn’t make a good album.
I say all of that in order to say this: Think about some of your favorite albums, I’m sure many of them were instant classics and you loved them immediately, but I’m willing to bet that there are others that you had to listen to for a little bit before you discovered their greatness. That is exactly what happened with me and Meliora. Now that I think about it, that has happened to me with each GHOST album so far. At first I’m like “Nope. I don’t hear it, I don’t get it, this isn’t for me.” Then, upon further inspection, the songs present their nuance and detail and before you know it I’m singing along like a huge nerd, which of course I am.
So, those of you familiar with GHOST know that their first album Opus Eponymous is more of a rock record, and that their second album Infestissumam was a little more poppy. Most people will say that they prefer Opus Eponymous. I liked them both, but I think I prefer Infestissumam. The new album is somewhere in between, probably closer to Opus Eponymous. The first two songs, Spirit and From The Pinnacle To The Pit both struck me as competent rock songs. Not great, not terrible either. Pretty good (Subsequent listens have shown these songs to be better than I originally thought). The third song, Cirice, is the first song that really “brings it.” I’m a big believer in leading with your strongest songs, so I might have put this song first, but that’s a minor quibble. The fourth song Spöksonat and the eight song Devil Church are both short instrumentals. Not much here in the way of interesting content. It would have been awesome if they made these instrumentals engaging and integral parts of the album, the way MORBID ANGEL did on Blessed Are The Sick. Song number five, He Is, is a great fucking song. The chorus sounds like something you’d teach children to sing, except that it’s, you know, about the Devil, which makes it like 1000 times better. Definite sing along. The next song, Mummy Dust, has a kind of metal sounding intro and a cool, haunting piano in the chorus. By this time I’m starting to notice that there are some pretty heavy riffs on this album. The next song, Majesty, is another competent rock song, much like the first two (I’ve been starting to skip this song when I listen to the album, not because it’s bad, but because it doesn’t live up to the other songs). Absolution is another song that starts off with a metal sounding riff and has a really great, singable chorus, then back to the metal riff. The final song on the album, Deus in Absentia, has a goddamn beautiful chorus. It’s so catchy that if you don’t sing along it makes you a bad person. I’d say that at least seven of these songs could go directly into a live setlist, and I would leave that show satisfied that I heard their best.
The mix on this album is outstanding. The guitars are quite a bit thicker and more present in the mix than they were on Infestissumam. Everything holds together at high volumes. The mastering allows for the dynamics in the music to be appreciated. They didn’t try to make every second of the album the loudest thing that ever lived (I’m looking at you, Metallica).
Overall this is a damn good album, and it is solid proof that GHOST is much more than a costume gimmick band. If we’re comparing Satan bands, head to head, I’d take GHOST over BEHEMOTH ten times out of ten. Yeah that’s right I said it, fight me!! 8.5/10. The 1.5 is because I thought the instrumentals could have added more to the overall album.
GHOST – Beacham Theater. Orlando,FL 10/10/2015
So this was my second time seeing GHOST. I saw them for the first time about a year and a half ago, in the same venue, on the Infestissumam tour. Review here. As I arrived at the venue (once again by car and not Sun Rail) and found my spot (upstairs, as close to the center as possible, as always) I started to notice three distinct groups of people that I did not see last year.
Group 1: Old people. Let’s face it, a significant portion of the GHOST sound is cheesy 70’s rock. It is my belief that these old codgers, who probably listen exclusively to cheesy 70’s rock, heard their kids or grandkids listening to GHOST and took a shine to it. I’m ok with that. Have fun old man.
Group 2: Middle aged goths who found a reason to dress up, hire a babysitter, and come plague the rest of us with patchouli oil and clove cigarettes. Rage intensifying. By the way, you still look funny.
Group 3: Normies. So like halfway through the set this suburbanite woman behind me starts complaining to her significant other about GHOST not playing a long enough set (they played for like an hour and a half) and bitching about the venue. She was doing this loud enough for me to hear her over the music. You know how sometimes you start to feel like you should legally be allowed to beat people to within 1 3/8 inches of their life, smear their blood all over your face, and go on a fucking indiscriminate rampage? Well I was starting to feel that coming on so I got myself a Crown and Coke and re-positioned. Look, I don’t come to your Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts and scream about the devil or do death metal growls between songs. You know why? Because I’m a fucking civilized person and I have manners. You know what this is? It’s cultural appropriation, and I don’t appreciate it.
The dreadful opening band was about halfway through their set when I got there. The change-over between sets was very short (because no amps – more on that later) and before you know it GHOST was on. For those of you who don’t think GHOST is a heavy band, you have obviously never seen them live. They fucking crush it. Their sound is so clean and heavy and huge. There is a reason for this, and it needs to be discussed in detail.
For anybody who doesn’t know, here is a simple overview: a concert works by putting microphones in front of everything that produces sound. Every guitar amp, bass amp, every individual drum, and all vocals. Those microphones feed into a mixing console. The mixing console is used to manipulate the volume and equalization of each sound being sent to it. The output of the mixing console is amplified and blasted at you through the PA system. The band has a smaller PA, called a monitor system, pointed at them so that they can hear everything. That’s the way it’s been done for thousands of years. However, GHOST (and a growing number of other bands) don’t do it that way.
Both of the guitar players and the bass player are using digital pre-amps that can not only model almost any amplifier on the market, but any cabinet and even microphone in front of the cabinet. Meaning that there is no need for big speaker cabinets. No need for microphones in front of those cabinets. The output of the pre-amps (AXE-FX made by a company called Fractal Audio. I’m not here to shill for Fractal, unless they want to send some gear my way, then I’d shill for them morning, noon and night. I’d be the shillingest motherfucker you ever met. I’d work Fractal Audio and the AXE-FX into every conversation I ever had. I’d even mention that shit during a eulogy. To be fair, I’m also aware of the Kemper profiling amp, so keep your panties on Kemper people, it just so happens that GHOST uses AXE-FX, so that’s what we’re talking about here) is fed directly into the mixing console. So they’ve eliminated all amps on stage and any variation in sound that might come with mic selection or placement. That leaves drums and vocals being delivered to FOH via microphones. GHOST goes the extra step and eliminates the monitor system by using in ear monitors. This is a HUGE amount of stage noise that has been eliminated from the equation, not to mention the ability to travel much lighter. No huge backline of heavy amps and cabinets to haul around. The result is a fucking crushing, clean sound. No feedback, no ugly stage guitar sound smacking you right in the face, no singer struggling to hear himself over all the stage noise. ALL BANDS SHOULD BE DOING THIS!! Fucking METALLICA is doing it!!
The show itself was great. Almost every song I wanted to hear off Meliora, plus all the best songs from Opus Eponymous and Infestissumam. I’ve seen literally thousands of bands in my life, so I’m not easily impressed. GHOST really fucking impressed me. I will go see them whenever they come here (or near here) from now on. You should too.
Reviewed by Alonzo Mosely, guitarist for the undeniably badass DESTRUCTONOMICON and lover of long winded reviews.