Meliora, the third long-player by Sweden's Ghost, looks back at what made their 2011 debut, Opus Eponymous, so special: Beautifully written, hook-laden, hard rock songs with clean (and even serene) singing. Produced by pop-heavy hitter Klas Åhlund (Usher, Katy Perry, Madonna) and mixed by Andy Wallace (Slayer, Rob Zombie, Sepultura), Meliora is a calculated step into accessibility, and offers a clear window into the band's collective career ambitions. Their anonymous, cowled and masked monk costumes and the skull-faced, anti-Papal dress of their frontman Papa Emeritus III (same guy as Papa Emeritus I and II), who delivers lyrics of unabashed, worshipful Satanism, however, are their only links to black metal. The rest comes straight out of rock's storied past, from Alice Cooper and Blue Öyster Cult to Witchfinder General, Venom, and many, many more. (The gorgeous vocal harmonies woven throughout the album reveal they've also spent time listening to the San Francisco, L.A., and Laurel Canyon sounds of the late '60s and early '70s ). Schtick aside, this band's songwriting makes for some of the most compelling hard rock out there. "From the Pinnacle to the Pit,"'s verse recalls Alice in Chains, yet contains one of the most compelling refrains since "Don't Fear the Reaper," with a large church organ sifted in for measure. First single "Cirice" opens with an acoustic guitar, but gives way to a Metallica-esque riff with a seductive bridge and an instantly hummable refrain. The intro to opener "Spirit" contains a creepy, gothic organ, Theremin, and choir -- it lets us know these guys love the soundtrack atmospherics of vintage horror movies -- but the tune offers traces of prog rock alongside a gripping metal riff. "Mummy Dust" is the set's headbanger (though the AC/DC references in "Absolution" are a close second) that openly worships Mercyful Fate. It's the only tune here that has (somewhat) dirty vocals, stacked atop a blazing organ and effects-laden guitars. Closer "Deus in Absentia" pays homage to Thin Lizzy with its dual lead guitar harmonies, and to BÖC (who seem to haunt all Ghost's albums to some degree) with a pumping acoustic piano and thundering tom-toms. It's an anthemic patchwork of '70s styles, carried out by a classical choir à la Mozart's Requiem. Meliora jumps so quickly from classic hard rock to prog to glam metal it can be dizzying (and perhaps even dazzling) for listeners. What holds it all together is solid writing that sticks close to stock pop/rock methodology. Ghost's lyrics often turn to Lucifer for comfort and consolation here -- their loving allure may prove to be shocking to parents (who may indeed enjoy the melodies). But the kids get the gag, and they'll have the final say as to whether Ghost achieves the mass popularity they so desperately seek.
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