Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ghost: Opus Eponymous (2010)


Perhaps no debut album of 2010 was hyped more than Ghost's Opus Eponymous. Even though much of the hype is based on a misguided idea that "actual songs" are disappearing from metal, I have to say that Ghost deserves the hype.

Opus EponymousThese Swedes have not revealed their identities, and claim that they try to make ultra-accessible music in order to seduce people to Satan. If you believed their stated motive for even a second, I pity you, because with the cheesy "evil pope" outfit worn by the frontman and the Mercyful Fate-esque lyrics, it's pretty clear this is all just a show. And what a show it is. They've often been touted as Blue Öyster Cult meets Mercyful Fate, but outside of the image the MF influence is much more subtle than the obvious BÖC similarities.

"Prime Mover", the most metal track on the album, contains some very modern experiments in dissonance. But if you throw that out they sound like they could be from the 70's, old-school classic rock vocals and electric organ in tow. "Satan Prayer" is the most classic rock-sounding cut, but you'll hear it everywhere (like the opening to "Ritual"). The organ is used very cleverly, especially on "Con Clavi Con Dio" and album standout "Death Knell". There are some forays into more metallic riffs, but like BÖC they straddle the boundary between metal and rock. The guitar and bass even have a similar tone. The bass tone has been a point of contention for many. It's mixed very well and has a good sound on the surface, but its sound is not particularly rich; I would guess this was a conscious decision to sound more like an old-fashioned recording.

What makes the album work is the memorable melodies and catchy choruses in every song. And who's ever heard such catchy choruses with such disturbing lyrical content? The ballad "Elizabeth" ("Forever young, Elizabeth Bathory in the castle of your death"). The crazy-good "Ritual" (This chapel of ritual / Smells of dead human sacrifices / From the altar"). And, catchiest of all, "Stand by Him" ("It is the night of the witch / It is the night of the witch tonight / And the vengeance is hers for as long as she stands by him"). It's all part of the fun.

The Verdict: No, I don't think memorability is the be-all end-all of what makes music good (interesting is more important than catchy). And I don't believe Ghost are single-handedly bringing it back (bands like Unleashed have been doing it all along, and bands like Dawnbringer are pumping new blood into it all the time). But nobody's doing it any better than Ghost, either. Opus Eponymous is an incredible album. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

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