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Album Review Ghost Opus Eponymous

17 March 2012 No Comment

Ghost
“Opus Eponymous”
2011 Metal Blade Records
Written by James Kelly
Photos courtesy of Raymond Ahner

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The current state of metal, purely as a genre of music, is stagnant, at least according to my humble sense of hearing. The dark imagery and sinister lyrical content which gave birth to and perpetually feeds arguably of the most unique “sub-genre” of rock music are still as prevalent as ever. But the music itself, I feel, is in a period of banality and repetitiveness. On the surface, most of the metal being produced and bandied about today seems “extreme” and “original” compared to the other, flimsier, genres of widely popular music, but in reality, it has turned into a boring rat race of who can play the fastest, who can “growl” the loudest, who can write the darkest “lyrics”, who can come up with the coolest three-word band name, and in a sad and recent turn of events, who can wear the tightest pants. Bands, worried more about their hair or album art rather than their sound, are popping up every other day, playing the same tired and fast riffs, pedaling machine gun double-bass, and ruining their vocal chords in a never ending spiral of unoriginality and fear of not being as heavy, as loud, or as fast as all of the other bands. Sure, I can quit whining and go back and listen to metal bands of a different era, but stumbling upon something new, something current, something in just its infant stages that separates itself from the rest of the pack is much more rewarding.

Ghost is on tour in North American in support of Opeth and Mastodon. Click here for tour dates.

So, if you too are tired of metal’s status quo, and are longing for something that’s even slightly coherent and actually able to be, ya’know, listened to, then Ghost may be just what you’ve been searching for. However, all of you conservative Christians may want to think twice before giving them a listen. Ghost is everything over-protective parents thought Kiss was back in the 70’s, but with better music.

Hailing from Sweden, Ghost emerged from the depths of hell to spread the word of the “Uncreator” in 2010 with their debut album “Opus Eponymous”. In all fairness, only 80% of the album contains Satanic lyrics. (The other 20% of songs are instrumental.) Although it debuted fairly quietly, “Opus” is really starting to gather praise after a little more than a year since U.S. release, and deservedly so.

After “Deus Culpa”, a short funeral organ intro which sets the mood for the album and what the band is all about, the album starts rocking immediately with an instant headbang-inducing bass riff from “Con Clavi Con Dio”, one of the heaviest songs on the album which subtle and subliminal first lines are “Lucifer, we are here, for your praise, evil one”. Then comes “Ritual”, the hit of the album, if you will. Ritual is very catchy and upbeat in a Satanic metal band sort of way. Remember those Halloween party scenes in every 80’s horror movie? “Ritual” is the song that would have been playing at the parties if it had existed at the time. It is followed by “Elizabeth” and “Stand by Him”. Like their predecessor, these two tracks are very anthemic and catchy. (Even if they are about Elizabeth Báthory, the most infamous and ruthless female serial killer in history, and, again, Satan) After these two, the album starts getting slower, lower, and more doomful. “Satan Prayer” Death Knell” and “Prime Mover” abandon just about all of the slight pop-metal flavor which speckles the earlier part of the album, instead replacing it with low, slow, and steady riffs (bass and guitar). The wicked debut is topped off with “Genesis” an instrumental track which integrates some amazing keyboard playing with aggressive playing all the way around and a beautifully melodic guitar solo over top. Think something like Metallica’s “Orion” with a dash of Pink Floyd. If you are lucky enough to hear the Japanese version of “Opus Eponymous”, then you will hear an amazing bonus track which adds a creepier presence to an already creepy album. It is probably intimidating covering a Beatles song, even for a Satanic sect of ghouls, but Ghost’s version of the hopeful “Here Comes the Sun” is an entity all on its own. If you read (or listen) between the lines,you will see (or hear) that the intent of the cover was to apply a different Rosemary’s Baby-like meaning to the song, “Here Comes the Son”, pun intended. Ghost succeeds in taking one of the Beatles’ brightest songs and turning it into one of the most ominous songs you will ever hear.

Ghost and “Opus Eponymous” succeed where so many bands today fail for me. They make heavy, fast, and sinister music but make it palatable enough for it to be enjoyed by more than just the modern metal head. It’s not about the speed, the decibel level, or the beastly growls. If you’re looking for something to scream along with or break your neck to, you’re not going to get it with Ghost or this album. From beginning to end, it is heavy, yet extremely catchy, paying homage not only to the dark lord himself, but the great bands which paved the way for metal and rock in general. Papa Emeritus, Ghost’s ghoulish singer, (whose true identity may or may not be known) has a voice that is not common in today’s metal, or even in other genres of rock. It is soft, smooth, medium-pitched and clean. Reminiscent of metal and rock bands in the 70’s and 80’s, his lyrics soar above the music, never going too high or too low, and harmonize beautifully. In a band that does not do too much and puts emphasis on the groove and listenability of the music, Papa’s vocals are a perfect accompaniment and in a time when everybody from your mailman to the grocery store bagboy is a lead singer and lyricist in a metal band, his simple and mellow style adds merit and an eerie sincerity to the dreadful lyrics that are akin tomany metal bands today and of the past.

Like their sound, with their image Ghost plays back to a time when bands did more on stage than just spreading their legs, crouching, and headbanging for ninety minutes. Papa Emeritus, a fixture on the stage, is the only member of moderate recognizability, considering he dawns Catholic Cardinal outfit complete with a skull-painted mask. The rest of the band, however, is a bunch of Nameless Ghouls, literally. All five of them behind Papa hide their identities behind black robes, hoods, and voice modification, allowing not even a slight speculation on their identities. Ghost claims to be a “devil worshiping ministry, that in order to spread its unholy gospels and, furthermore, trick mankind into believing the end is ultimately a good thing, have decided to use the ever so popular rock music medium as a way to achieve their ends” and with the band’s lyrics, this notion certainly seems plausible. The part of me which was attracted to metal as a kid wants to believe so, but the rational side of me knows that this is merely the coolest and most intentionally offensive band persona in years, satirizing metal’s perpetual obsession with evil and bestowing nostalgia upon fans old enough to remember when bands were scary and Satan was…sacred. Either way, whatever you want to believe, the band is kickass and the music is undeniable.

I have not (yet) seen Ghost live but their stage presence and overtly evil presentation seem to be what caught the attention of their fans in the first place. It’s definitely impressive. They will soon kick off a North American tour in support of Opeth and Mastodon, beginning April 4th in Portland, Maine. Ghost has recently stated that a follow-up to “Opus Eponymous” will come out sometime later in 2012. By that time, the band should have a large enough fan base (which already consists of Metallica’s James Hetfield among other notables) to merit a headlining tour. I for one am not ashamed to say that I am comfortably seated upon the Ghost bandwagon to hell.

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