Friday marks the release of Ghost’s excellent new album Meliora, one of the most hotly-anticipated releases on the metal-head calendar. In just a few years, Ghost have emerged as one of the most exciting bands on the worldwide hard rock stage, not only because they construct dark and thoughtful songs and put on an exceptional live show, but also because they have a deeply complicated mythology that requires remarkable commitment: They are led by a figure who refers to himself as Papa Emeritus (there’s a new one every album; Papa Emeritus III lords over Meliora), and the rest of the group are simply referred go as “A Group of Nameless Ghouls.” They dress in similar masks and robes and create a generously mysterious air that feels both curiously evil and also super fun.

But they’re not just a gimmick band with kooky costumes. They’re also one of the most dynamic loud bands on the planet. Their previous album Infestissumam was one of the best releases of 2013, and Meliora represents a massive jump forward. It’s simultaneously heavier and more polished, darker and more pop-oriented than anything the Swedish collective has done previously.

That’s by design. “The first album is really Medieval, and Infestissumam has a very kind of Baroque quality to it,” explains a Nameless Ghoul. “We wanted to make a futuristic album that was going to carry a lot of the lyrical themes from the first album but in a more contemporary sense.” The result is an album that borrows plenty of elements from metal (doom riffs, thunderous drums, lyrics about death) but also incorporates plenty of elements of classic rock, Broadway and New Wave.

That lines up pretty well with the background of this particular Nameless Ghoul. “When my brother was a teenager, I was still a kid, so I ended up listening to a lot of the music that him and his friends were listening to,” he explains. “It was everything from the contemporary music of that time to punk rock to hard rock and metal, pop music—everything that was on the radio at that point. I’d say that a band like Rainbow was equally influential as Mike Oldfield’s ‘Moonlight Shadow.’ When I found my own music style, that was the extreme metal.”

He focused on the speed and brutality of death metal in his 20s but put it aside when it got boring. “A couple years later, when I hadn’t played metal for a while, this song just appeared in my head, and that was ‘Stand By Him,’ from the first record. That sort of started the whole process of the understanding that you could take death metal influences, a more darker element of hard rock, and combine it with pop choruses. All of a sudden, all the different influences from my childhood could be combined into one. You could have a Nik Kershaw melody and still put it on top of a Necrophagia-sounding riff. It just made sense. All of a sudden, two of my most important taps could be opened into this bowl of creativity.”

Thus Ghost was born, and though the band does have a larger narrative in mind for itself, they’re not holding too tightly to those concepts. “There’s definitely a grander idea and a basic plot that we’re sort of loosely tying together all the time,” he says. “We’re now on album number three in what I suppose right now would be a four or five album thing, because that’s how far I can see it without having to repeat something. But in a lot of premeditation, there’s definitely a lot of things that just happen, and those things happen very organically. A lot of the things that you see are not going according to plan.”

Meliora is out now, and Ghost begin their American tour Sept. 22. Check out the arrival video for Meliora and the awesome song “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” below.

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